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How to Become a Gerontological Counselor: A Complete Guide

Gerontological counseling involves supporting the elderly as a geriatric counselor

A gerontological counselor is an individual who caters to the needs of the elderly. These professionals help improve senior citizens’ physical, mental, and emotional health. If you are passionate about serving this community and are a good communicator, working in gerontological counseling might be the right choice for you.

Below, we will answer some of the most common questions of how to become a gerontological counselor. Information includes education, mandated qualifications, licensing requirements, salary, hire rates, and more. Read on to find out how to begin a career in gerontological counseling.

What is Gerontology or Geropsychology?

Gerontology, also called geropsychology, is the study of the psychological, physical, and societal changes that older adults face. The evolution of this field continues. Currently, it belongs under a science domain with longevity enhancement practices.

Gerontology also deals with the societal changes that occur in an aging population when viewed from the lens of philosophy, history, economics, humanities, and even literature.

Gerontological researchers need a background in various fields of study, including social science, psychology, public health, public policymaking, and physiology. They also practically apply this knowledge to develop sound social welfare programs and public policies.

What is Gerontological Counseling?

A gerontological counselor is an expert who works to enhance the quality of life and overall health of elderly patients. They do this by assisting clients in dealing with emotional, mental, and physical health issues related to aging. Gerontological counselors are a part of a growing group of influential professionals focused on senior health.

They are healthcare professionals specializing in facilitating the mental and physical health of the elderly. Gerontological counselors are formally known as “applied gerontologists.” Their job is to ease the transition of people into old age while helping their families adapt to significant lifestyle changes that come along with it.

Requirements for these gerontological professionals include post-graduate clinical experiences, a counseling master’s program, and a licensure exam. They may also have training experience or degrees in sociology, psychology, nursing, or other social services-related professions.

Related Resource: CACREP Accredited Online Counseling Programs: The Top 50

Gerontological counselors can provide their services in a wide range of settings, such as senior citizen centers, nursing homes, and other such facilities.

Exciting opportunities outside of typical counseling duties could include:

  • Publishing articles and books about older populations
  • Holding informative presentations or seminars
  • Producing relevant television programs and films

Working in Geropsychology

Gerontological counselors address the needs of older adults, helping them cope with the weaknesses and health changes that they might experience when aging. Depending upon the circumstances, counselors may have a wide range of responsibilities.

Counselors typically work in rehabilitation centers, hospitals, nursing homes, private practices, hospices, or nursing homes. They usually serve as an integral part of a healthcare team. In addition, they help seniors cope with old-age-specific diseases and conditions. These can include dementia, depression, family struggles, stress factors, or any significant lifestyle or ability changes that may affect their lives.

Because gerontological counselors interact with patients individually, they learn to streamline their services according to each client’s needs. This allows them to individualize their services by assessing the concerns of each client via interviews, group or solo therapy sessions, and other means of communication. In addition, gerontological counselors keep thorough and confidential records of patients, which aids in developing and implementing suitable treatment plans.

A counselor uses these records to make a client’s life easier by carefully formulating strategies for their daily life activities. Seniors can learn new, more efficient ways to shop for groceries, arrange transportation, manage finances, or create a dietary plan.

Through education, the elderly show further improvements in ways to set up doctor’s appointments, fill out paperwork, and even set up assistance through social services programs.

Gerontological counselors also organize outreach programs at community sites and healthcare locations to reach underserved populations. Many counselors interact with other age groups served by these community sites.

These professionals work with the families of older people to develop close-knit relationships. Counselors advise families on matters of coping mechanisms for old age stresses and concerns. Gerontological counselors also analyze clients’ mental, emotional, and physical states and help them decrease stress.

Related Resource: How to Become a Health Coach: Best Online Degrees & Certification

Is a Career in Gerontological Counseling Right for You?

The need for gerontology counselors is increasing by the second with the aging population of the United States. Millions of Baby Boomers are growing older, and thus job opportunities to serve these seniors are expected to rise quickly.

Although gerontology is a field in its infancy, demand for these professionals could increase by at least 21 percent in the coming years. Some experts believe that growth may be as high as 36 percent.

If you are interested in being of service to older people, a career in gerontology could be your calling. However, aspirants should have a knack for dealing with older people along with practical oral and written communication skills. Many people find this work rewarding.

Workers experience high emotional satisfaction through their role in easing the burdens that come with growing old. With job opportunities rising every year, a career in gerontology is both emotionally and financially worthwhile.

Related Resource: Top 12 Jobs that Help People

How To Become A Gerontological Counselor

As gerontology and geropsychology are relatively new fields, qualifications are not fully defined. A bachelor’s degree may be all you need within an agency where services are not billed to insurance. Other employers will want you to be a licensed clinical social worker.

Education

Several accredited schools offer undergraduate and graduate gerontology programs online or on-campus. The education length for these programs is the same as another undergraduate degree: four years or eight semesters for a bachelor’s degree.

Many exceptional universities also offer master’s degrees in gerontology or related degrees with concentrations in this domain. Moreover, professional institutes are now offering associate degrees and certifications focusing on the specialized needs of the elderly as well.

Licensing Requirements

Requirements for starting a gerontology practice or licensure vary depending upon your state. Requirements follow that for licensed clinical social workers.

  • Earn a master’s degree in counseling
  • Pass a mandatory exam
  • Fulfill 3,000 hours or two years of post master’s clinical experience under the supervision of an experienced and licensed counselor

We recommend consulting with your state’s professional licensing board for information on licensing exams applicable to gerontological counseling.

Some counselors may also choose the extra step to attain a general practice credential of a National Certified Counselor. You will need to be certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Certified counselors typically qualify for higher pay as compared to counselors without certification.

Alternative Routes to Work in Gerontological Counseling

The education required to become a gerontological counselor is pretty versatile. A bachelor’s degree in gerontology is an ideal start. However, employers will accept degrees in related fields. Other areas of study include human services, geriatrics, psychology, and counseling.

Many psychologists with doctoral degrees are currently working as gerontological counselors. Mental health counselors, often with master’s degrees, also work in this field. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in human service and professional experience in counseling or patient care can undertake gerontology as a specialty.

Some aspiring gerontology counselors opt for a doctorate as it aids in finding higher-paying positions and provides additional work experience and professional knowledge. Ph.D. or doctoral work degree in gerontology counseling typically takes several years, depending upon the educational requirements.

What Do You Learn With A Gerontology Program?

Although courses in a gerontology degree vary with different programs, several schools have a similar set of core classes. The majority of courses pertain to the process of aging.

However, course offerings often include topics beyond old age. A student can delve into the major developmental stages inevitable before reaching old age. These include optimal aging, the psychology of grief counseling, and health physiology.

You can also take coursework on public policy. As seniors are a large segment of the population, many policies affect the elderly.

Graduate studies in gerontology emphasize research. A program with a strong research focus adds value to your education.

Best Accredited Online Gerontology Degrees

University of Nebraska at Omaha

University of Nebraska at Omaha offers a Bachelor of Science in Gerontology that teaches the psychological, social, and biological aspects of aging. This bachelor’s program constitutes 120 credit hours, with 24 credit hours dedicated to the core gerontological counseling curriculum.

The online program in gerontology offers a concentration in administration. You will take nine credit hours of approved coursework in courses like Long Term Care Administration, Issues in Aging, Senior Housing, and Management and Administration of Aging Programs.

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University of Utah

The University of Utah offers a Master of Science in Gerontology in either a part-time or full-time schedule. Students undertaking this degree full-time can complete it in as little as one year. Part-time students can finish the degree at a slower pace of two years. To complete the program, students can choose between a master’s project or a thesis.

The graduate certificate offered by the university comprises nine credit hours of core coursework and six elective credit hours. Many students choose the option of a three-credit practicum as an elective to gain experience.

View More about University of Utah

Iowa State University

Iowa State University offers online graduate degrees in Family and Consumer Sciences with a Gerontology specialization. Students can learn from specialized experts from all across the country.

This master’s degree requires students to take eight core courses comprising 24 credit hours in Public Policy, Aging, Perspectives in Gerontology, Economics, Adult Development, and Nutrition and Physical Activity in Aging.

Students also have the added flexibility of traversing through various specialties of gerontology through the 12 credit hours of elective courses. Students can also opt for a practicum experience as an elective credit requirement.

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Kansas State University

As a part of the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance, Kansas State University offers a gerontology master’s degree just like Iowa State University. The degree structure is similar to Iowa State University’s, with students required to take eight core classes and additional 12 credit hours of elective courses.

The 36-credit hour gerontological counseling degree offers an affordable option. Students pay approximately $590 per credit hour, totaling about $21,240.

The university also offers a graduate certificate program in Gerontology with 15 credit hours required. Course options include Perspectives in Gerontology and Adult Development and Aging.

Elective courses offer a broad range of education in gerontology. The tuition rate per credit hour is the same as the school’s master’s program: $590 per credit hour. With the certificate program being 15 credit hours, students pay an affordable sum of $8,850.

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University of Maryland Global Campus

The University of Maryland Global Campus offers a bachelor’s degree in Gerontology and Aging Services featuring 120 credit hours, with 33 credit hours of study dedicated to the Gerontology and Aging Service major. It is a reasonably suitable plan for people with experience with seniors, healthcare, or those looking for a fresh career start.

This degree focuses on teaching students the biosocial and psychological aspects of aging. It provides comprehensive insight into how public policies affect the services developed for older people and their aging process.

The primary curriculum of the program includes 11 courses. Students can study subjects such as Health and Aging, Service or Program Management, and Contemporary Issues in Aging.

Students who undertake this program can effectively analyze public policies, develop additional services for the old-aged population, and build a career in the management of programs.

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Wichita State University

Wichita State University offers an online Master’s of Art program in Aging Studies where students can choose between Public Health, Social Science, or Administration concentrations.

Students who opt for the Administration concentration can participate in the Administrator-in-Training Program offered by this school. This program allows graduates to attain the title of licensed nursing home administrator.

In contrast, students who choose Public Health as their concentration graduate with a master’s degree in Aging Studies and a graduate certification in Public Health.

Wichita State University also offers an accelerated Bachelor’s-to-Master’s in Aging Studies program for students still in the process of attaining a bachelor’s degree and intending on completing a Master’s in Aging Studies.

This accelerated program requires 30 credit hours but allows students to earn nine graduate study credit hours as part of their bachelor’s degree.

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University of South Florida

The University of South Florida has a Master of Art in Gerontology and Master of Science in Applied Aging Sciences program taught by a highly trained gerontology expert.

The Master of Arts in Gerontology is conducive to students pursuing a doctoral or professional degree and requires 30 credit hours of study. The core curriculum makes up nine of these credit hours.

In addition, students typically study courses such as Gerontological Counseling Theories and Practice, Physical Change and Aging, and Human Development and Aging. The University of South Florida also offers internship experiences and a directed research capstone project to mark the program’s conclusion.

The 30-credit hour Master of Science in Applied Aging Sciences program offers an alternate degree in this field. This program’s core curriculum includes Gerontological Counseling Theories and Practice, Physical Change and Aging, and Human Development and Aging.

View More about University of South Florida

University of Nebraska – Lincoln

University of Nebraska at Lincoln offers an online Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies program with a concentration in Gerontology. This is a highly customizable plan with a wide array of subjects focused on the theoretical concepts of aging and practical, real-world knowledge and application of gerontological counseling through practicum experiences.

This program consists of 120 credit hours, with the program’s Gerontology concentration requiring the completion of 30 credit hours through six courses. These courses include Introduction to Gerontology, Psychology of Adult Development and Aging, Community Resources for Older Adults, and others.

Students residing out of state are required to pay $534 per credit. Comparatively, those in the state pay a reasonable $259 per credit.

Students should have completed high school or earned a GED and submit transcripts and SAT or ACT scores for this program.

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Fort Hays State University

Students can pursue a Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) with a concentration in Gerontology. Choosing a minor in Gerontology is another option.

Students who pursue a BGS can gain a wide-ranging liberal arts education while gaining expertise and information on the aging population.

Students who opt for the Gerontology concentration need to complete concentration-specific courses of 21 credit hours. The five classes comprising the core gerontology coursework include:

  • Seminar in Gerontology
  • Sociology of Aging
  • Physiology of Aging
  • Psychology of Aging or Neuropsychology
  • Introduction to Gerontology

Students complete nine credit hours of gerontology electives.

Those students who undertake a minor in gerontology cover all the requirements and course work featured in the concentration; they can keep another subject the center of their study simultaneously.

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North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University offers an all-inclusive and well-rounded master’s degree and a graduate certificate in Gerontology. Because this university’s programs are associated with the Great Plains IDEA, the gerontology courses are considerably similar to the ones offered by Iowa State University and Kansas State University. These programs are practicable and ideal for individuals working or intending to work with the older population.

View More about North Dakota State University

Geriatric Counselor Salary

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predict a significant increase in mental health counselors’ job opportunities (a broad domain including gerontological counselors) between 2019-2029. This sudden increase might be due to the high number of baby boomers entering their senior years and subsequently seeking help to deal with emotional, mental, and physical difficulties.

According to the BLS, mental health counselors earned a mean annual salary of $49,950 in 2018, which has increased since then. The average yearly wage of a gerontological counselor cannot be determined accurately by this yardstick but is typically similar to that of professionals in the counseling domain.

According to the BLS, the annual salary of general counselors ranged between $26,110 and $72,810 per year. The average salary per annum across the board is $47,240.

Gerontological counselors have a wide range of job opportunities to work in several medical settings. Outpatient care centers boast the most significant number of counselors and the highest employment opportunities.

Start a Career in Geropsychology

Gerontological counseling is one of the fastest-growing career fields with numerous job opportunities and diverse professional settings. Gerontological counselors specialize in studying different aspects of aging to apply their knowledge practically.

They bring ease to the lives of old-aged populations. Individuals with prior education or experience in social services or professional healthcare can also opt for this career choice.

Becoming a gerontological counselor is a financially and emotionally rewarding career choice.

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