Pros and Cons of a Grief Counselor Career
Grief counselors, also called bereavement counselors or coordinators, support the dying and bereaved. Learn about the pros and cons of a career in grief counseling below.
|Pros of a Career as a Grief Counselor|
|Bright job outlook for those with professional backgrounds related to grief counseling (average job growth of 12% predicted for psychologists, faster-than-average growth of 19% for social workers and much-faster-than average growth of 29% for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists)*|
|Professional certification programs available that provide continuing education and demonstrate your specific qualifications as a grief counselor to potential employers**|
|Professional and personal satisfaction found in listening to, educating, supporting and advocating for people experiencing loss**|
|Variety of practice settings (funeral homes, hospices, acute-care facilities and social services agencies are some of the places grief counselors work)**|
|Cons of a Career as a Grief Counselor|
|Minimum of a master's degree often required for professional grief counselors*|
|Salaries tend toward the middle of the road despite the educational costs for career entry (mental health counselors, for example, earned a median salary of about $41,000, compared with the median across all occupations, which is around $36,000; meanwhile, the average salary for a mental health counselor is about $44,000, compared with $47,000 across all occupations)*|
|Stress may be experienced from daily encounters with people experiencing sometimes severe manifestations of grief*|
|Working evenings and weekends may be required*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Academy of Grief Counseling.
Job Description and Duties
You may practice grief counseling under different job titles, as well as levels and types of training. Medical social workers, for example, may be on hand at hospitals to provide support, referrals and services to the bereaved. As a medical social worker, you may provide short-term therapy and refer people to bereavement support groups facilitated by chaplains. Volunteers associated with these groups are also likely to receive basic training in grief counseling and assist in support group facilitation and follow-up services. Additionally, counselors practicing in a variety of settings - like hospitals, schools and jails - may complete specialized training in assisting clients experiencing different kinds of loss.
Hospices and acute care facilities are among the types of employers more likely to hire professionals with the specific job title of grief or bereavement counselor. Typically, employers seeking grief or bereavement counselors seek applicants who meet state licensure requirements as social workers, mental health counselors or psychologists. Licensure in these mental health fields enables you to provide therapy to people who may be experiencing normal or atypical grief symptoms. In addition to providing individual and group therapy, your duties may include coordination of interns and volunteers, community outreach and program evaluation.
Job Prospects and Salary Info
Though job outlook and salary data aren't available specifically for grief counselors from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the BLS does collect this data for related qualifying professions of marriage and family therapist (MFT), mental health counselor, psychologist and clinical social worker. The BLS groups MFTs and mental health counselors together and predicted them to experience collectively a 29% increase in job growth from 2012-2022, which is much faster than average. The BLS also expected faster-than-average job growth for social workers at 19% and average growth for psychologists at 12% during the same decade. Population growth and increasing numbers of people seeking treatment for mental health issues is fueling job growth in mental health fields.
According to a May 2014 BLS report, mental health counselors earned a median salary of about $41,000, while MFTs, social workers and psychologists earned, respectively, about $48,000, $59,000 and $69,000. Salary.com collects wage data for professions within the grief counseling field, specifically bereavement coordinator and home care bereavement services director. Bereavement coordinators provide survivors with counseling services to cope with the loss of loved ones, while bereavement services directors train grief or bereavement counselors, as well as design and direct counseling programs. According to 2015 figures gathered by Salary.com, bereavement coordinators earned a median salary of about $56,000, while directors earned roughly $56,000.
What Are the Requirements?
Though some employers hire grief counselors with training at the bachelor's degree level, a review of job posts for grief and bereavement counselors during August 2012 revealed that many employers seek to hire licensed mental health professionals in fields like social work, marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling or psychology. Specific licensure requirements vary by state and by occupation. Qualification for licensure as a clinical social worker, MFT or mental health counselor requires completion of an accredited master's degree program; clinical and psychologists need to earn a doctorate in psychology.
You can gain specialized knowledge in grief counseling through your degree program. Loss and grief are universal human experiences, which mental health professionals examine throughout their professional training and coursework. Some programs in psychology, social work and counseling may also provide you with opportunities to complete concentrations in loss and grief. In addition to coursework in psychology, counseling and social work degree programs, you may consider specialized certificate programs in grief counseling. Among the topics you may encounter in these programs are multicultural perspectives on grief and loss, facilitation of support groups, spiritual dimensions of grief, trauma and art therapy.
Useful Professional Attributes
Your training in clinical or counseling psychology, clinical social work or mental health counseling will provide you with counseling theories and methods useful for grief counselors. In addition to this training, some qualities and skills are essential to success in this field. Compassion and empathy for clients in painful situations combined with strong listening skills are especially important. You also need good people skills as a grief counselor to work well with diverse clients and colleagues. Furthermore, time-management and problem-solving skills serve you to manage case loads and to determine solutions to complex client issues.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Most job posts for grief or bereavement counselors come from hospices or home care agencies seeking professionals to provide a variety of services, including individual or group counseling, volunteer training and community outreach. Generally, licensure as a mental health professional is required to provide therapy as a grief counselor; however, some hospices seek grief counselors with bachelor's degrees who provide more general support services. Following is a sample of job postings for grief or bereavement counselors from actual employers during August 2012.
- A Virginia hospice seeks a bereavement counselor to provide support and education to patients and family members, as well as supervise volunteers. Candidates need a bachelor's degree, proficiency in office productivity software and at least two years' experience working with the terminally ill and their families.
- A Florida hospice seeks a bereavement counselor with advanced clinical skills to provide individual and group therapy. Additional duties include designing and implementing supportive care programs, community education and patient advocacy. A master's degree is required in social work, counseling or psychology, in addition to specific training in thanatology (the study of death and dying), grief resolution and crisis intervention.
- A Massachusetts hospice is looking for a bereavement counselor to plan and coordinate grief support groups, as well as assess clients for individual and group therapy. This job involves facilitating adult and family bereavement support groups and planning community grief workshops. Qualifications for this position include licensure as a clinical social worker.
How to Stand Out
You can take steps while pursuing your graduate degree in clinical social work, counseling or psychology to become an outstanding candidate for a grief counselor position on graduation. In addition to completing coursework or a concentration in grief counseling, you may consider gaining valuable hands-on experience in the field by choosing to complete required internships at hospices or home care agencies. Most employers are seeking applicants with experience working with clients with terminal illness and providing bereavement support services, which you can acquire while pursuing a degree.
Continuing Education and Professional Certification
Completing continuing education and earning professional certification in grief counseling can also impress potential employers. The American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP), for example, offers a 4-course continuing education program in grief counseling to eligible professionals through its American Academy of Grief Counseling, which leads to certification. Among eligible candidates are licensed social workers and psychologists, registered nurses, pastoral counselors and licensed funeral directors. Specialized certifications are available through the AIHCP in child and adolescent grief counseling, pet loss grief recovery and Christian grief counseling.
The Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) also offers professional certification at beginning and advanced levels to those who meet experience and education requirements in the areas of death education and grief counseling. You're required to pass an exam for certification at each level and complete continuing education to maintain your certification. If you choose to become a member of this interdisciplinary organization, you also have access to professional development opportunities, like self-study courses, webinars and conferences. Additional certification and professional development opportunities, including courses specific to grief and loss issues, may be available through membership in professional associations for licensed clinical social workers, psychologists and mental health counselors.
Other Careers to Consider
Several careers, some previously discussed, overlap with grief counseling. As a clinical social worker or mental health counselor, rather than a specialized grief or bereavement counselor, you work with clients experiencing broader forms loss and grief, like job loss or divorce. Nurses, school counselors, chaplains and funeral directors, among other professionals, engage in grief counseling as one of their professional roles. These are additional careers worth considering if you're interested in grief counseling, depending on what level and in which capacity you wish to support people experiencing loss and grief.