Academic journal article Counselor Education and Supervision

Grief and Loss Education: Recommendations for Curricular Inclusion

Academic journal article Counselor Education and Supervision

Grief and Loss Education: Recommendations for Curricular Inclusion

Article excerpt

Currently, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (2009) does not require course work on grief and loss, and it is possible for counselors to practice without any formal training in the area. The purpose of this article is to highlight the need for additional grief and loss education in the curriculum, provide a brief overview of the current literature surrounding grief and loss, and suggest pedagogical strategies for counselor preparation.

Keywords: grief, loss, grief counseling, pedagogy


Grief and loss are ubiquitous in the human experience, and the majority of counselors will eventually work with clients facing these issues. In addition to issues related to death and dying, grief and loss as a broad concept encompasses countless facets of human experience, such as normative lifecycle transitions, divorce, substance abuse and recovery, illness, trauma, and career change. Grief and loss course work, however, is not specifically required in most counselor education programs (Breen, 2010), and counselor educators may be reluctant to engage in teaching these courses because of a number of factors, including their own attitudes, religious beliefs, and lack of training (Eckerd, 2009).

The ACA Code of Ethics (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2005) is clear in regard to proper training in the determination of professional competence (Standard C.2.), including skills in working with issues of grief and loss (Standard A.9.). However, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2009), which sets profession-based curricular standards for accredited counselor education programs, does not require or address course work specifically related to grief and loss. Although curriculum addressing trauma has been required and some information, such as end-of-life issues, is implied within the Human Growth and Development standards (CACRER 2009, II.3.a., II.3.f.), grief and loss are not explicitly mentioned in the standards and thus may be overlooked in counseling pedagogy (Eckerd, 2009; Wass, 2004).

There is minimal research relating to grief and loss education in the field of counseling or other helping professions. Harrawood, Doughty, and Wilde (2011) identified three themes in a qualitative study of master's students enrolled in a grief and loss course specific to death and dying concerns: increased openness to constructs of death, a greater understanding of their own beliefs regarding death, and a reduction in their fear of death. These themes show that trainees may be less likely to personalize or project unexamined values and beliefs onto a grieving client or may have less fear when addressing these issues. These findings are consistent with other studies indicating that increased education can have a positive effect on comfort and coping (Bugen, 1980; Ober, Granello, & Wheaton, 2012; Servaty & Hayslip, 1997; Smith-Cumberland, 2006; Wong, 2009). Wass (2004) cautioned, however, that multiple roadblocks to providing grief and loss education should be addressed. These barriers include resistance at the institutional level and failure to acknowledge the need for grief and loss education and a lack of commitment of resources.

Literature on practitioner attitudes toward grief and loss further highlight the need for additional training. It is interesting to note that beginning counselors reported that discussing topics related to grief and loss made them more uncomfortable than discussing other presenting problems (Kirchberg & Neimeyer, 1991; Kirchberg, Neimeyer, &James, 1998), and overall levels of counselor empathy toward clients specifically with death-related concerns were found to be low, potentially because of counselors' personal factors (e.g., high fear of death) and limited experience and exposure to these client issues (Kirchberg et al., 1998). Ober et al. (2012), however, found that training and experience were significant predictors of counselors' knowledge, comfort, and skill levels relating to working with grieving clients. …

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