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Geropsychologists provide mental healthcare to older populations. Only 3% of psychologists specialize in geropsychology. However, by 2030, 20% of the American population will be 65 years old or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This might create a greater need for these specialists.
This guide explains how to become a gerontologist in psychology, including education and licensing, and what you can expect to earn as a geropsychologist.
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What Is Gerontology?
What is gerontology? Gerontology involves the study of aging and the way people cope with life changes, memory and anxiety, and health problems, such as chronic pain. Gerontologists include any professional with advanced education in gerontology, such as physicians, nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists.
What Is Geropsychology?
Geropsychology is the study of aging and mental health. This field aims to produce healthy psychological outcomes for adults facing difficulties in areas such as:
- Transitioning to retirement
- Managing age-related health conditions
- Handling role changes during aging
- Losing independence (such as no longer being able to drive a car or live alone)
- Coping with the death of a spouse, partner, or friend
- Facing the concepts of death and mortality
Geropsychologists work with older adults and family members, especially when role changes create family conflict.
Geropsychology is such a small specialty that reliable figures aren't yet available for accurate salary projections. This table describes psychologist salaries as a whole.
|Lowest 10%||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10%||Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)|
How Do I Become a Geropsychologist?
Geropsychologist jobs require 10-12 years of education. You need either a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) to practice as a licensed psychologist.
Once you earn your doctorate, most states require that you spend at least two years working under a licensed psychologist before you can practice independently.
Education for Geropsychologists
While you can work in geropsychology with any degree, to become a geropsychologist you must earn a doctorate from an accredited program. If you want to focus on teaching and research, you should earn a Ph.D. If you want to practice, you may choose a Psy.D. However, either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. qualifies you to practice geropsychology.
Most geropsychologists hold an undergraduate degree in psychology. You can begin specializing in geropsychology in your master's program and specialize further in your doctoral studies. Master's degrees also include clinical fieldwork.
Licensure for Geropsychologists
State requirements for psychologists vary, but almost all require a doctorate from an accredited school, an internship, and supervised practice. Most states also require that candidates pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology and receive a passing score on a jurisprudence examination, a test in local law related to practicing psychology.
Most states, around 34, offer reciprocity licensing. This allows psychologists from one state to practice in another. Reciprocity requires documentation and a passing score on a local jurisprudence examination but does not require the full licensing application process.
Board Certification for Geropsychologists
The American Board of Geropsychology offers board certification. While certification is not legally required, many employers require or strongly prefer it. Certification also communicates to clients that you have a deep interest and expertise in geropsychology.
- At least two graduate-level courses in geropsychology or equivalent continuing education
- At least two years of formal training, which may include a fellowship, internship, or practicum, or informal supervised training
- At least two years of experience as a psychologist with at least one year in practice with older adults, providing direct service, teaching gerontology, or performing administrative duties in a geriatric organization
- Passing the certification examination
PreProfessional Experience for Geropsychologists
Doctoral programs require internships, usually as part of your final year. Internships include working with patients under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist. Typically, you will have more independence further along in the internship.
Preprofessional experience can develop skills and knowledge, such as:
- Administering psychological assessments and testing
- Managing patient documentation and records
- Applying classroom education to patients
- Identifying which approaches or interventions are the most effective for individual patients and concerns
- Establishing trust with patients
- Portraying cultural competence with patients from different backgrounds
- Identifying potential legal or ethical concerns and discussing/resolving them with your supervisor
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is geopsychology important?
Aging is a complex psychological transition. While retirement has its rewards, aging also presents challenges to a person's mental health and well-being. People may need psychological support to adjust to the loss of a spouse, partner, or friend; role changes; illness; or mortality.
What is gerontology, and how is it different from geriatrics?
Gerontology is the study of aging, and geriatrics is the study of medicine and aging. Gerontologists include social workers, psychologists, and counselors, as well as clinical professionals.
Do I need a license to be a geropsychologist?
You can use a geropsychology education in other fields and roles, but to call yourself a geropsychologist and practice geropsychology, you need a state license.
Is geropsychology a good specialty?
Geropsychology is a growing specialty with a high unmet demand. The growth in the number of older adults outpaces the growth of geropsychologists. Geropsychology is also a new field, which brings more research opportunities.
What Does a Geropsychologist Do?
Geropsychologists typically work either in academia or research, or they can work as practicing psychologists. However, they can also work in administration, such as managing long-term care facilities. They might find work consulting or in government offices or nonprofits that develop programs and policy for older adults.
Academic/research geropsychologists teach and mentor students, advise them on theses and research projects, and contribute to the field by publishing and presenting at conferences.
Practicing geropsychologists spend most of their time working with patients. They also supervise interns. Many work in private practice, while others work for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and rehabilitation centers. They might also work in centers on aging or other private or government organizations that serve older adults.
To maintain licensing, all geropsychologists must engage in continuing professional education. You can do this by taking classes or attending conferences. You can also read articles approved for continuing education and take a test on it.
Practicing geropsychologists measure their effectiveness by establishing goals with clients and assessing progress towards those goals. Goals might include finding peace with loss or role change, healthy family dynamics during aging, or better life satisfaction.
Skills and Competencies
Like all psychologists, geropsychologists must be able to communicate with clients. They should have cultural competence and be able to identify and use the most effective interventions. Geropsychologists must apply ethical judgment at all times.
In addition, geropsychology requires a deep understanding of the aging process and how it affects older adults and their families.
If you are much younger than your clients or have different life experiences, you may need to establish that you can understand their issues and assist them.
Working with older adults requires understanding potential signs of mild cognitive impairment or dementia. You would need to address these directly but respectfully with the patient.
These can be very challenging conversations, especially if the patient is unaware of the signs or is in denial. Many patients see a significant loss of memory or cognition as a normal part of aging or may take offense when told they display signs of cognitive issues.
Despite the challenges, geropsychology is a rewarding career with growth and demand for new professionals. Helping clients transition successfully into older age can be fulfilling for psychologists.