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How to Become a Grief Counselor

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The loss of a loved one can be a devastating experience. Grief counseling is a specialty in the mental health field, focused on helping those who have suffered a loss. Although the terms bereavement counseling and grief counseling are used interchangeably, bereavement is specific to the death of a loved one, according to the GoodTherapy.org website, while grief can occur with any loss, such as a job loss. Most grief counselors first become mental health professionals and then seek specific training in grief counseling.

Mental Health Professionals

Mental health professionals include mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. Any might decide to specialize in grief counseling. Educational requirements for these professions differ, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but a master’s degree is typically the minimum entry-level requirement for all except the social worker, who might have a bachelor’s degree. Clinical and counseling psychologists, who would be the most likely members of that profession to specialize in grief counseling, must have a doctorate. As a physician, a psychiatrist must complete college, medical school and residency, and may also complete specialized training in a fellowship.

Licensing and Certification

Other requirements vary, according to the BLS. Social workers must be licensed or certified in all states. Clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience to become licensed. Most states require mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to have a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical practice to become licensed, which is required. You must also pass a state-recognized exam. Clinical and counseling psychologists typically complete a supervised clinical internship. To become licensed, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology after gaining one to two years of clinical experience. Psychiatrists must be licensed in all states. Certification is optional for psychologists and psychiatrists, but many choose to become board-certified.

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Specialized Training

After completing all educational and licensing requirements, you then begin the path to grief counseling. Options include continuing education courses, seminars and conferences, as well as formal education in the field. The Grief Recovery Institute offers a four-day certification course for mental health professionals and awards attendees the designation of Certified Grief Recovery Specialist. Several online courses are available from the American Academy of Grief Counseling. Brooklyn College offers a post-graduate certificate program in grief counseling. A baccalaureate degree is required for admission to the certificate program.

Another Path

The final path to grief counseling is to obtain a degree in thanatology -- the study of death, dying and bereavement. The Careers in Psychology website notes that programs in thanatology are available up to the doctorate level. Trinity University reports that several universities in the eastern United States offer master’s degrees in thanatology or specifically in grief counseling. A few other educational institutions offer bachelor’s degree programs in death-related studies. Once you have your degree, check the regulations in your state to determine whether you must meet licensing or certification requirements.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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