Bereavement Counseling Training and Education Program Options

Certificates, advanced certificates and degrees in grief counseling or thanatology (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.

Essential Information

A bereavement, or grief counselor, counsels individuals who have suffered a personal loss. Studies include the psychological impact of death and dying and advanced counseling theories strategies. The educational requirements for professional certification can differ from one granting body to another; in some cases, a certificate will be adequate, others could require a master's degree.

Admissions to a certificate program typically requires that students work in human services; advanced certificates are for licensed healthcare workers. All programs include classroom work, and some include group projects and on-site training.

  • Program Levels in Bereavement Counseling: Career studies certificate, advanced certificate in grief counseling, master's in thanatology
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent; some programs require students to be licensed or certified healthcare workers with professional experience and/or a bachelor's degree

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 already working in the human services field or who wish to work in facilities providing hospice care, AIDS treatment, funeral services, or similar care. 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 people who are dying and their families. On-site training may also be required. Students 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

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 healthcare professionals who often work with individuals who have experienced 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 its assessment and about theoretical and practical applications of counseling and intervention strategies. Topics studies may include:

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

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 wishing to educate others about death and dying. This program will meet the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) certification requirements for those wishing to be certified as grief counselors, grief therapists, or death educators. 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

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.

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 with a concentration in grief and bereavement counseling.

Certification Options

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

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

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

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

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), employment for mental health counselors, including grief counselors, could grow at the faster-than-average rate of 29% from 2012-2022. 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 2014, was $40,850.

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