Becoming a grief counselor is an admirable career objective that will allow you to help people cope with the loss of a spouse, parent, child, friend, or loved one.
Grief counselors often find employment in hospices, hospitals, funeral homes, churches, and other social service organizations where death commonly occurs. It's their duty to offer individual psychotherapy and lead support groups for helping individuals cope with the stages of the grieving process. Grief counselors typically specialize in providing supportive listening to people with normal expressions of grief. Although counselors will refer individuals with more profound responses of loss to qualified therapists, there's still a significant amount of schooling needed to work in grief counseling. Below we've outlined the usual steps taken to become a grief counselor.
1. Earn a Relevant Bachelor's Degree
In order to successfully enter a career in grief counseling, you'll need to have at least a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution. Many aspiring grief counselors choose to earn an undergraduate degree in social work, psychology, counseling, or human services.
For a solid career foundation, it's recommended that you fill up your schedule with courses related to abnormal psychology, social psychology, human behavior, emotion, cognitive psychology, family studies, and communications. While pursuing your degree, jump on every opportunity to volunteer or complete an internship related to grief counseling to start honing your speaking and listening skills with people in mourning.
2. Pursue an Accredited Master's Degree in Counseling
While a graduate degree may not always be required, the best and most advanced job prospects are typically available only to grief counselors who hold a master's degree. You're advised to choose a counseling degree program that has been fully accredited through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) to ensure the highest quality education. Most grief counselors receive a master's degree in community counseling, mental health counseling, or family counseling. That being said, you may also choose to earn a degree centered on gerontology, community health, social work, or thanatology with a graduate certificate in grief counseling.
3. Acquire Professional Licensure and Certification
Once you graduate from a counseling master's degree program, you'll need to complete two years of post-graduate clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Then, you'll need likely need to pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) to receive the license needed to practice independently within your state. Although it's not yet mandatory, grief counselors can also benefit from pursuing voluntary certification for professional advancement. Through the American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP), you can choose to obtain the Certified Grief Counseling designation with 100 additional hours of continuing education. You'll need to complete recertification every four years with 50 contact study hours directly related to death and dying or bereavement education.
Overall, grief counseling is a form of psychotherapy designed to help people cope with the feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, loneliness, confusion, and numbness that commonly result from the death of someone close. Grief counselors are highly trained to help individuals face these feelings, work through the intense emotions, and overcome obstacles for successful healing. When you follow these steps for becoming a grief counselor, you'll be well-equipped with the knowledge and skills to lessen the distress associated with loss.