William James College Programs Address Wellbeing, Needs of Older Adult Populations

October 01, 2019

According to the American Psychological Association, older adults will account for 21 percent of our nation’s populationby the year 2030. This is a 15 percent increase from the year 2014 and, as the number of older adults grows exponentially, so does the need for age equality.

The United Nations recognizes October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons. This year, the organization is celebrating “The Journey to Age Equality” to help reduce old age inequalities. The International Day of Older Persons specifically aims to reduce negative stereotypes and promote active participation of older persons in all facets of society.

“Here at William James, our focus is on preparing mental health professionals who can serve this growing and increasingly culturally diverse population,” explained Katherine King, Psy.D, a faculty member in the clinical psychology department as well as the geropsychology concentration, and a William James College alumna. “This involves not just learning to provide individual psychotherapy to older adults, but also in recognizing the many strengths that older adults have, the ways that ageism and age segregation harms everyone, and how an age-integrated society can improve the well-being of all its members.”

William James College is one of 48 institutions across the globe that is designated as part of the Age-Friendly University (AFU) Global Network. AFU principles outline the ways in which institutions should address the older populations, including increasing access to personal, educational and career-oriented opportunities; encouraging participation of older adults in all the core activities of the university; and promoting public discourse around the unique interests and needs of older adults.

In addition to becoming an Age-Friendly University, William James College is home to the Alliance for Aging, which represents a wide range of connections and collaborations across faculty and numerous local and regional institutions and centers.

William James College offers a geropsychology concentration within the clinical psychology PsyD program. This growing specialty focuses on training clinicians to meet the mental and behavioral health needs that older adults frequently face, such as coping with life after retirement, family stressors, changes in health and lifestyle, grief and loss, and other concerns. Despite the increasing need for psychologists specifically trained to serve older adults, the APA reports that in 2018, only 1.2% of psychologists specialized in geropsychology.

King has focused her career on serving older populations. She recently published articles on her Psychology Today blog addressing various elements of healthy, “normal” aging of older adults: “Happy Together: Six Tips for Marriage After Retirement” and “Arts Participation Helps Older Adults, So How Do I Start?”.

When asked what people may find surprising about the older adult population, King noted, “People would probably be surprised with how healthy and cognitively-well most older adults are very late into life. Furthermore, older adults are not a ‘depressing’ population to work with, nor are they particularly depressed. In fact, as a group they tend to be less depressed than younger adults.”

William James College is also home to the Gero Volunteer Corps, a student interest group encouraging intergenerational connections between students and older adults. Most recently, the GVC participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer's in Cambridge, Mass. to raise awareness and provide support for those individuals impacted by this disease. The team raised a total of $650, which will be used for research, care, and support in treating Alzheimer's disease. In years past, the GVC has offered music-based reminiscence programs to local nursing facilities, hosted intergenerational panel discussions, among other events. This year, the GVC is also working with King on a campaign to educate the WJC community about what it means to be an Age-Friendly University.

The geropsychology concentration at William James College is designed to encourage and prepare students with an interest in working with older adults through conducting clinical assessment and psychotherapies; designing and implementing community and clinical programs; directing departments and clinical centers; and assuming a leading role in advocacy and public policy.