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Grief Counselor Certification and Coursework

Find out what a grief counselor's responsibilities are, and get information about degrees and classes offered. Learn about professional certifications and licensure requirements.

What You Need to Know

Grief counselors help people cope with traumatic experiences in their lives. Counselors need to be certified, which requires completing an educational program as well as passing an exam. Students interested in grief counseling may pursue a bachelor's degree in psychology that includes classes on helping people manage grief.

Certification/Licensing Grief counselors can be certified through several organizations if they possess a degree and/or relevant experience; almost all states require licensing
Degrees Bachelor's and master's degrees
Courses Basic psychology, abnormal psychology, family therapy, group counseling, research

What Grief Counselor Certifications Are Available?

As an aspiring grief counselor, you might consider pursuing the Association for Death Education and Counseling's voluntary Certification in Thanatology (CT), a professional designation that demonstrates your competency in the subjects of death and grief. To sit for the CT examination, you must have either a bachelor's degree and two years of relevant work experience or a master's degree with one year of professional experience, as well as 60 hours of related education.

Voluntary certification also can be earned through the American Institute of Health Care Professionals' American Academy of Grief Counseling. Certification requires either the completion of a 100-hour educational program specifically focused on grief counseling or a continuing education grief counseling program offered through the American Academy of Grief Counseling. After becoming certified, you can earn specialized certification in child and adolescent grief, Christian grief or pet grief.

What Are My Educational Options?

Some bachelor's degree programs in psychology touch on topics applicable to grief counseling. They also might provide related work experience in the field and prepare you to enter a master's program. An undergraduate psychology program also could help qualify you for counseling certification offered by an organization independent of the state. If you already hold a bachelor's or master's degree, but require additional experience in grief counseling, you might benefit from a graduate certificate program.

In almost all states, you must be licensed to work as a counselor. Licensing requirements vary among states and fields of counseling, but a master's degree is the most common requirement. You can earn degrees in counseling or counseling psychology, where you may complete up to 60 credit hours of coursework, clinical practicum experiences, a thesis and a relevant area of concentration. Online master's degree programs in counseling may not be widely available.

What Courses Might I Take?

If you're enrolled in a master's degree program in counseling or counseling psychology, you may be required to take courses in core subjects like:

  • Counseling theory
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Group counseling
  • Research
  • Cognitive assessments
  • Human development
  • Counseling ethics

An internship and practicum can typically be completed for real-world experience in the area of counseling that most interests you. Specialization options can be found in subjects like marriage and family therapy, community psychology, school counseling, aging and mental health counseling. Coursework specifically related to grief counseling might cover the process of grief, trauma counseling, ethics and professionalism in death, mourning and supportive environments.