Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program

The Grief Support Specialist Certificate program was featured in an Isthmus article about living with loss. Read the article here»

The Grief Support Specialist Certificate program is designed to equip counselors, clergy, coaches, educators, and other healthcare personnel with the necessary counseling tools to assist people in finding healing in the midst of loss, whether that loss be a death, a divorce, destruction due to drug abuse, or any other traumatic personal devastation. Four instructors, all skilled in various dimensions of grief therapy, will instruct registrants through four day-long classes. Participants will reconvene one month later to present their final paper or special project.

At a glance

What: Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program

When: Last offered Sep 10, 2015. Check back for next offering.

Where: Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St, Madison, WI

Cost: $1,500 before | September 1 | $1,800 after | September 1

Continuing education credit: 35 hours (3.5 CEUs), 26 CECH (CHES) contact hours

Registration closed

For additional information, contact Barbara Nehls-Lowe:


First of its kind in the nation

This certificate program is the first of its kind in the nation at a major university. The instructors are renowned experts in the field, more than one of whom have experienced great loss themselves. The program and 3 of the instructors are featured in the May issue of Brava Magazine in Teri Barr's article The Positive Power of Grief: Using the Pain to Help Others.

The Grief Support Specialist Certificate is a cohort program

You begin and complete it with the same group of learners. You must take all 5 days of classes and complete a project to receive your Certificate of Completion and CEUs.

Our latest cohort, fall 2015.

Our first cohort, spring 2014.

CEUs and prerequisites

The Grief Support Specialist Certificate provides 3.5 Continuing Education Units (35 hours of professional continuing education) for people in a variety of professions including, but not limited to, psychology, social work, counseling, and marriage and family therapy.

To enroll, you must have a bachelor’s degree in a health care or counseling field and/or employment in a health care or counseling setting. Call Barbara Nehls-Lowe at 608-890-4653 if you have questions or concerns about this.


Beginner to Intermediate

Learning objectives


  • Explain a style of counseling that helps people find meaning and value in the midst of suffering, even if the suffering cannot be removed.
  • Describe the differences between intuitive (feeling-centered) grievers and instrumental (cognitive-centered or action-centered) grievers.
  • Use a client’s own strengths to encourage self-help and self-determination.
  • Identify and use various tools and techniques that help clients process their feelings and thoughts related to loss.
  • Describe ways of presenting counseling to those who would normally not enter a counseling relationship.


  • Identify variables affecting children’s grief.
  • Identify cognitive, emotional, and physical grief responses based upon a client’s developmental age.
  • Describe some cathartic tools to help children break through adult/child communication barriers.
  • Develop creative individual interventions for grieving children.
  • Develop creative interventions for grieving children that can be used in group counseling settings.


  • Explain several ways of assessing someone’s spiritual language.
  • Describe how to discover someone’s spiritual concerns and expectation.s
  • Use prayer/meditation with clients of various religious/spiritual backgrounds.
  • Explain the influences of various prejudices on grief counseling, examining both the counselor’s and client’s perspectives.
  • Develop a basic set of multicultural clinical practice competencies that can be used as guidelines for working with diverse patients and families.


  • Explain ways of enhancing current work by developing new grief support programs.
  • Describe multiple job possibilities in the field of grief counseling.
  • Develop a strategy of creating a new job in grief counseling.
  • Explain how after-death communication can be used as a positive healing tool.
  • Explain how dreams, virtual dreams, guided imagery, and gestalt dialogues can be used to complete unfinished business and heal previous wounds.


  • Summarize the depth and breadth of participant projects.
  • Integrate key learnings into clinical practice and personal relationships.
  • Develop an action plan to utilize this experience going forward.

Full agenda

While we have a set agenda, we often use the collective events of our lives and the dates on which they happened to explore how they affect us individually and as a comminuty.

Fees, payment schedule, and refunds

Fee is $1800.

This fee includes instruction from 5 key experts over 5 days, 35 CEUs, refreshments, guidance throughout the month-long project period, course materials, and a copy of the textbook Living Through Loss: Interventions Across the Life Span written by UW Madison Professor Betty Kramer. 

Lunch is included on the first day and last day. The other 3 lunches are on your own at any of the many restaurants near the Lowell Center. One block from the conference center is State Street, home to a wide array of enjoyable restaurants.

A $500 deposit is required at registration.

If you withdraw on or before August 20, you receive a full refund of your tuition minus a $50 administrative fee. No refund is given after these dates.


Please make your own travel and lodging arrangements. Maps and information on lodging and parking are sent with your registration confirmation. A block of rooms is available at the Lowell Center, 610 Langdon Street; rates are $94/single, $106/double. To make reservations call 608-256-2621 (group code Grief Counseling) or visit their online reservation system. The rooms will be released to others 4 weeks before the program dates. Lodging costs are not included in the program fee.

Meet your instructors

Lead Instructor Douglas Smith (MA, MSc, MDiv) is a professional speaker, trainer, and consultant with over 25 years’ experience as a counselor, therapist, and health care administrator. He has worked in hospitals, hospices, and social services agencies. He is the author of a number of books including: The Tao of Dying; Caregiving: Hospice-Proven Techniques for Healing Body and Soul; Being a Wounded Healer; and The Complete Book of Counseling the Dying and the Grieving.

Anne McGuire is a Certified Professional Life Coach, having a private practice in LaGrange Park, IL and an academic background in psychology. She sees her work as a life coach focusing in 2 directions. First, she aims at assisting her clients to come to a place of healing in the midst of their past losses (she is a former recipient of the UW-Madison Grief Support Services Certificate). Then after leading them to a place of healing from the past, she focuses on equipping them for the future by shining a light on their uniqueness, gifts, strengths, sorrows, joys, and coping skills.

Molly Tomony (MA, ATR-BC, LPC) is currently a child and family therapist for the Rainbow Project in Madison, Wisconsin. She has taught art therapy and education for both the University of Wisconsin and Edgewood College, and has worked in several hospices, specializing in art therapy and grief work with children. Molly has extensive experience in running grief groups for both hospices and schools, having written manuals for running grief groups in elementary, middle, and high school settings. She has also applied her art therapy talents to individuals with disabilities and is currently an art instructor for SALSO (Strong Artistic Ladies Speaking Out).

Ridley Usherwood (MA, D.Min) has over 40 years of experience in education, teaching, research, and program design. He is currently grief support coordinator for Home Health United as well as a practicing marriage and family therapist, with a strong background in pastoral ministry and counseling. He has taught classes in multi-cultural studies at Edgewood College and was for 9 years the director of the Intercultural Studies Program at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. Ridley has done work in South Korea, Brazil, Great Britain, Ghana, Germany, Argentina, the Philippines, Ecuador, and Canada. He has also assisted in the development of Hope Africa University in Nairobi, Kenya.

Special Consultant Dr Betty Kramer is a professor of social work and a member of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is a nationally recognized gerontology researcher, scholar, and educator who specializes in palliative and end-of-life care and grief and bereavement.