Many of us have felt grief after losing someone important in our lives. While it is a shared human experience, grief manifests in many different ways. “Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience,” states HelpGuide.org. “How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss.” Symptoms of grief may include shock, denial, sadness, anger, fear, guilt and even physical symptoms, such as insomnia, weight gain/loss and nausea.
Other Causes of Grief
We normally associate grief with the death of a close family member or friend. But other forms of loss can lead to grief such as a romantic or friendship break-up, divorce, losing a job, retirement, a miscarriage, loss of a pet, loss of one’s home, losing financial stability, developing a serious illness (loss of health) or loss of a sense security and safety after experiencing a trauma.
There is no fixed timetable on how long someone should grieve. Depending on the individual it can last for weeks, months or years. However, when “grief feels like too much to bear,” it is recommended that an individual see a grief counselor, says HelpGuide.Org. Grief counselors help individuals deal with intense emotions and symptoms in order to grieve healthily, heal and be able to function in all areas of life.
Grief Counselors At a Glance
- Degree Level Requirements: Master’s Degree
- Licensure Requirements: Licensure to practice as a counselor required; requirements vary by state.
- Median Annual Salaries: $40,080*
- Job Outlook: 37% growth from 2010 to 2020**
Career & Job Description
A grief counselor may work in a variety of settings, including for a health authority, community organization or family services agency, at a hospital, outpatient clinic or hospice or in private practice. With proper training and experience, grief counselors may be called in for on-site crisis support and consultation, such as at a school or corporate environment. A grief counselor may work with clients/patients of all ages.
Some of the roles played by grief counselors include:
- Provide individual, family and group counseling
- In some cases, provide counseling or perform follow-ups over the phone.
- Facilitate support groups and grief related workshops
- In certain environments (such as palliative care), identify at risk individuals (i.e. at risk of severe, debilitating grief) and provide crisis intervention.
- Create grief/bereavement plans for clients/patients and evaluate their progress.
- Maintain patient/client files and detail sessions.
- Provide educational sessions to other professionals that work with bereaved individuals.
- Make referrals or communicate with other healthcare/community resources and professionals as needed.
- Create a “resource bank” of articles, exercises, books, community programs and other beneficial sources and make available to patients/clients and others that help bereaved individuals.
Social Workers can also offer Grief Counseling
“It was [Dannette] Hartz’ job to try and comfort the young man and help him reach family members,” reports Standard-Examiner correspondent, Jamie Lampros. “Her role is to help individuals through the process of trauma and grief, to be able to listen, normalize feelings and reactions and offer suggestions and tools for working through the long-term grief process.” Hartz adds that she and her team at the hospital (which helps families and patients) make themselves available, either onsite or on call, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Note that often employers seeking grief counseling professionals are looking either for Licensed Counselors or Social Workers.
Specializations / Concentrations
Grief counseling is a specialty in and of itself. Some counselors may solely focus their practice on helping bereaved individuals. Others may also have additional specialties, such as couples therapy, family counseling, abuse or trauma, anxiety, depression, divorce, blended families, stress management, etc.
Explore Your Career Path
The Educational Journey
Generally speaking, to practice as a professional grief counselor (and to become licensed), you must complete a Master’s degree. You might choose to take a break in between your Bachelor’s and Master’s degree to gain some valuable and relevant career experience.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Relevant undergraduate degrees include a Bachelor of Psychology, Human Services, Social Work, Counseling or other related disciplines. But those who go on to pursue a Master’s to become a counselor may come from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds. However, some Master’s degree programs may require completion of pre-requisite courses in Psychology/Humanities/ Research Methods.
- Relevant Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: Dependent on particular Bachelor’s degree (and some careers may require certification), some relevant careers include Social Worker Assistant, Geriatric Residential Counselor, Activity Director, Research Assistant, Psychiatric Technician, Case Manager, Substance Abuse Counselor, Rehabilitation Advisor, and more.
- Master’s Degree: Relevant graduate degrees include a Master’s of Counseling, Counseling Psychology, Mental Health Counseling, etc. (Note that those who wish to advance their education can also take graduate-level or advanced certificate programs specifically in Grief Counseling.)
To practice as a counselor in a professional capacity, you generally need to be licensed. Relevant licenses include LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LCPC (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor) and LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor). Licensure requirements vary by state. Contact your state’s regulatory board for more information. (The National Board for Certified Counselors can direct you to many relevant state boards: www.nbcc.org/directory.
As a continuous learner and to expand your expertise, you can gain certifications or complete relevant grief counseling coursework from universities and places like the Grief Recovery Institute, the American Grief Academy and the Children’s Grief Education Association.
The term “complicated grief” has been around since at least the 1990s when bereavement researchers specified its symptoms, states Psychology Today (“A Complicated Grief”).
Such a form of grief, so severe and constant that it keeps a bereaved individual from resuming his/her life, has been characterized as having disturbing thoughts, extreme yearning for the deceased, feeling like a part of themselves died…even searching for the deceased in crowds. According to a Huffington Post article by Kenneth J. Doka, M.Div., Ph.D (May 29, 2013), “10 to 15 percent of grievers have severe reactions to the loss of a loved one and thus may need treatment that includes prescription medication and counseling.”
There has been much debate over the diagnosis of “complicated grief.” The authors of the DSM-4 chose to omit “complicated grief” from the manual; some of those on the DSM-5 committee argued for the inclusion of “complicated grief disorder” or “prolonged grief disorder” diagnoses. Instead, the new DSM-5 omitted the “bereavement exclusion” when it came to “major depressive disorders” (one major reason being that the exclusion had put a two month time limit on bereavement); additionally Section III of the of the DSM-5 included “complex bereavement disorder” as part of its “Conditions for Further Study.”
- Reference & Data Information Provided by the Following:
- * May 2012 (for Mental Health Counselors, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- ** May 2010 (for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- † Salary data from US BLS http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211014.htm
- ‡ Job Outlook data from US BLS http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm
- Other Sources/References