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More than 25 years ago, Blake (1975) referred to older persons as "the forgotten and ignored" (p. 733) of the counseling profession. Myers (1995) and Myers and Blake (1986) have argued for the need to train counseling professionals to meet the needs of older clients. The success of efforts to develop such training is chronicled in the article "From 'Forgotten and Ignored' to Standards and Certification: Gerontological Counseling Comes of Age" (Myers, 1995). Unfortunately, since 1995, the National Board for Certified Counselors has suspended the National Certified Gerontological Counselor credential due to lack of certificants (counselors certified in the gerontological specialty), and many universities have discontinued specialty courses in gerontological issues due to faculty retirements and lack of interest in teaching such courses on the part of new faculty. If counselors are to graduate with training to meet the needs of older clients, infusion of gerontological issues into counselor preparation courses and curricula will be necessary (Myers, 1995).
Studies of service use and general outcome studies reveal that older persons respond as well as or better than younger persons to a variety of mental health interventions. As a consequence, it is important to examine reasons underlying the current extent of under service to this population. Although studies that include psychologists have been reported in the literature, we were unable to find comparable studies involving counseling practitioners. If specialized training is used to estimate services, then the only possible conclusion is that counselors also underserve the older population. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2003) has recently reported only two counselor training programs accredited in gerontological counseling. Lack of knowledge about older clients may indeed be a disincentive to counselor practitioners to offer services to older clients. Again, the need for infusion of gerontological issues into the training of all counselors should be a priority because, given population statistics, it is likely that all counselors will encounter older persons or families of older persons (i.e., caregivers) as clients.
Counselors working in the field who did not obtain training in gerontological issues as part of their professional preparation as well as counseling students are encouraged to attend training sessions at professional association conferences to learn more about the needs of the older population. Counselors are encouraged to pay particular attention to new research that establishes effective practices and to participate in clinical research that contributes to the body of knowledge on outcome research with older populations. Training in methods proven effective with older clients, such as cognitive behavior, life review, and bibliotherapy, is an important part of the gerontological counselor's repertoire, and counselors lacking skills in these interventions may find it useful to attend conferences and workshops to develop both knowledge and skill in the application of these approaches.
In addition to continuing education, counselors may find it useful to seek and participate in supervision, both individual and group, related to practice with older clients. This may be especially important for counselors who lack specialized training in gerontological issues and who encounter few older persons among their clientele. Unfortunately, it may be difficult or even impossible to obtain such supervision from licensed counseling practitioners; hence, counselors need to be willing to seek assistance from other mental health professionals who have more extensive experience working with older clients.
Reflection Exercise #11
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