Becoming a Grief Counselor – Careers & Outlook

Are you considering a career as a grief counselor? If you are interested in learning about psychology, people’s coping methods, and have an aptitude for heling grieving people assess and explore their feelings, this may be a good profession for you. Sometimes referred to as grief therapists or bereavement counselors, these professionals can make a huge difference in the lives of others dealing with personal losses such as a divorce, being fired, or the death of a loved one. It’s important to realize that, while this work can be extremely rewarding, assisting clients with these difficult issues can also be very stressful, especially if you have trouble separating your work and personal life. The most successful grief counselors are compassionate, patient, articulate, and good at listening.

Steps to Become a Grief Counselor


  • Step 1: Complete the Necessary Education Requirements

  • Step 2: Obtain State Licensure

  • Step 3: Become Certified in Grief Counseling

  • Step 4: Join Professional Associations and/or Organizations

steps-to-take-grief-counselor-careers

Step 1: Complete the Necessary Education Requirements

Grief counselors generally begin their academic careers by enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program. Students can choose from a variety of fields including social services, psychology, and counseling. Most bachelor’s degrees consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and can be completed by full-time students within four years. Classes commonly cover concepts in social psychology, family guidance, and human services.

Employment requirements vary by state. While bachelor’s degree graduates may be able to find employment in some locations, many employers require candidates have master’s degrees. In all cases, professionals with a graduate degree can provide more services to their clients and require less supervision in their work. Programs with an emphasis in grief counseling generally consist of 60 credit hours and require approximately two years to complete.

Graduate certificate programs in grief counseling are also available. Graduate students enrolled in broader, but related, master’s degrees may benefit from enrolling in one of these. They often take little time to complete but provide more specialized training in the field.

Step 2: Obtain State Licensure

While no specific license exists for grief counselors, some states do require professionals to obtain a license in a similar field. Every state is different and regulations can vary significantly. As a result, it’s imperative to research your state’s requirements thoroughly. You should always consult with a local government agency about any potential licensure requirements as soon as possible.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require private practice substance abuse, behavior disorder, and mental health counselors to be licensed. Licensure requires passing a state board-approved examination and, in most cases, candidacy is only open to those with a master’s degree. Graduates may be eligible to apply for the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) exam. After two years of supervision under a fully licensed professional, they may be eligible to apply for the Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) exam.

Without licensure, grief counselor professionals in this field may be unable to offer certain services, such as one-on-one counseling sessions, and will likely need more extensive supervision. Those interested in working as a grief counselor outside of private practice may still need a license.

Step 3: Become Certified in Grief Counseling

There are also numerous certifications available for counseling professionals to pursue. While none are necessarily required, most can be extremely beneficial and may help candidates stand out among their competition. In particular, grief counselors who aspire to specialize in death and bereavement counseling should strongly consider enrolling in a certification training program.

The American Academy of Greif Counseling (AAGC) offers several certification programs. To receive Grief Counseling Certification, grief counselor professionals must complete a four-course program. To earn a Fellowship in Grief Counseling, candidates must complete a seven-course program. Both are available completely online.

Some of the other opportunities offered through AAGC include:

  • Child / Adolescent Grief
  • Christian Grief
  • Fellowship in Grief Counseling
  • Grief Support Practitioner
  • Pastoral Thanatology
  • Pet Loss Support Specialist

The Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) also offers viable certification options. Candidates can become Certified in Thanatology or become a Fellow in Thanatology. Additionally, there are many other associations and organizations offering certifications as well.

Step 4: Join Professional Associations and/or Organizations

It is also advisable for grief counselors to join professional associations and/or organizations. There are several options available, and each offers a wide variety of benefits to both current practitioners and students.

Membership costs and benefits vary significantly from one organization to another. This makes it essential to research all prospective associations and organizations thoroughly before becoming a member. Some of the most common reasons for joining include easy access to economics-related tools and resources, conferencing and networking opportunities, free or discounted continued education courses, and a safe place to share ideas.

Two of the most popular associations for grief counselors are the American Academy of Grief Counseling (AAGC) and the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).

What is a Grief Counselor?


Grief counselors are specially trained to help people cope with grief. They are capable of working with all types of people and addressing all types of loss, big and small. Some grief counselor professionals do, however, choose to specialize in specific kinds of grief counseling (i.e., terminal medical diagnoses or trauma during military service).

What Does a Grief Counselor Do?


The primary responsibility of grief counselors is to assist others in coping with loss. Counseling is a relatively individualized process, but the ultimate goals of treatment generally remain the same. Grief counselor professionals utilize various techniques to help clients accept the loss, work through the associated pain, and adjust to life afterward. Every case is unique, but the process usually consists of educating patients about the normal progression of grief, encouraging the expression of feelings, helping to build new relationships, and discussing how to navigate life moving forward.

Grief counselors generally work with patients one-on-one, but they may also provide services to larger groups. Regardless of the setting, these professionals are prepared to work with all sorts of loss and can identify and treat the various symptoms of grief including suicidal thoughts, uncontrollable crying, lack of appetite, sleeping problems, irritability, panic attacks, and feelings of hopelessness.

Because grief counseling is often part of the continuum of care, a grief counselor must be able to work alongside other therapeutic and medical professionals. They can provide services in a wide variety of places including hospitals, mental health clinics, and funeral homes. Full-time employment is typical, with some jobs requiring evening, night, and weekend hours. Grief counselors may also choose to establish their own private practices.

Needed Skills to Acquire


Those who plan to become grief counselors must realize that, while the field can be extremely rewarding, it’s also quite demanding. To ensure success, prospective professionals should begin developing and honing certain key skills as early as possible.

Most grief counselors possess the following qualities:

  • Compassion and empathy necessary to work with people dealing with stressful and difficult situations
  • Patience necessary to remain calm when working with all types of patients, including those who may be distressed or angry
  • Listening skills necessary to give their full attention to clients to better understand their problems and values
  • Speaking skills necessary to effectively communicate with clients, expressing ideas and information in ways that are easily understood
  • Interpersonal skills necessary to work with other counselors and medical specialists, as well as with clients
  • Writing skills necessary to keep properly document patient data and treatment recommendations
  • Problem-solving skills necessary to determine solutions to complex client issues
  • Time-management skills necessary to manage caseloads appropriately

Alternative Education and Career Paths


Because most grief counselors are expected to have graduate-level degrees from accredited institutions, the academic pathway into this career is relatively static. There are, however, some opportunities for variation in undergraduate degree selection, so long as the program selected is in a relevant field. Many different degrees can lead to jobs that deal with grief counseling. Option include, but are not limited to, human services, social science, human development, and psychology.

While lower-level degrees are available, these often limit grief counselor employment opportunities significantly and result in earning much lower salaries. Ultimately, the path to becoming a grief counselor will depend mostly upon state regulations, as well as the candidate’s ultimate career goals. It’s essential to research all grief counselor professional requirements thoroughly prior to selecting an academic program and/or applying for employment.

Grief Counselor Career & Salary


According to PayScale, the average base salary for mental health counselors is $44,000 per year. The average licensed professional counselor earned a base salary of $49,300 per year. According to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $47,700 in 2020. All of these figures are above the median annual wage of $37,700 for all occupations. It’s important to note, however, that most entry-level professionals only make an average of $40,000 per year. Salaries tend to rise based on years of experience, with those who have been working in the field for at least 20 years earning average salaries around $51,000 per year.

Where Might You Work?


might-you-work-grief-counselor-careers

Grief counselors can work in a wide variety of places. They may be found anywhere that services to grieving and bereaved individuals are necessary. The largest employers of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors were outpatient mental health centers, individual and family service facilities, hospitals, residential mental health facilities, and the government. The number one employer for this field in 2019 was the outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers.

States with the highest employment level for mental health counselors include California, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, and Massachusetts. Areas with fewer positions include Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nevada.

However, high employment rates do not necessarily coincide with high salary potential. In 2020, Nevada was the top paying state for mental health counselors, followed by the Utah, Alaska, New Jersey, and Oregon. Some of the lowest paying states included Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

Career Outlook


The job outlook for mental health counselors, including those offering grief-related services, is extremely promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that there will be a 25% increase in job availability between 2019 and 2029. This is much faster than the average for all other occupations.

The major reason for this increase is that patients are expected to continue seeking mental health and addiction counseling services. As the stigma against counseling diminishes, more and more people will seek assistance. The unfortunate truth is that loss is a prominent part of life, so there will always be the need for professionals capable of helping others process through the resulting feelings.

Individuals with master’s degrees will have the best job prospects, especially those who are looking for employment in rural areas or other communities that are underserved by mental health practitioners. It’s not uncommon for workers to leave the field after only a few years, so there are generally positions available for new professionals.

Jobs


Earning a degree in counseling or a related field can lead to a wide variety of career opportunities. It’s not uncommon for grief counselor graduates to find work in outpatient facilities, hospitals, community mental health centers, hospice facilities, funeral homes, rehabilitation and long-term care facilities, and social services agencies.

Some of the most common positions include:

  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Licensed Professional Counselor
  • Case Manager
  • Mental Health Therapist
  • Social Worker
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker
  • Substance Abuse Counselor

Mental Health Counselor


Mental health counselors are responsible for treating, and possibly diagnosing, mental health problems and illnesses in patients. They regularly assist clients through various psychological difficulties and/or illnesses. These professionals may meet one-on-one or offer group counseling sessions. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average salary of $44,000 per year.

  • Licensed Professional Counselor
    Licensed professional counselors are responsible for assisting patients with mental illnesses, disorders, or imbalances to set goals and maintain good mental health. They also function as case managers, consultants, and educators, maintaining numerous records relating to patient therapy. These professionals can operate their own private practices. According to PayScale, licensed professional counselors make an average salary of $49,300 per year.
  • Case Manager
    Case managers are responsible for helping the elderly, people with illnesses, the impoverished, recovering addicts, and convicts. They regularly provide advice and guidance in various areas that are intended to improve the lives of their patients. These professionals may also speak with family members, potential employers, and medical professionals on behalf of their clients. According to PayScale, case managers make an average base hourly rate of $18.08, or $41,700 per year.
  • Mental Health Therapist
    Mental health therapists are responsible for conducting therapy in a variety of areas including marriage, school, and psychology. They often help patients overcome behavioral and/or psychological obstacles. These professionals regularly interact with patients, write progress notes, coordinate with other care providers, and report concerns. According to PayScale, mental health therapists make an average salary of $46,500 per year.
  • Social Worker
    Social workers are responsible for working with patients and their families to assess and treat a wide variety of issues. They help their clients understand and cope with various emotional and social problems. These professionals serve as advocates, often providing their patients with important resources. According to PayScale, social workers make an average salary of $48,900 per year.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor
    Substance abuse counselors are responsible for providing therapy to people who are struggling with the use and abuse of alcohol and/or drugs. They work with patients one-on-one, but may also offer group support sessions. These professionals develop individualized recovery plans and regularly evaluate client progress. According to PayScale, substance abuse counselors make an average base hourly rate of $17.72, or approximately $40,300 per year.

Find Grief Counselor Jobs Near You


Frequently Asked Questions


Advancing From Here

A doctoral degree is not required to become a grief counselor, but earning one may be beneficial. Graduates will be regarded as experts and are more likely to have access to top employment opportunities within the grief counselor field. In particular, those professionals interested in conducting research or who want to impact academic and/or state policies will need a PhD in counseling or a related field.

Ideal for licensed professionals, these degree programs qualify graduates for positions in leadership, research, and/or education at the postsecondary level. Most doctoral degree programs usually consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours and take full-time students five to seven years to complete. Every institution is different and curriculum is often based on student interest.

Where do grief counselors work?

Grief counselors are highly sought by those in need, often through referrals from doctors, health care providers, or government agencies. Counselors who specialize in grief work may be in private practice or employed by community mental health counseling facilities. Their services may be needed at hospice facilities, funeral homes, rehabilitation and long-term care facilities, social service agencies, and a variety of public and private settings depending on circumstances.

What do grief counselors do?

Grief counselors assist people going through a loss, illness, divorce, and other major life changes. Counselors in this field help clients come to terms with their loss or change and guide them through their emotions, sometimes intense, to adapt to their new normal in a healthy way.

What is the median salary for a grief counselor?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide salary information about grief counselors specifically, but they do provide salary data for related fields. Mental health counselors, which are considered to be a closely related profession, earned a median salary of 47,660 per year in 2020.

What are the licensing requirements?

Although licensure is not required to become a grief counselor, state licensure is required if you practice as a licensed professional counselor working with grief. Normally, applicants must have completed a counseling or similar master's degree program, two years of supervised postgraduate clinical experience, and a passing score on a state licensing exam.

What skills and qualities are needed for a grief counselor?

A grief counselor must have good people skills and empathy for clients who are going through a difficult time. Working within a treatment team environment may require problem-solving skills, networking skills, and collaboration skills. Being familiar with multicultural diversity would also be a valuable skill, as different backgrounds view death and dying in unique ways.

Psychology & Counseling Career Paths