How to Become a Professional Geropsychologist

Professional geropsychologists provide psychological services to older adults and have expertise in aging-related issues and the cognitive changes that take place in the elderly. Geropsychology has seen a surge in recent years as Medicare began covering treatment by psychologists, and it is expected to become more prominent as the baby boomer generation ages, creating a greater demand for psychological services tailored to this age group, according to the American Psychological Association. One of the many elements of providing counseling to older adults is helping patients or clients cope with the mental health conditions that often accompany chronic conditions that afflict the elderly, such as post-stroke depression.

What degree is required to become a professional geropsychologist?

Professional geropsychology is most often a specialization of clinical or counseling psychology. Practitioners must possess a doctoral degree in psychology, as well as state licensure, before they can practice independently, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While it is helpful to select an emphasis in geropsychology when completing a doctorate in clinical psychology, this is not a requirement to enter the profession. Online professional geropsychology degree programs are uncommon, but programs that incorporate online courses allow students a greater level of flexibility in completing their course work. All high-quality programs in professional geropsychology will incorporate an internship in which students work directly with older adults.

A traditional or online degree for professional geropsychology provides broad training in theory and methods of clinical psychology, and it should also build a student’s knowledge base in theory and practice with older adults. In addition, students will acquire the skills necessary to conduct research in geropsychology. Board certification in professional geropsychology is not available at present, although professionals in the field have discussed the possibility of such a credential in the future.

How long does it take to become a professional geropsychologist?

Students who aspire to become a professional geropsychologist have a long road ahead of them. They must commit one to two years to a master’s program in psychology, followed by an average of five to six years in a doctoral program in psychology. In fact, six years may be the minimum time commitment for doctoral programs since they incorporate rigorous core and elective courses, comprehensive and qualifying exams, a dissertation, clinical practicums, and a year-long internship. Students must also factor in the time it takes to become licensed to practice independently. Licensure requirements vary by state, but generally require a doctoral degree, internship, and one to two years of supervised experience before students can sit for the licensure exam, according to the BLS.

What is a professional geropsychologist ‘s salary?

The median yearly salary for psychologists was $68,640 in May 2010, according to the BLS. This breaks down to $66,810 for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists; and $89,900 for all other psychologists, not including industrial-organizational psychologists, the BLS explains. The BLS does not track salaries for geropsychologists. Job search site reports an average salary of $99,000 for geropsychologists, according to the salary information gleaned from job postings, but this data is drawn from a limited number of sources and may not be reflective of salaries across the industry. These salaries are not guaranteed and may vary a great deal based on your level of experience, location, and size and type of employer or client base.