Career change, psychotherapy, etc.
January 12, 2013 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Are you a grief counselor? How does one become a grief counselor? Should I become a grief counselor?

I'm 41 with a BA in English, under-employed, and willing to give it a shot based on two things:

1. I am tough. I thrive on narrative and the why of the odd, the sad, the strange. I am a good listener and empathic and almost never scared.
2. Misery and loss are a growth industry right now, demographically and just in the vibes out there.

Seeking practical advice and anecdotes from the job. How much more school? How much will that cost? What is a workday like? How is one registered and regulated? Pour your heart and mind out.

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My email is in my profile. Please hit me up with at least a way I can contact you tomorrow.
posted by item at 7:01 PM on January 12, 2013

Depending on the state you're in, you'll probably have to at least get a master's degree (in counseling or social work).

I have experience. You can me-mail me if you want more info.
posted by jaguar at 7:09 PM on January 12, 2013

you're not going to get scared. you're going to get sad. the worst part i found about being a counselor is seeing someone in a really fucked up situation and not being able to help them.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:32 PM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

It totally depends on where you live. In California, you can do some forms of grief counseling as a volunteer. For others, you would probably need to be a social worker, Marriage & family therapist or licensed professional counselor. Those require a master's degree plus an extensive internship to get licensed to practice without supervision. (Good news - you can start working with clients after a year or so but you will paid little or nothing at that point)
posted by metahawk at 7:46 PM on January 12, 2013

I don't have much insider information, but I did attend a grief informational session lead by a person who was a certified life coach and who did grief coaching as part of that business. It is apparently "a thing." That would be a shorter educational trajectory than becoming a counselor, but from an outsider's perspective it's probably similar to any life coaching career--it requires a good deal of self-promotion.
posted by drlith at 8:19 PM on January 12, 2013

It really depends on what you mean by "grief counselor." Do you want to be a psychological professional who specializes in grief-related issues? Or do you want to do something else? It might help to clarify what you actually mean.

In order to become really qualified to help people with emotional issues, you should consider graduate studies in social work, psychology, counseling, psychiatry, nursing, or a related field. That's how you learn what you need to know about how to really help people, as well as ethical and professional responsibility guidelines about how to behave as a professional and when to refer clients to other help. You may also need to take a licensing exam and attend continuing education classes throughout your career in order to stay current on treatment methodologies and in order to maintain your license.

However, there are lots of people offering counseling-type services without those qualifications. Life coaches are one example of this. There have been a lot of legal battles over exactly what life coaches and similar folks can actually do without breaching ethics, as well as the law, so you'll want to understand the limits of your work really clearly. You want to make sure that you are actually qualified to provide the service you're advertising, because it would be unethical to offer a service you can't actually provide well. That's why most counselors choose to go back to school and get licensed: so that they can learn how to do this work. I'm not saying that there are no life coaches who provide excellent, helpful services to their clients. I'm saying that it's not really safe to assume that you're qualified to do so based solely on your natural empathy.

Finally, I wanted to address this:
2. Misery and loss are a growth industry right now, demographically and just in the vibes out there.

This is true, to an extent. There are a lot of people who are underserved by current mental health offerings and who aren't getting the help they need or deserve to work on personal issues. However, a big part of that lack of access is cost-related. How do you expect to get paid? If you want your clients to be able to use their health insurance to pay for your services, you're going to need the kinds of education and licensing I talk about above. An insurance company just isn't going to pay for some guy who happens to be a good listener.

If you're hoping for your clients to pay you out-of-pocket, then a lot of your job is going to be about marketing. Like any other service, you're going to need to convince people that they need your service and that you're qualified to provide it in a way that will actually satisfy their needs. I've known a few folks who have tried to get into life coaching, and most of them have failed within a year or so because they just couldn't recruit enough clients to make enough money to live on. You're going to have to be amazingly good at selling your services, and you're going to have to find time and energy to do that above and beyond the time and energy you spend actually providing the service. Basically, you'd be starting your own small business offering non-counseling services, and you need to decide whether you're interested in doing that.

The bottom line is that being a good listener and liking to hear odd stories are not really the key qualifications for being a mental health professional. You need to really understand how the human mind works and how to assist people in finding coping mechanism for issues in their lives. In fact, being fascinated by sad stories might actually hinder your performance as a counselor, because there's a danger that you'd get too focused on the story that is interesting to you instead of on the treatment that will help the client. If you're interested in this career, I urge you to look into your educational options and figure out whether you actually want to do the work and put in the time to study to become a qualified counselor.
posted by decathecting at 10:25 AM on January 13, 2013

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