By the year 2020, there will be more than 53 million people over the age of 65 and about 7 million over the age of 85. Recognizing this, I wanted to address the urgent need for beginning and seasoned mental health professionals to provide services for these older adults. I remain concerned for this increasing population of older adults who are vulnerable to threats of financial stress, illness, isolation, exploitation, psychological problems, and stigma.
Hidden within these statistics are some older adults who face prospects that are more dismal. Most of these older adults are Hispanic (21.4%) and Black (27.4 %) women, many of whom experienced oppression in their younger years. Research indicates that older adults face increasing oppression as they age because medical, psychological and social problems become more frequent. Older adults often do not receive the psychological help they need because of the stigma and stereotype that older adults cannot change, or be helped with psychotherapy.
I will never forget experiences I had while working as a psychiatric screener in an emergency room. More often than not, I would hear medical staff, or fellow psychiatric screeners say “another gourd is here,” or “who wants to see the vegetable.” These terms used by staff members are derogatory terms for older adults who were stereotyped as senile, demented, or less than human.
These daunting statistics and my emergency room experiences offered a unique opportunity that caused me to write my book Clinical Gerontological Social Work Practice. It is my hope that this book will inspire young students to pursue a career in gerontological mental health, which will enable them to find the wonderful joys and stimulating encounters they can experience working with this cohort.
Unfortunately, gerontology does not have a home of its own. Gerontological nursing tends to focus on medical problems experienced by older adults. In addition, many hospitals and social service agencies are requiring nurses, rather than social workers, to provide counseling to older adults despite the fact that gerontological counseling is rarely found in their course curriculums. Social work programs and counseling programs are just beginning to infuse gerontology across the curriculum. Fortunately, some social work programs are offering an elective course in gerontology and/or certificate programs for social workers currently in practice. This book is my contribution to the continuing effort of the Hartford Foundation’s GeroEd initiative to spread gerontological material across curriculums, as well as to create gero-specific courses geared to preparing students for upcoming career opportunities in gerontological counseling. In addition, this book provides needed information for practicing mental health professionals whose prior training was devoid of gerontological courses and training.
Clinical Gerontological Social Work Practice contains information useful to social workers, psychological counselors, psychiatric nurses, and pastoral counselors. Treatment approaches described are consistent with strength-based, empowerment theoretical approaches that are human rights focused.