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Nov. 30, 2011
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New counseling specialization enters ‘gray’ area

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – On the whole, Pennsylvania and the U.S. are getting older – the AARP reports that 10,000 Americans celebrate the big 6-5 every day.  A new community counseling graduate program with an aging specialization at Slippery Rock University will help counselors help clients face the challenges of aging.

      The 60-credit program will prepare graduates to help Americans adjust to the “later adult phase of life,” said Donald Strano, SRU professor of counseling and development. That doesn’t necessarily exclude those younger than 65, the traditional retirement age.
     “The literature suggests we’re really talking about 55 or older,” he said. “It is part of the issue. It’s not just about geriatrics and being 80 years old, it really is that later adulthood phase, getting ready for retirement or being in the position where you may have aging parents.”
       The program builds on SRU’s community counseling program with existing specializations in child and youth, addiction and adult counseling. All four qualify graduates to become licensed counselors in Pennsylvania.
       Strano said the aging program, which the University curriculum committee has approved, would be launched next fall. The program was developed to address Pennsylvania’s aging demographic and in light of SRU’s “Reaching for 2025 and Beyond” long-term strategic plan.
     “When President Smith made a shift in the structure of the strategic plan to address the challenges facing our graduates and what is going on in our society, one of things he noted is the changing demographic, particularly the aging populations,” Strano said. “Pennsylvania and Florida are the two ‘oldest’ states in the country. Western Pennsylvania in particular has a high population of aging residents.”
     Students will take core-counseling courses such as “Techniques of Counseling” and “Counseling Theory” before enrolling in aging-emphasis courses such as “Foundations of Aging” and “Counseling of Aging.”
     Graduates of the aging specialization will be qualified for employment in hospitals, residential treatment facilities and community mental health agencies, Strano said.
     As the average lifespan increases, Strano said issues for older Americans include planning for retirement, downsizing, access to health care and recreation, changes in physical and mental function, death, grief and loss, family and what Strano called “re-careering.”
     “One of the issues with increased longevity is this idea of re-careering and finding ways to maintain function and interest in later life,” he said. “By 70 years old, you’re retired from this career but you still have 10, to 15 to 20 years of productive life that you want to make meaningful and valuable.”
         If 60 is the new 40, then 80 is the new 60. Strano said his 83-year-old mother remains active despite the life adjustments of the death of her husband four years ago and selling her house and moving into an apartment.
    “She exercises. She volunteers. She bowls two days a week. She drives and does all kinds of things,” he said.       

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.