Grief counseling is a specialized field for professionals who are already trained and credentialed as counselors. It is not intended as a stand-alone field of study but one that channels existing skills and resources to address the needs of clients who are experiencing the loss of a loved one, a job, a pet or other life-altering losses. As a grief counselor, you will be trained to understand the grieving process so that you can help people work through their grief in a healthy way. Using psychotherapy, talk therapy, art therapy and other coping strategies, you will help clients deal with their loss. You can choose to focus on one or more of the following sub-specialties. The American Academy of Grief Counseling offers programs and various pathways to become a certified grief counselor in these fields.
1. Grief Recovery Practitioner
The grief recovery practitioner focuses on patient care as well as research and policy making to support the development of new interventions. This is an advance-level program for counselors who have completed at least a four-year degree in psychology, sociology, social work or similar programs. AAGC, the certifying agency, requires candidates for certification to complete 360 contact hours by taking continuing education courses.
2. Child & Adolescent Grief Counselor
Children and adolescents who experience loss or who are exposed to traumatic incidents need bereavement counseling as soon as possible to help put their experience in context. These grief counselors typically work in schools, hospitals and community centers. when dealing with very young clients, it is important to be familiar with their attitudes and mindset to create a relationship of trust. Counseling minors entails an understanding of the legal aspects of treating underage patients. As counselor, you will have to explain the reality of death and dying to very young children who may not fully grasp abstract concepts just yet.
3. Family Grief Counselor
Sometimes, tragedy strikes an entire family. Family grief counselors understand family dynamics and are adept at handling conflicts among families members, which are often made worse under stressful situations. These counselors may meet with clients individually or as a group. Interventions and counseling strategies may vary, depending on age, emotional maturity and other factors. The key consideration is preserving and strengthening the family unit through a period of upheavals. Family grief counselors may work in hospitals, clinics
4. Pet Loss Grief Recovery Specialist
Pets are family members, and losing one that has been with you for many years can be as devastating as the loss of a close relative or friend. The pet loss grief recovery specialist should understand the unique bond between people and their pets.
5. Religion-based Grief Counselor
Bereavement counseling for Christians or any other religion are niche specializations. Psychotherapy and other interventions must respect religious restrictions, so it is important to be familiar with the specific religious dogma of the group that you intend to serve.
To become a certified grief counselor, you should have earned at least a bachelor's degree in the social sciences fields. For those who are committed to this career track, pursuing a graduate degree in counseling, behavioral psychology or social work helps to build up research and communication skills as well as critical thinking and analytical skills. Counseling is a field that may also be of interest to religious leaders such as priests and pastors in the ministry. Funeral directors, physicians and other health care professionals providing direct care to patients may benefit from the additional training required to become certified in one of the sub-specialties of grief counseling.