Grief counseling helps individuals cope with the loss of a parent, spouse or other loved one. Grief counselors may also help the bereaved manage the feelings related to the loss of an unborn child or nonhuman companion. In some cases, grief counselors help their clients with other types of loss such as the dissolution of a marriage or relationship.
What are Grief Counselors?
Grief counselors may lead support groups and/or offer individual psychotherapy. They may use art therapy or poetry to help clients through the grieving process. Regardless of the methods they employ, supportive listening is a critical part of the job. Grief counselors may work in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes or other facilities where death commonly occurs. In these settings, grief counseling provides immediate comfort to those affected by the death, and grief counselors are available to speak with the bereaved during those first moments.
Grief counselors are sometimes found at churches, funeral homes or social service organizations, while others work in private practices, helping people cope with depression, sadness, anger and other feelings that emerge in the days, weeks and months following a loss. According to the American Academy of Grief Counseling (AAGC), therapy is slightly more advanced than simply counseling. Grief counselors generally work with individuals who have exhibiting normal signs of grief, and the process may include listening, coaching and educating. Conversely, individuals with more pronounced responses to a loss will typically require assistance from a qualified therapist.
Becoming a Professional Grief Counselor
The amount of education one needs to become a grief counselor varies. Someone with no formal counseling education may volunteer to gain experience. For instance, in order to lead a pet loss support group at the local humane shelter, they may only need to complete a training process and pass an on-site screening. Those working in the human services field may conduct limited grief counseling services without performing psychotherapy. Others combine a passion for counseling with a religious vocation or calling and become pastoral counselors, which often requires a doctoral degree.
In general, a prospective therapist or grief counselor must complete an undergraduate degree as well as a master’s degree. Common program preparations include a human services degree or a psychology degree. The degree may also be in counseling psychology, clinical social work or mental health counseling. Those with a background in nursing may choose to become a psychiatric advanced practice nurse. Other mental health professionals seek doctoral degrees in order to advance in the field through study or research. According to the AAGC, a master’s is not necessarily required for a Certified Grief Counselor, if an individual’s career or degree is clearly related. Professionals may also choose to pursue voluntary certifications in counseling that may include components such as examinations, formal training, projects and portfolios.
Once certified as a Certified Grief Counselor, the individual may pursue additional training for specialty certifications such as Christian counseling, pet loss grief recovery or child and adolescent counseling. In order to continue practicing in the counseling field, certified individuals must maintain their certification by re-applying every four years. Regardless of the type of grief counseling provided, grief counselors are an integral part of society as they help those coping with a loss to recognize and manage their feelings.