How Can I Become a Grief Counselor?

Learn what degree programs and certifications can prepare you for a career in grief counseling. Find information about job duties, licensing requirements and voluntary certifications as well as salary information. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Grief Counselor?

Grief counselors require advanced certification to work in various health care settings, including hospitals, hospices and mental-health centers. They help individuals or families overcome sorrow for deceased or sick loved ones. These counselors take clients through healthy stages of grief and also refer them to the proper services for their needs.

The following chart describes career expectations you may have as you consider a career as a grief counselor.

Degree Required Bachelor's; master's preferred with additional education (required for general mental health counselors)
Education Field of Study Counseling, Social work
Training Required Internships, practicums, courses in techniques and theory, two years of post-graduate clinical experience
Licensure Required State-mandatory licensure, social work and counseling licensure preferred; certification is optional
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 20% for mental health counselors
Median Annual Salary (2016)** $45,520 for all hospice and home care bereavement coordinators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of National Statistics, **PayScale.com.

What Education Do I Need to Become a Grief Counselor?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), counselors typically need master's degrees in order to become licensed and work in clinical settings (www.bls.gov); however, you might qualify for this position with a bachelor's degree if you have previous experience in bereavement counseling. Employers typically prefer to hire grief counselors with degrees and licensure in marriage and family counseling, social work or another branch of counseling. Coursework may include classes in counseling techniques and theory, assessment, ethics, psychotherapy and group therapy. You will also participate in an internship or practicum.

What are the Licensing Requirements?

Almost all states require counselors to obtain state licensure to practice in the profession, according to the BLS. Specific requirements vary by state, but generally include graduation from a counseling master's degree program and two years of post-graduate clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Candidate must also pass a licensing exam, and they may be required to maintain their licenses through continuing education.

How Can I Become Certified?

While not mandatory, some counselors earn certification to demonstrate their clinical counseling skills. The American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP) offers the Certified Grief Counseling designation to qualified applicants (www.aihcp.org). Candidates must have completed an approved postsecondary program and must attend a continuing education program offered by the AIHCP's American Academy of Grief Counseling.

The Association for Death Education and Counseling also offers certification to candidates with experience in bereavement (www.adec.org). You will need two years of experience with a bachelor's degree or one year of experience with a graduate degree to obtain this certification. You must also have two letters of recommendation and 60 hours of death-related education. Candidates must pass an exam that covers social, religious, historical, ethical and contemporary issues related to death and grief.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

Grief counselors work in various health care settings, including hospitals, hospices and mental-health centers. You could also work in religious institutions, schools, social service agencies or funeral homes. As a grief counselor, you'll provide support and guidance to dying people and their families. You may also provide therapeutic intervention through individual and group sessions.

What Salary Can I Expect?

In October 2016, PayScale.com reported the national median salary for bereavement coordinators in hospices and home care settings at $45,520. This is within the expected range of the BLS' median salary for all mental health counselors in 2015 at $41,880. Those in management, scientific, and technical consulting services earned the highest salary of $69,900.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another career dealing with this type of work is a chaplain. Chaplains work in hospitals or hospices, providing spiritual guidance and comfort to patients. They often work in conjunction with therapists and mental health counselors. Chaplains usually require a degree in theology or another related field and certification; they could possibly need coursework in psychology or counseling as well. Social workers are also in the counseling business as they provide support and refer clients to other services. Social workers need a master's degree and state licensure.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • University of the Rockies

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  • George Mason University

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  • Kaplan University

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  • American University

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