Grief Counselor

Grief counselors assist individuals and families dealing with loss, most often the death of a loved one. These specialized therapists counsel patients and clients in both group and individual sessions. Grief counselors guide clients through the process of healthy grieving to help them move forward with their lives and responsibilities. Grief counselors also may refer clients and patients to resources in the community that help facilitate their recovery and connect them with such services as legal aid, financial assistance, and housing. Typically, grief counselors work in healthcare organizations or with medical entities offering palliative end-of-life care. Additionally, grief counselors may work within city public services or the military, giving comfort and direction to those who lost loved ones in military service or from a homicide or accident.

Grief comes in many forms and hits people of all ages, backgrounds, and orientations. Becoming a grief counselor involves traversing painful roads and assisting people through life's most vulnerable moments. Grief counselors remain in high demand. With the current epidemic of school shootings, for example, school systems and communities require additional grief counselors to meet needs. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, grief counselors made services available throughout Broward County, Florida, to respond to the tragedy.

Generally, the minimum required education for a grief counselor is a bachelor's in psychology or a related field. Payscale reports an average yearly compensation of $45,000 for grief counselors.

How to Become a Grief Counselor

Degree Requirements

For those wondering how to become grief counselors, a bachelor's degree in counseling or a related field generally represents the minimum degree required for this position. Many grief counselors also pursue a master's degree in counseling, psychology, social work, or social sciences. Some employers may prefer applicants with a specific religious background or formal education in divinity and theology. However, becoming a certified grief counselor or a licensed grief counselor may involve more specific requirements, such as higher-level certifications or licenses. Students can often earn a grief counselor degree online.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

Grief counselors do not necessarily need to obtain licensure. However, to receive the official title of licensed grief counselor, certified grief counselor, or board certified grief counselor, an individual must complete specific programs and submit to a grief counselor certification board. Licensing requirements vary by state, but the American Academy of Grief Counseling offers a few different certifications. Applicants must meet at least one of the wide-ranging prerequisites listed online. Some of these paths, such as nursing, require licensing. Governmental licensing agencies generally issue licensure, while professional and non-governmental organizations usually grant certifications.

In addition to the grief counselor certification, the American Institute of Health Care Professionals offers more specific certification programs, such as grief recovery practitioner, Christian grief counseling, pet loss grief recovery, and child and adolescent grief counseling. Grief counselors may want to earn these credentials to prepare for working in particular environments or to expand their skill set when catering to unique individuals.

Bachelor's Degree vs. Master's Degree for Grief Counselors

While grief counseling requires a bachelor's degree at minimum, earning a master's degree or beyond comes with advantages, which we will discuss further in the degree breakdown. Using data from PayScale, the table below demonstrates the most obvious advantage: an increase in your grief counselor salary.

Average Reported Salary for Counselors by Degree Level

Degree Level Average Salary
Bachelor's in Counseling $42,269
Master's in Counseling $51,788

Source: PayScale

Bachelor's Degree

Traditionally, a bachelor's degree takes four years to complete. Students may earn a bachelor's degree in a shorter or longer time frame depending on the program and their scheduling availability. Some schools or programs require an internship as a part of a bachelor's curriculum. Other options may require a thesis, generally entailing close study with a supervising faculty member or mentor and culminating in a final project or presentation. Certain programs allow students to choose a specialization within their program or add a concentration. Different schools will offer varying types of specializations and concentrations. For example, many students may earn a bachelor's degree in counseling or psychology and choose to focus on domestic violence counseling as a specialization.

Limiting an education to a bachelor's degree also may limit job opportunities and salary potential to a certain extent. Not only does the additional credential of a master's degree increase earning potential, but it also carries with it more experiences and more weight in terms of the resume or interview process.

Sample Courses

  • Introduction to Death and Dying: This comprehensive foundational course covers introductory, basic, and intermediate education in regards to death, dying, and grief counseling skills.
  • Introduction to Counseling Psychology: As an introduction to counseling, this course gives insight into mental health counseling in general, as well as special examination of chemical dependency. The course covers general counseling first, then focuses on areas of emphasis.
  • Grief/Bereavement Capstone Project: In this independent learning course, students choose a focused area of study within the counseling/bereavement specialty and create a learning contract that includes 20 hours of work.
  • Psychosocial Aspects of Grief and Dying: In this comprehensive foundational course, students gain an understanding of significant psychosocial issues related to death and dying and connected grief counseling skills.
  • Caring for the Dying and Bereaved: This course explores both the formal and informal realities of caring for the dying and bereaved, an elemental and pervasive part of life and key aspect of grief counseling.

Master's Degree

A full-time student may complete a master's degree in 18 months to two years. However, standards vary across schools and programs, with some offering accelerated and part-time options. Typically, master's students must already hold a bachelor's degree for acceptance into a program, with entrance requirements becoming more strict at the graduate level. Master's programs often require a thesis, capstone, or research project, while doctoral programs may mandate a dissertation. To reach these goals, students may work with an adviser or faculty member and present their progress and final project before a board of individuals working within the department or discipline. Theses often take less time than dissertations, and master's students typically complete them in the final semester of coursework.

Earning a master's degree boosts professionals' resumes while increasing salary potential and job opportunities. For example, while most academic teaching positions require a doctorate degree, some schools also employ individuals with master's degrees.

Sample Courses

  • Grief and Bereavement Theory and Practice: Covering the history of grief research and resources for grief and bereavement, this course investigates various forms of loss, the common experiences of people in grief, and griever uniqueness.
  • Death and Dying: This course examines case studies, theories, and research revolving around the sociocultural dimensions of dying, death, and the concept of death in society.
  • Death and Dying: The Influences of Cultural, Spiritual, and Sociological Factors: This course investigates how experiences and understandings of death and dying relate to culture, spirituality, and sociology, and how to use that information to better understand grief.
  • Ethics and Cultural Diversity in Mental Health and Wellness: Addressing the history of ethics and the evolution of modern ethical codes, this course in mental health and wellness professions examines ethics and cultural diversity in relation to mental health professions.
  • Mental Health, Wellness, and Health Care Integration: This course builds a comprehensive understanding of mental health, wellness, and healthcare while exploring the integration of these fields. Students investigate the challenges faced by those with behavioral or mental health disorders and available treatments.

Employment and Salary Outlook for Grief Counselors

The BLS projects psychology employment to grow 14% between 2016 and 2026, with job prospects remaining strongest for those with a Ph.D. Similar occupations will also see growth, with social worker positions projected to grow by 16% and school and career counselor positions projected to grow by 13%. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists have the greatest projected growth within the discipline, and industrial-organized psychologists have the weakest.

The tables below demonstrate the industries with the highest levels of employment in the area of grief counseling and those with the highest concentration of employment. These tables breakdown the industries involved by employment numbers, percentage of industry employment, and annual mean wage. The industries with the highest annual mean wages of those sampled are the offices of other health practitioners, and the lowest are elementary and secondary schools and educational support services.

Industries With the Highest Levels of Employment for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Industry Employment Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Elementary and Secondary Schools 43,570 0.51% $77,43
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 16,300 1.86% $92,130
Individual and Family Services 7,100 0.31% $81,160
Outpatient Care Centers 5,840 0.66% $82,700
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 5,510 0.10% $85,090

Source: BLS

Industries With the Highest Concentration of Employment for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Industry Employment Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 16,300 1.86% $92,130
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals 3,500 1.46% $82,420
Educational Support Services 2,420 1.36% $74,250
Outpatient Care Centers 5,840 0.66% $82,700
Elementary and Secondary Schools 43,570 0.51% $77,43

Source: BLS

How Much Do Grief Counselors Make?

The salaries for grief counselor professionals can vary depending on several factors, including industry, location, years of experience, job title, and certification. The below tables break down some of these factors, demonstrating some not necessarily intuitive indicators. For example, salaries for licensed grief counselors appear highest mid career and lowest in late career. Overall, the salaries of those with the title of bereavement counselor remain higher at all stages than the salaries of those with the title of crisis counselor. The top-paying careers for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists appear in the industries of home healthcare services and specialty, except psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals. The lowest-paying careers for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists occur in local government, followed by offices of other health practitioners and management of companies and enterprises.

Salaries for Licensed Grief Counselors by Experience

  Entry-Level (0-5 Years) Mid-Career (5-10 Years) Experienced (10-20 Years) Late-Career (>20 Years)
Bereavement Counselor $45,000 $50,000 $48,000 $48,000
Crisis Counselor $35,000 $41,000 $47,000 $41,000

Source: PayScale

Top-Paying Industries for Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists

Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Home Health Care Services 270 $93,910
Specialty (Except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals) 520 $93,710
Management of Companies and Enterprises 350 $92,640
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 16,300 $92,130
Local Government 3,270 $90,450

Source: BLS

Related Careers for Grief Counselors

Grief counselor schooling can garner skills beyond this sole career path. Graduates may go about pursuing other careers by seeking out a specialization degree in a specific area; earning specialized certifications, such as those mentioned earlier in this article; or completing other continuing education or career-specific training programs. The table below presents various related career paths, short descriptions of the careers, average salaries, and the required degree level. The featured careers include school and career counselor, forensic psychologist, school psychologist, social worker, and rehabilitation counselor.

Occupation Description Salary Degree Level Required
School and Career Counselors School counselors assist students in developing social and academic abilities required to succeed in school. Career counselors assist people in choosing a career path. $55,410 Master's
Forensic Psychologist Forensic psychologists are licensed psychologists specializing in forensics, often with a doctorate in forensic psychology or counseling. These professionals may assist in courtroom scenarios. $62,981 Bachelor's
School Psychologists School psychologists focus on interpreting and assessing students to make sure they get the education best suited to their needs. $75,090 Doctoral
Social Worker Social workers work intimately with patients and their families to understand and treat a large variety of emotional and social issues. $47,980 Master's
Rehabilitation Counselors Rehabilitation counselors help individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities live independently and experience a higher quality of life. $34,860 Master's

Source: BLS/PayScale

How to Find a Job As a Grief Counselor

Finding a job as a grief counselor can depend on several different factors, including networking, education, experience, and acquired certification. To build a stronger resume and prepare for an interview, graduates benefit from gaining additional certification or specializations. If students know they want to work within a certain grief specialization, pursuing certification can give them an extra edge on the job market. Typically students can find resume-building workshops and related assistance through their school career center or counselor.

In terms of networking and resources, job fairs make an accessible option for students seeking work, which are often advertised through school career centers or counseling departments. A wide variety of organizations exist that provide networking opportunities and resources for both students and grief counseling professionals, such as networking events and job boards. Sometimes these organizations charge an annual membership fee or event-specific cost, but fees vary by organization. These networking organizations also feature educational and research opportunities, publications and journals, and other member benefits.

  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy represents the professional interests of counselors and provides resources to more than 50,000 family and marriage therapists.
  • International Association for Marriage and Family Counselors: The International Association for Marriage and Family Counselors offers resources to members who work in relationship or family counseling. IAMFC advocates for a multicultural and systemic approach to counseling.
  • Association for Addiction Professionals: NAADAC represents over 100,000 global professionals specializing in addiction-related fields. Since the grief process differs for addicts, this organization can help serve professionals interested in the overlap between these fields.

Professional Organizations for Grief Counselors

  • American Academy of Grief Counseling: The American Academy of Grief Counseling offers qualified professionals certification and fellowship programs in a two-tier program that starts with the certification of grief counselors and advances to a fellowship within the academy.
  • Association for Death Education and Counseling: The Association for Death Education and Counseling, with over 2,000 members, serves professionals working in death, dying, and bereavement.
  • American Counseling Association: The American Counseling Association, a not-for-profit entity, comprises the largest association of professional counselors in the world.
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association: The leading organization in the country for licensed clinical mental health counselors, the American Mental Health Counselors Association offers resources in education, advocacy, collaboration, and leadership.
  • American School Counselor Association: The American School Counselor Association aids the efforts of school counselors as they support students' career, academic, social, and emotional well-being. The ASCA provides resources, such as advocacy, research, professional development, and publications.
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