Will the Past Predict the Future? Older Adults in The Counseling Psychologist

In the 50th anniversary commemoration issue of The Counseling Psychologist (TCP), Editor-elect Dr. Bryan Kim’s inspiring commentary set the tone for the continuation of TCP as “the true voice of all scholarship that represents counseling psychology.” Dr. Kim outlined the successes of the journal, undoubtedly the “Crown Jewel” of the Society for Counseling Psychology (SCP), since its conception in 1969, noting the vast achievements of the field as well as future growth opportunities.

Thank you, Dr. Kim, for welcoming our great community to share the stewardship of TCP with you. As a student, I am grateful for your openness and the opportunity to have a voice in the continued advancement of the field of counseling psychology.

Representation of Older Adults in TCP from 1969-2018

Believing that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, Dr. Kim conducted an exploratory content analysis of the Major Contributions published between 1969 and 2018, as well as a Delphi poll with expert counseling psychologists identifying the top 30 topics for the future of counseling psychology in rank order.

Aligned with the SCP’s lifespan-focused mission to create “a more just and equitable world where ALL people and communities can thrive,” the findings identified a wide diversity of topics and underscored the field’s unwavering commitment to social justice and diversity issues.

However, as noted by Dr. Kim, older adults and aging issues were poorly represented in the journal between 1969 and 2018. Of the 298 Major Contributions, only 3 were dedicated to older adults and aging, with the most recent contribution made in 1992. Older adults and aging populations also ranked towards the bottom of the Delphi Poll. These findings echo previous analyses indicating that less than 1% of TCP articles are devoted to older adults. Moreover, they reflect the lack of representation in counseling psychology practice, research, education, training, advocacy, and leadership.

Older Adults in Society & Intersecting Populations

By 2030, population reports predict that the percentage of older adults age 65 and above will increase to 21%, with older adults exceeding children for the first time in the nation’s history. With the rise of racial and ethnic diversity, the Census Bureau predicts that the aggregate minority* population will become the majority in 2043. Intersectional populations such as women, adults of color, veterans, rural communities, and LGBTQ individuals are disproportionately impacted by aging issues. Barring legitimate scientific or ethical reasons, the recent NIH requirements require all grant applications to include older adults. Yet, as noted by Robert Butler, the U.S. medical doctor who coined the term “ageism” in 1968, older adults remain “the neglected stepchild of the human lifecycle.”

Embracing Older Adults in Counseling Psychology

Embracing the service of older clients in counseling psychology aligns with the field’s social justice mission and focus on wellbeing across the life span, and is an opportunity for continued innovation in the field. Older adults have historically fallen within the purview of clinical psychology; however, the disciplines are becoming increasingly indistinguishable with regards to licensure and job opportunities. The APA’s 2015 Survey of Psychology Health Service Providers identified that approximately 46.3% of licensed psychologists occasionally, frequently or very frequently provide care to adults age 65 and older. Recognizing aging as a distinct aspect of diversity, increasing exposure to older adults, and strengthening student training, practice, advocacy, and research should be of paramount concern for future psychologists. Culturally competent teaching and practice related to older adults is a potential area of distinction for programs. Programs that welcome these innovations will prepare well-rounded practitioners for expanded research and professional opportunities.

More deeply embracing aging within the lifespan focus of counseling psychology is a growth area for the field. Increasing the representation of older adults in TCP publications will advance the mission of SCP, expand the breadth of our journal, and above all increase services for older adults and highlight the rewarding nature of working with and learning from our elders.

In this instance, let us hope that past behavior inspires change for future behavior.

*As outlined in Census Bureau reports: “the term minority population refers to everyone other than the non-Hispanic White alone population. The Census Bureau recognizes that there are many dimensions of ethnicity not captured in this distinction.” Additionally, TCP has recently published articles advocating for the use of expansive, social justice-oriented language, with which this term is inconsistent.

Jacqueline S. Hogan (she/her) is a PhD student in counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, a member of the Age-Friendly University Global Network. She completed her BA in psychology at the Johns Hopkins University and MS in mental health counseling at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her interests include healthy aging across the life course, Alzheimer’s disease, women’s issues, and systems advocacy for older adults.

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