Outlook & Growth
This career is expected to grow at least 21 percent, and possibly as fast as 36 percent—much faster than average—through 2016. As tens of millions of baby boomers age, job opportunities for gerontology counselors—a field in its infancy—will grow quickly.
Salary & Wages
Little salary data is available on this field because of its relative newness. However, in 2006, mental health counselors, whose role is similar, earned an average salary greater than $34,000. The middle 50 percent earned $27,000 to $46,000. The highest 10 percent earned more than $60,000. Gerontological counselors will likely make higher salaries due to their employment in the healthcare sector, a higher paying sector than human services in general.
What is a Gerontological Counselor?
A gerontological counselor provides services to elderly people and their families as they face changing lifestyles. Gerontological counselors are part of a broader group of professionals called gerontologists. Gerontologists are healthcare professionals who specialize in working with elderly patients. They provide their services to people in nursing homes, senior citizen centers and other similar facilities.
Gerontological counselors are "applied gerontologists"—professionals who work directly with the elderly, communicating with and analyzing individuals, families and groups.These professionals may have degrees or training in nursing, psychology, sociology or other social services-related professions. They are responsible for educating older people by giving informative presentations, publishing books and articles that pertain to the elderly population, and producing relevant films and television programs.
Individuals interested in this line of work should enjoy working with older people and have effective oral and written communication skills.
Education & Degree Path
No set educational path will qualify you to work as a gerontological counselor. Many gerontological counselors may also be psychologists (usually with doctoral degrees) or mental health counselors (often with master’s degrees). Check with your state’s professional licensing board for background on licensing exams that may apply to gerontological counseling.
Anyone with a bachelor’s degree in the human services and experience in patient care or counseling may enjoy this new career niche. Several colleges have begin to offer online associate degrees and certificates that focus on the special needs of the elderly.
Each state administers its own form of counseling licensure. Requirements may include the completion of a master’s degree in counseling. Two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience may be required beyond the master’s degree. You may be required to pass a state-specific exam.
Some counselors may elect to be certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors, which grants a general practice credential of National Certified Counselor. Certified counselors generally qualify for higher pay than those who lack certification.
Entering the Field:
Because gerontological counseling is a new and evolving field, barriers to entry may be lower and more flexible than other counseling areas. Many who already work in patient care, such as nursing aides or medical technicians, are exploring this career niche.
Some states require counselors in public employment to have a master’s degree; others accept a bachelor’s degree with appropriate counseling courses. To explore this field consider earning a certificate in gerontology or elder-care at the undergraduate or graduate level.
Because geronotological counseling is a relatively new field within both counseling and gerontology, it offers an excellent opportunity for anyone with a medical, social work, counseling or psychology background to specialize in a new growth area.
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Salary and growth data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and MHA Health Careers Center, a division of Mississippi Hospital Association. For more information on careers in gerontology counseling, salaries and job prospects visit: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Counselors, or MHA Health Careers, Gerontologist.