How Become a a Grief Counselor – Accredited Degrees and Schooling Guide [2024]

Why Grief Counseling is Important?

The loss of a loved one is one of the biggest emotional challenges a person will ever face. After a bereavement, it is vitally important that people find an outlet to mourn and express grief in a healthy and productive way.

Individuals go through four main stages of grief; accepting that a loss has occurred, experiencing grief associated to that loss, adjusting to a new life without that loved-one in it and finally, trying to move the focus of their energy from grieving into other areas of their life.

Whilst everybody finds grieving difficult, some people struggle more than others and progression through the stages of grief can stall at any on of the four points. If this happens, there is the potential for grief to escalate into depression.

Grief counselors provide an invaluable service to help individuals struggling with any areas of the grieving process. The ultimate aim is to help people through the various stages in a healthy way and at a pace suitable to each patient.

What is a Grief Counselor?

A grief counselor is a specialist that works specifically with clients who are in the midst of experiencing a loss. Counselors in this area of specialization most often work with clients that have lost a loved one, such as a spouse or child, however, they work with clients in grief due to a wide variety of situations, from job loss to the end of a relationship to the death of a pet.

Grief counselors are highly trained in understanding the process of grieving and assisting people through that process in a healthy manner by employing principles of psychotherapy. They help clients work through the various feelings associated with the grieving process, from anger and anxiety to confusion and loneliness.

Working through these feelings is most often the result of compassionate listening by the grief counselor, although, other techniques, such as art therapy, can be employed in order to help the client work through his or her feelings.

Due to the sensitive nature of their job, grief counselors are often characterized as being comfortable with death and other forms of loss. Oftentimes people seeking out grief counseling services do so because the individuals in their lives, such as their family and friends, although well meaning, simply do not know how to be supportive of someone in grief. As a result, grief counselors have a deep understanding of the cycle of grief and how to offer emotional support at each stage of that cycle.

A grief counselor can take many forms. They may be a clinically trained psychologist, or they may be a social worker. Many members of the clergy offer grief counseling services as well. Therefore, it is difficult to characterize exactly what a grief counselor is, at least from an educational or career standpoint.

Why Do We Need Grief Counselors?

Loss is in inevitable part of life, whether it is due to losing a family member or spouse, divorce, or even job loss. The void left can lead individuals to feeling unable to cope with the daily events of life. That is where grief counselors come into play, offering a supportive environment in which clients can share their thoughts and fears.

Grief counselors allow clients to experience the myriad of emotions that are associated with grief and mourning, which can include anger, anxiety, and even guilt, which are normal responses, but can overwhelm the client or those within their support circle.

Grief counselors can also provide insight into adjustment, understanding the grief process, resolving feelings of conflict and working to alleviate feelings of depression. Without their assistance, some people may move in a depressive state – their work is vital in providing help before it gets to that point.

Where Does a Grief Counselor Work?

Bereavement can happen in a variety of places, which allows grief counselors a wide variety of places to work. As a grief counselor, you could work in a hospital, mental health clinic, or even funeral home, assisting clients through their time of loss.

Additionally, you could work in senior centers or retirement homes, helping residents to work through their grief of losing a friend. The military is also increasing their use of grief counselors, as a way to help families and fellow soldiers cope with the loss of a service member.

Some grief counselors also make house calls, allowing their clients to meet with a counselor in the comfort of their own home. Grief counselors can provide counseling services in both individual and group sessions, each providing valuable resources and benefits to the clients.

What are the Requirements to Become a Grief Counselor?

Grief Counseling Degree

The educational requirements for grief counselors vary, depending on what type of services you desire to provide. A bachelor’s degree in the human services field, such as social work, psychology, or counseling can help to provide essential skills that are useful in grief counseling. However, many employers and states require individuals to obtain a master’s degree.

A growing number of grief counselors are earning post-graduate degrees in mental health counseling, which may equip them with more tools to assist their clients and provide the counselors with more lucrative and higher paid positions.

Volunteering in hospice facilities can help to provide you with an introduction to the challenging topics that grief counselors face on a regular basis, which can help you to decide if the career is right for you.

Grief Counseling Licensing Requirements

Not all counselors who work with grieving individuals need to obtain a license. Non-licensed bereavement counselors typically work in funeral homes, and are able to provide support to clients who are coping with the death of a loved one. However, they are not able to provide the same services as a licensed or professional grief counselor.

In order to become a licensed counselor, upon earning a master’s degree in counseling or a similar field, you will need to complete a supervised clinical residency, where you will be able to practice the skills you learned in your coursework.

The number of hours required in order to fulfill licensing requirements varies from state to state, with some mandating 2,000 hours, and others 4,000 hours of clinical experience, so it is important to check with your individual state to determine the appropriate supervision needs.

Additionally, if you work within the mental health care or other health care fields, you can obtain certification through the American Academy of Grief Counseling, which can provide you with specialized training and can increase your employment opportunities.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Grief Counselor?

Typically, it takes 6-8 years to become a licensed grief counselor, including the time spent completing a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, supervised experience, and obtaining licensure. However, the exact time frame can vary depending on individual circumstances or any specific requirements in your state.

What Skills and Qualities are Needed for a Grief Counselor?

As a grief counselor, you will need to possess good people skills and empathy for clients who are going through a very tough time. Problem solving skills are also useful, as are networking and collaboration skills, which may be useful when working within a treatment team environment.

Being familiar with multicultural diversity would also be a valuable skill, as different backgrounds view death and dying in unique ways.

What is the Salary of a Grief Counselor?

Grief counselors work in a variety of settings, which can affect the average salary. As of February 2024, according to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for grief counselors is $65,571. Top earners (90th percentile) make well over $100,000 per year.

Geographic location, types of services provided, educational background, and type of employment institution are some of the variables that can influence the annual salary. Grief counselors working in California, Texas, New York, and Virginia on average earn $72,683, $63,893, $69,823, and $64,683 respectively.

What is the Job Outlook for Grief Counselors?

Similarly to other professions within the counseling and mental health care fields, grief counselors will continue to be in need. As more employers witness the valuable resources grief counselors offer, more companies are starting to cover the services under insurance, which can help the field to continue to grow.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of mental health counselors, which includes licensed grief counselors, is expected to increase by 22% by the year 2031, which is considered to be much faster than other occupations. The majority of grief counselors employed are female, with less than four years of experience.

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