Psychology is a very broad field that continuously evolves as people's needs are better understood. Geriatric psychology is probably one of the not-so-popular yet essential branches. Most people never get to hear about it until they have older family members who require psychological help.
Geriatric psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on addressing the mental needs of elderly individuals. It entails the study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health conditions and other psychological problems that older adults commonly experience. The broad focus is to understand and ameliorate how aging can impact the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral patterns of an individual.
Roles & Responsibilities
The prominent role of geriatric psychologists is to help older adults maintain their mental health and well-being, and lead fulfilling lives in their later years. In order to successfully achieve this role, the day-to-day roles of these specialists include:
- Conducting psychological assessments: Geriatric psychologists conduct assessments to evaluate the cognitive and emotional functioning of elderly patients. These assessments may include standardized tests, clinical interviews, and behavioral observations, cognitive and neuropsychological assessments
- Developing treatment plans: Based on the results of the psychological assessments, geriatric psychologists develop treatment plans that are tailored to the specific needs of the patient. Treatment plans may include behavior modification techniques, individual or group therapy.
- Providing therapy: Geriatric psychologists provide therapy to help elderly patients cope with a wide range of issues, such as depression, anxiety, grief, and stress. Therapy may be provided in individual or group settings, and may be short- or long-term depending on the individual and the issue at hand.
- Collaborating with other healthcare professionals: Geriatric psychologists work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses, geriatricians, geriatric psychiatrists, social workers, and occupational therapists, to ensure that the patient's physical and mental health needs are being met. Where necessary, psychologists make referrals to the relevant professionals.
- Conducting research: Geriatric psychologists may conduct research to better understand the psychological needs of the elderly population and to develop more effective interventions to address these needs.
Geriatric psychologists do not only work with the older individual. They may also work with families and caregivers to provide support and guidance in managing the issues raised by the elderly individual or those brought to light by the assessments.
The distinction between a geriatric psychologist and the other professionals they work with is quite clear, however, the same can't be said with regards to geriatric psychiatrists. The main distinction between geriatric psychiatrists and psychologists is that although both professionals focus on older adults, psychiatrists focus on the diagnosis and treatment of mental conditions mainly using pharmaceutical and traditional medical interventions.
On the other hand, psychologists mainly use talk therapy or psychotherapy as a form of intervention. Psychiatrists only focus on the individual who is in immediate need of their help, while psychologists can take an approach that involves working with other people such as the caregivers and family of the older individual who needs psychological help.
How Geriatric Counseling Works
When introduced to a new client, geriatric psychologists conduct a geriatric psychiatric evaluation to determine the mental capabilities and needs of the elderly person. This evaluation is not always the same for everyone. Depending on the case, it might be used to understand the cause behind one's particular behavior or to understand one's changing general well-being.
After conducting a geriatric psychiatric evaluation, the mental health practitioner will be in a position to suggest or provide the needed intervention. In most cases, one of the main suggestions is geriatric counseling.
Common Types of Mental Disorders
Common issues that geriatric psychologists work with include:
- Loneliness and isolation
- Grief and loss
- Affective and anxiety disorders
- Sleep and behavioral disorders
- Cognitive deterioration
Based on the needs of the individual, the psychologist can use of the many modalities including CBT, humanistic, integrative and psychodynamic. Through talk therapy, the individual will be able to unpack things that might be buried in their subconscious. Counseling will also provide the elderly individual with a non-judgmental environment where they can express themselves without fear.
Counseling and psychotherapy has been proven to be effective for anyone despite age, so elderly individuals can certainly enjoy this tool. The benefits they can get include:
- The ability to deal with loneliness.
- Overcoming depression and anxiety
- Managing grief and loss
- Managing regrets
- Adjusting to life transitions
How To Become A Geriatric Psychologist
The journey to becoming a geriatric psychologist requires years of graduate studies and many hours of supervised work. As this profession requires one to work with vulnerable populations, it is vital to make sure that the professionals have sufficient skills.
Below is a step-by-step breakdown of how one can become a geriatric psychologist.
Education and Training Requirements
The first step is to earn a recognized bachelor's degree in psychology. This can be done in person or online. But with the increase in online tertiary institutions, there is also an increasing rate of unregulated institutions online. So, before enrolling with an institution, do some background checks and make sure that the qualifications you will get are internationally recognized.
With the foundation information you acquire through the bachelor's degree, you can then proceed to an advanced degree. The American Psychological Association has a list of advanced accredited programs. These are the only programs that will be considered when you want to register as a psychologist so again, ensure that the program you enroll for is on that list.
Throughout your doctorate program, you will undertake internships which will give you the hands on experience and clinical training.
Doctoral Degree Requirements
Psychology doctoral degrees are quite competitive, but that does not mean it is impossible for one to get accepted.
Each institution has different requirements, so it is best to go through those before you start applying. However, some of the common criteria sought after by institutions include:
- An undergraduate or master's degree in psychology
- Research experience
- Volunteering or some relevant work experience
The most important thing when making these applications is to show your competency and let the person who reads your application know that you are capable of undertaking the doctorate program.
Licensure and Certification Requirements
Once you have completed your academic and educational requirements, the last thing you will have to do is to acquire a license in your state. The American Psychological Association has some information on what you need to know to get licensed.
After obtaining a doctoral degree in psychology, you will have to accrue supervised hours. This is where you get a chance to work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. The number of supervised hours you need differs by state. Once these are completed, you will need to take and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). You might need to study a bit to refresh your memory in order to pass this exam. Once you pass and get licensed, then you can consider yourself a qualified geriatric psychologist. You will now be in a position to apply for and get considered for roles.
Salary & Job Opportunities
Because there is an increase in the aging population being brought about by longer life expectancies, geriatric psychologists do not have a hard time finding employment. Older people are sent to different facilities depending on their needs and capabilities, however, in most if not all of these settings, the geriatric psychologist's skills are always needed.
Some of the contexts where geriatric psychologists might be hired include:
- Nursing Homes
- Long-Term Care Facilities
- Assisted Living Facilities
- Memory Care Centers
- Mental Health Centers
- Public Health Care Facilities
These can either be in private or government run facilities. Also, the different facilities might require a geriatric psychologist for different reasons. However, the end goal is the same; to ensure that older people's mental, psychological and physical problems are addressed on time.
In addition, being geriatric psychologist is also a fulfilling job that enables one to afford a decent lifestyle while helping others. According to the U.S Bureau of labor statistics, the median national annual salary for psychologists is $102, 900.
Final Thoughts - Is It Worth It?
Geriatric psychology is a rewarding career that embraces vulnerable populations in diverse and equally important contexts. There is also potential for both personal and career growth, so, it is certainly a career choice worth exploring.
Being in a position to do assessments, diagnosis, treatment plans and research that improves the lives of your patients and their families sounds like a fulfilling career. Moreover, the availability of work opportunities and high average salaries are just the cherry on top.
Becoming a geriatric psychologist is not a walk in the park, but with enough dedication, it can be done. The long years in tertiary education are much needed to ensure that you have all the skill syou need.
However, when picking a career there are several factors to consider. And when it comes to careers in healthcare and social welfare your personality should never be ignored. If you enjoy working with people and are interested in improving the well-being of people at a personal level, you could consider a career in psychology.
Geriatric psychology will require one to work with aging populations who often have cognitive impairments, so it requires a high level of patience.
Can a geriatric psychiatrist prescribe medication?
Geriatric psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the psychological issues of elderly populations. Because of their medical training, they are in a position to prescribe medication.
Does psychotherapy work on the elderly?
Yes. Just like younger people, the elderly also go through some psychological issues that can be 'fixed' with therapy. They experience issues such as isolation, ageism and end-of-life issues associated with fears of death and poor health. Psychotherapy can help them effectively navigate these issues by helping them accept the stage they are in life. It also equips them with strategies and techniques which they can use on their own.
Are there free counseling programs for seniors?
Free or low-cost counseling can be accessed at community centers, public hospitals, and some religious facilities. It is important to note that this differs across states.
What are the best geriatric psychiatric hospitals?
Professionals that work in the geriatric field get years of education and work under supervision before they are able to work on their own. This rigorous training means by the time they get into the workforce, they are well-equipped to provide high-quality service. However, U.S News evaluated 1540 hospitals and ranked came up with a list of the top 50 best geriatric psychiatric hospitals.
What are the 3Ds of geriatric psychiatry?
The 3Ds of geriatric psychiatry are delirium, dementia, and depression. These are the common mental health issues experienced by the elderly population. Consequently, these tend to be the issues geriatric psychologists often deal with.