When looking at different specializations under psychotherapy, whether as a patient or student, it can help to know what are the requirements for each field. Grief counseling is a specialized form of psychotherapy designed to offer support to those who are coping with loss due to illness, death, divorce, and other significant losses. A licensed grief counselor can help patients come to terms with their losses and find solutions to effectively cope with their grief.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- 1. Basic Education
- 2. Continuing Education
- 3. Grief Counseling Certification
- 4. Fellowship
- 5. Licensing
- 6. Work Experience
There are specific education and certification requirements for becoming a grief counselor. Although anyone with a bachelor's degree in a related field can become a grief counselor, it takes a very special individual to work in this field. A grief counselor should be an empathetic listener, be sympathetic, have their grief issues resolved or under control, and be resilient to working with death, dying, illness and loss on an everyday basis. Six tips are listed below for those interested in what makes a successful licensed grief counselor.
1. Basic Education
Bachelor's degree in a related field
In order to become a licensed grief counselor, you must have at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited university or institute of higher learning focused on social work, psychology, counseling or human services. Any of these areas of study will help you enter a career in grief counseling.
If you are committed to becoming a counselor, you may want to consider taking classes in abnormal psychology, social psychology, human behavior, emotion, cognitive psychology, family studies, and communications.
College is the best place to do your research and find out what areas of counseling interest you the most. Most degrees nowadays require you to do some sort of internship, so use this time to explore your career options and get a deeper look at some counseling fields. This will likely help you decide where a master’s degree in counseling is more suitable for your career path.
Master’s degree in counseling
To gain a more competitive edge against their peers, many students aim to earn a master’s degree in counseling — again from another accredited university or college institution. For the most part, master’s degrees can give students an advantage when they enter the workforce.
Not only are they able to qualify for job opportunities that require a master’s degree, but they can also help to bolster any other areas of study within the realm of counseling. Most master’s level grief counselors hold degrees in community, mental health or family counseling. Graduate programs also offer degree or certificate programs in thanatology and grief counseling.
2. Continuing Education
Almost every professional field requires ongoing continuing education, and grief counseling is no exception. Does this mean you have to pursue a Ph.D.? No, but you should stay informed and on top of current trends and developments in your field to maintain licensure and a competitive edge.
Grief counselors earn continuing education credits through pre-approved schools, programs and/or providers. Each state’s licensing committees make available a list of eligible providers. The licensing process is typically on a two to three-year cycle when continuing education credits must be earned during that period to be eligible for renewal.
Sadly, if you fail to maintain these credentials, you risk losing your license until you have complied with all the requirements. In some cases, you risk being fined and/or barred from practicing for a period of time.
Conferences are a great way to stay up-to-date and on new advancements in your field on top of expanding your network of fellow peers. Most conferences are eligible for continuing education credit, so check with the sponsoring organization to see if their programs are eligible.
Don’t want to go outside or can’t? Webinars are one of the most convenient ways to earn continuing education credits. These are seminars that are either live or pre-recorded and available to you online.
With most webinars, you have to register and pay a fee to gain access to the webinar and any accompanying material that is available. Once completed, you are given the opportunity to download and print a certificate of completion. Group discounts are usually offered for members of the same organization or counseling practice.
Grief blogs and books on grief
Just like with webinars, there are many sources of material that you can mine for more knowledge and to continue your education. Not all studies will end with gaining continuing education credit.
But if you are interested in growing in your chosen career field, getting ahead, and gaining an advantage over your peers, make it a habit to follow and read grief blogs and books on grief written by others in your field. You may also consider starting your own blog or writing your own book based on your professional experiences.
3. Grief Counseling Certification
To receive the title of a licensed grief counselor, you must complete a program of study that includes a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, as mentioned above. But, each state has its licensing requirements for obtaining a grief counselor license.
There are professional and non-governmental organizations that grant certifications separate from a state license. The American Institute of Health Care Professionals offers a grief counselor certification as an added credential. This helps in distinguishing your expertise and practice from other more general counseling and mental health service providers.
Other professional organizations dedicated to the advancement of grief counseling are the American Academy of Grief Counseling, which offers Certified Grief Counselor Certification. And, the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), which offers a certificate in the field of thanatology.
ADEC Members represent professionals in the fields of psychology, counseling, social work, education, research, hospice, and clergy. It promotes excellence in death education, care of the dying, grief counseling and research in thanatology.
Fellowship represents an advanced training in your professional field. To be eligible for a fellowship in grief counseling or thanatology, you must demonstrate at least three years of experience in your profession with a commitment to excellence, education, advanced study, and training.
Most of the professional associations like ADEC offering certification in grief counseling and thanatology also offer fellowship training and certification.
Licensing requirements vary by state and are constantly changing with the introduction of new legislation. Currently, most states regulate the mental health industry and require applicants to meet a minimum standard of care and education.
State licensing requirements
There are other professions that closely resemble licensed mental health professions that are usually not regulated. Those professions fall under the practice of “psychotherapy” and “counseling.” If you’re moving or looking to start your practice, check with your state’s licensing board to find out if you need to apply for a license before you start offering your services.
Working without a license
It is possible to offer grief counseling services without a license depending on where you live. It’s also possible to offer your services without a license under clergy or pastoral grief counseling. As with everything, you must check the local rules before setting up shop.
6. Work Experience
Where do grief counselors work?
Grief counselors work in a myriad of places. From having their own private practice, to hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, funeral homes, chapels, churches, business organizations, airports, schools, you name it. They can work anywhere there is a need to provide grief and bereavement support. There are some tried and true positions that grief counselors may hold, however.
Death doulas, also called “end-of-life doulas,” provide services to the terminally ill through palliative and hospice care. They provide services that complement hospital services, nursing home care, and hospice care.
A death doula also steps in to help the family when needed in the planning and coordination of care, sitting with the person who is ill or dying, and providing care and comfort at the bedside of the dying.
A death doula provides palliative care for those living with a serious illness, recovering from one, or who are at end-of-life. Doulas provide bedside care and comfort aimed at improving the quality of life for the patient.
It can include hands-on massages, reading of books and scripture, listening to music, talking with the patient, and other acts of kindness and support. In many cases, they are similar to birth doulas, but at a different and important life event.
Not only do the patients benefit from a death doula, but family members can as well. With a doula on hand, the family no longer has to provide continual and ongoing care to the patient without any outside support.
Licensed Grief Counselors Provide Guidance And More
While there is a clear and attainable path to becoming a licensed grief counselor, not everyone is cut out to do the job. Grief counselors face end-of-life issues on an almost daily basis. They deal with a constant stream of patients who are suffering or have suffered through loss, death, and dying.
For those considering a career in grief counseling, you have to be able to sustain a professional level of care to your patients without allowing the stress and emotional part of the job to consume you. Grief counselors are advised to resolve any lingering grief, loss, and bereavement issues that they may have before attempting to help others. Like in many places, you must engage in rigorous self-care to provide your best for your patients as well.
Before jumping into grief counseling, consider if this line of work is suitable to your tolerance levels in dealing with end-of-life. If you’re unsure where to begin, consider reviewing your own end-of-life wishes to get a better sense of what patients may be thinking about practically as well as emotionally.