Bereavement Counseling Training and Education Program Options

Learn about certificate and degree programs designed to provide basic or further training in bereavement counseling. Read details about admission requirements, common course topics, continuing education options and professional certification. Get information about career options as well as employment statistics and median salaries for those in this field.

Essential Information

A bereavement counselor, also known as a grief counselor, provides counseling to individuals who have suffered a personal loss. Certificates, advanced certificates and degrees in grief counseling or thanatology, which is another term for the study of death and dying, can be useful for those who wish to become bereavement counselors. The most common degrees offered are at the master's level. Studies in these programs can range from the psychological impact of death and dying to advanced counseling strategies and theories. The educational requirements for professional certification can differ from one granting body to another; in some cases, a certificate will be adequate, while others could require a master's degree.

Entrance into a certificate program typically requires students to work in human services, while advanced certificates are for licensed healthcare workers. All programs include classroom work, and some include groups projects and on-site training.

Career Studies Certificate

A career studies certificate program in grief and bereavement counseling is offered at the community college level. This program is designed for those who are already working in the human services field or who wish to work in facilities providing hospice care, AIDS treatment, funeral services, or similar care.

Education Prerequisites

A high school diploma or its equivalent and good scores on college placement tests are necessary prerequisites to enrolling in a certificate program. Students may also be required to undergo a criminal background check, sex offender screening, and tuberculin tests prior to entering the field in a practicum or training situation.

Program Coursework

Students in a grief and bereavement counseling program take classes that will help them gain a better understanding of the psychological, emotional, and physical aspects of working with death and dying. In addition to coursework, on-site training may be required. Students in a career studies certificate program may take classes similar to these:

  • Introduction to the field of human services
  • Skills for treating mental health problems
  • Understanding grief and loss
  • Sociology of death and dying
  • Psychology of death and dying

Popular Careers

Individuals with a career studies certificate in grief and bereavement counseling can look for employment in:

  • Hospices
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Funeral service industries

Continuing Education

Individuals with a career studies certificate in grief and bereavement counseling may further their education by enrolling in an associate's or bachelor's degree program in social work, counseling, or a healthcare field.

Advanced Certificate in Grief Counseling

Grief and bereavement counseling advanced certificate programs are post-baccalaureate programs offered by four-year colleges and universities. They are designed for those healthcare professionals who often work with individuals suffering from the death of a loved one or other significant loss. Licensed registered nurses, social workers, professional counselors, ordained ministers, funeral home directors, physicians, school counselors, and other healthcare professionals are eligible to apply.

Students enrolled in a grief and bereavement counseling advanced certificate program learn about the various forms of grief and the methods of assessing grief in patients. They also learn about the theoretical and practical applications of counseling and intervention strategies.

Education Prerequisites

Many schools offering bereavement and grief counseling certificate programs don't have set academic prerequisites for applicants. However, they do require incoming students to be licensed or certified healthcare workers with professional experience. For this reason, incoming students can have educational backgrounds ranging from baccalaureate degrees in counseling to associate's degrees in nursing to graduate degrees in social work.

Program Coursework

Many of the courses included in a bereavement counseling graduate certificate program are taught with classroom lectures and group work. Students enrolled in such a program may learn about the following topics:

  • Symptoms of grief
  • Counseling intervention tactics
  • Complicated grief
  • Childhood and loss
  • Hospice care

Popular Career Options

A post-baccalaureate certificate in grief counseling can prepare graduates to receive certification and can also enhance their roles and duties in the following occupations:

  • Licensed social worker
  • School counselor
  • Grief counselor
  • Funeral home director
  • Licensed healthcare professional

Certification Options

The American Academy of Grief Counseling, a division of the American Institute of Health Care Professionals, offers certification in the field of bereavement counseling. Students who complete a certificate program in the field can sit for a certification exam given by the academy. The organization also offers its own continuing education courses in the field that can prepare students to sit for the exam.

Master of Arts in Thanatology

This graduate degree is designed for aspiring mental health counselors and others who wish to work with terminally-ill people or those grieving a loss. It's also appropriate for those who would like to provide education about death for diverse organizations. This program will meet the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) certification requirements for people who wish to be certified as grief counselors or therapists, or death educators.

Education Prerequisites

Students who wish to enroll in master's degree program in thanatology must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, and a cumulative GPA of 2.75 or better. A written statement detailing an applicant's goals and letters of reference may also be required. In some cases program administrators may also wish to interview applicants.

Program Coursework

The curriculum in a master's degree program in thanatology is designed to prepare students to work with people who are experiencing a terminal illness or the death of a loved one. Classes explore different aspects of death and dying, and techniques for understanding and counseling the grieving. Here are some typical courses:

  • Mourning
  • Counseling the bereaved
  • Multicultural views of thanatology
  • Principles and practices in hospice care
  • Care for the dying

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, employment for mental health counselors, including grief counselors, could grow at the faster-than-average rate of 36% from 2010-2020. Part of this increase is driven by the growing trend of managed care health insurance companies to cover mental health counseling as an alternative to more expensive forms of care. The median annual salary of mental health counselors, as reported by the BLS in May of 2012, was $40,080.

Continuing Education

Individuals with a M.A. in Thanatology can obtain ADEC certification and become certified grief counselors or therapists, or death educators at all levels for a variety of different institutions and organizations. They may also wish to continue their education by pursuing a Ph.D. in counseling studies with a concentration in grief and bereavement counseling.

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