Help Me Conquer Fear, Death, and the Unknown!
November 4, 2016 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in pursuing a career in grief counseling and want to hear from Mefis in similar work about the reality of accomplishing this.

Background info to assist in your answers:
- best degree/schools in the NJ/NY area for getting into the field (I currently am 2 years shy of BA degree)

- best books, seminars, etc on empathy training, presentness, listening, etc. MAJOR bonus points for anything touching on a Buddhist perspective.

- best advice on volunteering, networking, etc.

Thank you!
posted by Lipstick Thespian to Work & Money (4 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Get an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker). Rutgers has a good program. (Note: I work in mental health/social services but not as a counselor. I know/work with many counselors and social workers. In my anecdotal, but years-long experience, LCSWs have the easiest time getting jobs.) An LCSW will take you quite awhile to get, but pretty much all insurances work with them, you can have a private practice and work independently, you can do clinical supervision for extra $, and I think it's the easiest degree to transfer from state to state if you want to move around.

When the time comes, get a good internship that allows you face-to-face time with clients (get started early looking for one, the good ones go fast). Get a job working at a mental health group home or something on weekends (these are easy to get, usually you just need a high school diploma and they are almost always hiring). That will give you a feel for the work and give you hands-on experience. Volunteering with a domestic violence shelter, food pantry, homeless shelter, or a hospice might be a good idea. You'd potentially encounter mental health clients there and meet people in the field.

Again, not a counselor, but I've worked with a LOT of counselors, social workers and interns over the years.
posted by Aquifer at 9:38 AM on November 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sadly, I see that the Metta Institute is on hiatus in 2016, however, you might consider contacting them to see when their next End of Life Practitioner training will begin. It's an amazing program with remarkable teachers.

In the meantime, the best books I know re: death and dying are as follows:

The Tao of Dying

Who Dies?

Dying Well

I've also found The Grief Recovery Handbook to be helpful.
posted by janey47 at 10:35 AM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stephen Jenkinson's Die Wise is bar none the best book I've ever read on the topic and should IMO be required reading for everyone in what he calls the "death trade."

The documentary Griefwalker Is a good intro to Stephen's work.

Also on my bookshelf of indispensable titles on death and grief: Francis Weller's Entering the Healing Ground, Martín Prechtel's The Smell of Rain on Dust, and Stephen Levine's Who Dies?
posted by ottereroticist at 11:54 AM on November 4, 2016

Going to Pieces without Falling Apart

It's important to remember that most of your training is going to happen through in-person teaching, though (internships, etc.). Find a good program, volunteer on crisis lines or at hospices -- get yourself face-to-face (or phone-to-phone) with people. You'll need to finish your BA, then do grad school, then do a lot of supervised hours (2-6 years, often) before you can become a licensed therapist, if that's the direction you want to go (it would be the direction I'd recommend). It's not a short process.

I also found, during my time as a grief counselor, that many clients would be willing to get grief counseling who maybe wouldn't have been willing to do "therapy," and many of my clients had undiagnosed mental health conditions that I then had to figure out what to do with. My job was through a hospice, and our policy was to focus the therapy on grief, not any other issues, which makes sense in the abstract but sometimes got complicated, because it's unethical, in my mind, to pretend like someone's entire problem is grief if they're also dealing with untreated depression or bipolar disorder or drug and alcohol problems, etc. So even if you're specializing in grief, as an ethical therapist, you need to have a good grasp of the full range mental health disorders, because they'll all show up on your couch. (You don't have to have expertise in treating all of them -- you can refer clients out -- but it's helpful and ethical to be able to pinpoint what's going on.)

If you're working in grief counseling, it's also really important to do the work you need to do (if any) around your own spirituality, and your comfort with others' spirituality, so that you're not imposing your beliefs on your clients or judging them for their beliefs, because it comes up a lot when you're helping people deal with death, and clients are absolutely entitled to their own beliefs about it. There's a tricky line to walk between challenging unhelpful ideas (e.g., "God is mad at me for being sad") and challenging religion itself (e.g., "Mom's in heaven"). I'm not Christian, and my two years working in grief counseling taught me more about various types of Christian beliefs that any other therapy work I've done. (I also found that my Christian clients all assumed I was Christian and held the same beliefs they did about the afterlife, but that may have been more a small-town thing.) It's important to be able to talk about those issues without getting into an intellectual debate about them.
posted by lazuli at 7:58 AM on November 5, 2016

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