Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program

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. Registrants attend 4 day-long classes taught by experts skilled in various dimensions of grief therapy. Following the classes, students will produce a paper or special project to be presented on day 5.

At a glance

What: Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program

When: Th-Su, Sept 9-13, 9am-4pm Sa, Oct 10, 9am-4pm

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

Cost: $1,500 before Aug 10 | $1,800 after Aug 10

Continuing education credit: 35 hours (3.5 CEUs)

Register Online
or register by phone at

For additional information, contact Barbara Nehls-Lowe: 608-890-4653

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 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.

Full agenda

Click here to view the full agenda for the Grief Support Specialist certificate program»

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.


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 $89/single, $101/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 Instuctor 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.

Patrick Dean (MEd, CT), being the founder and director of the Wisconsin Grief Education Center (WGEC), has worked with clients on the issues of grief and loss since 1988. He is an instructor at Marquette University and an award-winning freelance photographer. He holds a certificate in death education from the National Center for Death Education and Counseling, a certificate in trauma counseling from UW-Milwaukee, and a certificate in thanatology from the Association of Death, Education, and Counseling. Patrick has extensive and valuable practical experience, including spending the last 2 years working with the community of Crandon, WI in their grief of the murder of 6 teens by an off-duty police officer.

Tara Potter, after losing her husband at age 31, was faced with raising 2 young children, helping them understand and adjust to losing a father at a young age. She eventually transformed her personal experiences in grief, her background in both business and education, and her degree in psychology into her current employment as continuing care coordinator for the 8 offices of Cress Funeral Services. She has done numerous presentations on her unique work, including a presentation at the International Death, Grief and Bereavement Conference, presenting a workshop on various creative employment possibilities and opportunities in grief counseling.

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.