Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program covers all varieties of loss

“I’ve come to learn that all counseling is related to recovering from some kind of loss,” says Douglas Smith, the lead instructor for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program.

Smith notes that counselors assist those who’ve lost a job, a marriage, or a loved one. Then there are losses associated with substance abuse, mental illness, and aging. Or perhaps a client has lost a sense of dignity and self-worth.

The Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program is designed for counselors, educators, and other professionals who facilitate healing after such traumatic events. According to Smith, the program provides them with the tools for helping clients recover from all varieties of loss.

“Don’t just look at this certificate as something that’s going to be applied to people who have lost someone due to death,” he says. “Losses permeate all counseling.”

Smith has over 25 years of experience as a counselor, therapist, and health care administrator. He’s also the author of The Tao of Dying and The Complete Book of Counseling the Dying and the Grieving. His fellow instructors in the Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program are Molly Tomony, a child and family therapist for the Rainbow Project; Ridley Usherwood, the grief support coordinator for Home Health United; and Anne McGuire, a professional life coach with an academic background in psychology.

In person or online

The program is the first of its kind at a major American university. It begins with four daylong classes, in which participants learn to help clients find meaning in the midst of suffering. A month later, they reconvene to present a final paper or project. The next session runs October 27-30 and December 3.

UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies will offer an online version of the Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program that replicates the in-person experience. It includes 20 hours of lectures and assignments, plus 15 to 20 hours for a project. The materials will be available online from April 5 to May 31.

“The program has helped participants to find jobs that involve grief counseling, or to add skills that help them in their current jobs,” says coordinator Barbara Nehls-Lowe. “People say it has transformed their professional lives.”

For more information about the Grief Support Specialist Certificate Program, see the video above or contact Nehls-Lowe at barbara.nehlslowe@wisc.edu, 608-890-4653.