Becoming a Bereavement Coordinator - Education, Certification & Responsibilities
Bereavement coordinators assist people through the process of losing a friend or family member to death or terminal disease. Often working in a healthcare organization, bereavement coordinators must split their time between the logical and the emotional. In a single day’s work, a bereavement counselor may arrange a funeral service, file all the necessary paperwork, provide one-on-one grief counseling, and refer family members to further social support services.
Death is never easy, and the job of a bereavement coordinator isn’t, either: this is a delicate position that requires expert training and a wealth of compassion. But for the people they serve, bereavement coordinators offer critical support at life’s most difficult moments. Few people think about bereavement coordinators until they really need to, but when the time comes, they’re glad they’re there.
To get a look at a day in the life of a bereavement coordinator, read on.
Work Environment of a Bereavement Coordinator
Bereavement coordinators generally work full-time in a healthcare organization. They may be employed by hospice facilities, home care services, hospitals, and nursing homes. While bereavement counselors will generally work from a fixed office or department within that setting, they will also be required to perform referral and outreach with the wider community, too.
Clinical Team of a Bereavement Coordinator
Bereavement coordinators don’t do it alone. As a coordinator, they manage a team of volunteers, medical staff, and other professionals who assist the bereaved. They will interact with families, patients, and social support systems. Often, the bereavement coordinator will also need to work with nurses, doctors, and other counselors to prepare a care plan for hospice patients who are terminally ill.
Typical Daily Responsibilities of a Bereavement Coordinator
Bereavement coordinators exist to help family and friends through the bereavement process. Each case must be individualized to personal needs. While the precise responsibilities of a bereavement coordinator will vary from person to person, and facility to facility, some commonalities do exist.
Typical daily responsibilities of bereavement coordinators can include:
- Maintaining records of all deceased patients
- Contacting the friends and family of a recently deceased patient
- Offering counseling services to surviving friends and family
- Assessing the needs of surviving friends and family
- Referring surviving friends and family to support services
- Making final arrangements (e.g., funeral services, insurance forms, and other paperwork)
- Designing care plans for terminally ill patients with staff and family
- Coordinating with other spiritual, medical, and counseling professionals
Bereavement coordinators take a holistic approach, which often requires that they perform duties across a wide spectrum of agencies and individuals. In advocating for patients and survivors, they are responsible for providing comfort, compassion, and care that expresses genuine concern for the bereaved.
Required Skills & Knowledge of a Bereavement Coordinator
While there are no standardized educational requirements for this profession, bereavement coordinators will typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as psychology, social work, or counseling. Master’s degrees are becoming increasingly common, with some bereavement coordinators going on to become licensed counselors.
It’s also possible to enter this profession with a more spiritual focus, such as through earning a master’s in divinity. No matter the educational path one takes, a bereavement counselor will need to be expertly trained in the psychological and sociological processes that accompany the bereavement process.
The most important skills for a bereavement coordinator are compassion and communication. This is critical not only for working with grieving families and terminally ill patients, but also for collaborating with volunteers, medical staff, counselors, insurance agents, and funeral home directors. Educational background in areas like psychology and social work can lay the foundation, but continuing education is critical for learning the nuances of the profession, and many bereavement coordinators seek out various certification options in order to accrue it.
Certification for Bereavement Coordinators
Employers may ask that their bereavement coordinators be certified or licensed counselors. In order to earn this designation, bereavement counselors will typically need a master’s degree from an accredited program in counseling, psychology, social work, or a related field. After completing a prerequisite amount of supervised counseling experience, applicants will need to pass any required exams for certification. Certification requirements vary by title and by state but are generally administered through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).
Those seeking additional certification may look to the American Academy of Grief Counseling (AAGC), which is hosted underneath the American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP). The AAGC offers the Certified Grief Counselor designation. While not a requirement in order to practice, earning the designation does demonstrate both expertise and a commitment to continued learning.
In order to be eligible, candidates will need either a bachelor’s degree in psychology or human services, or be licensed as a counselor, psychologist, or social worker. After demonstrating eligibility, candidates will need to complete a four-course continuing education program offered by the AAGC; alternatively, they may provide evidence of having completed an official education program that prepares health professionals for the practice of grief counseling and bereavement therapy. Once earned, the certificate needs to be renewed every four years through the completion of an additional 50 hours of continuing education (CE).
The Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) offers the Certified in Thanatology (CT) designation as another voluntary certification for bereavement coordinators. While there are four different tracks to eligibility, applicants will generally need a bachelor’s degree or higher in a relevant field, one year of work experience, two letters of recommendation from supervisors or colleagues, and 90 hours of completed coursework related to thanatology.
Once deemed eligible, candidates must pass a three-hour, 150-question exam measuring foundational knowledge in the field. The exam covers six areas: dying; end of life decision making; loss, grief, and mourning; assessment and intervention; traumatic death; and death education. Fees total $380 for ADEC members and $599 for non-members.