The Grief Counselor

The Grief Counselor is a specialty within the counseling field that is designed to help patients cope with grief associated with the loss of loved ones or in some instances other important life connections such as pets or careers. Whether a Grief Counselor is helping someone cope with the loss of a parent, child, spouse or friend, the Grief Counselor must create a safe environment for the client to express their grief. The key skills of the grief counselor are: communication, rapport, healthy boundaries, professionalism, empathy, compassion and cultural and generational sensitivity.

The Grief Counselor must recognize that everyone expresses their grief in different ways. Some people will hide behind bleak humor, others will cry with great frequency and intensity. Others feel emotionally blocked and disassociated from their bodies, feelings and even their lives. Many will withdraw from their families and friends as the emotional weight of the grief seems to act like a vise. For many people, the loss of a loved one can bring up deep unresolved emotional issues from their childhood and even adult lives. These must all be seen as part of the grieving process and the client given room to feel their feelings while having the grief counselor facilitate their own recognition of their emotions and arising patterns of behavior to find healthy outcomes.

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Grief Counselor as a Service to Society

The Grief Counselor provides and extremely valuable service to the individual. By helping them to feel safe to express the profound feelings associated with grief, the Grief Counselor is helping the client to move deeply into their feelings and eventually release them from their experience. The range of emotions that can arise in response to grief are as varied as those of human experience. Some may be unable to take life seriously and enter into a sort of comedic nihilism. Others may be gripped by an intense rage as unresolved anger and feelings of abandonment arise with the death of their loved one. When the process of grieving is interrupted by the practical aspects of life such as career and family the grief can go “underground” and remain unresolved. The job of the Grief Counselor is to help the individual to reach resolution and acceptance of the death of the love one and be allowed to fully express all of their emotional reactions in a safe, caring and compassionate space.

Impact on Society

The Grief Counselor’s impact on society is subtle, but is actually profound. Prior to the advent of grief counseling a certain percentage of people were never able to experience and resolve their feelings of grief. This could lead to a variety of psychological problems and greatly influence the well-being and effectiveness of the person whose grief was unresolved. By helping individuals cope with, express and resolve their feelings of grief, the Grief Counselor is helping to make a more mentally stable, healthy and productive society one individual at a time.

Education to Become a Grief Counselor

There are many routes to becoming a Grief Counselor. One could earn their Master’s or Doctorate in Psychology with a specialization in grief. Other’s might choose to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers with an emphasis on Grief Counseling. In both of those cases, appropriate licensure would be required to practice with the title Psychologist or Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The title of “Counselor” is usually not one that is protected and so a variety of different educational backgrounds could offer Grief Counseling. In most cases, a Master’s degree or even Doctorate in Social Work, Divinity, Psychology or Counseling would be seen as optimal for being a professional Grief Counselor.

Salary Potential for Grief Counselors

The earning potential for a grief counselor will vary significantly from state to state and also is dependent on the educational background and licensure of a given practitioner. According to the BLS, the median pay for a grief counselor with a master’s degree is $46,240.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019. National median for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder and Mental Health Counselors. Salary based on national data not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed March 2021.

Next Steps

You will want to determine what educational path you will want to take in becoming a Grief Counselor. The training, skill set and outlook of a Psychology student is very different from that of a Social Work student or someone earning their Master of Divinity. If you want to take a behavioral approach Psychology is an excellent path. Conversely, if you wish to take a spiritual counseling approach to your Grief Counseling then you may wish to consider a Master’s of Divinity. Only you can know which path resonates with you.