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Continuing Studies

Grief Support Specialist Certificate (Online)

continuingstudies.wisc.edu/3314-C-LAAS See upcoming dates


A one-of-a-kind, uniquely designed, practical educational online program entailing instruction, facilitated discussions and required participant activities. The instructors are renowned experts who understand the complexity of personal loss. You'll acquire knowledge and skills to enhance or create a professional specialty that focuses on counseling people who have suffered a major loss as the result of death, divorce, unemployment, destruction due to drug abuse or other traumatic personal devastation.

After you register for the course, we recommend purchasing a copy of Living Through Loss: Interventions Across the Life Span by Nancy Hooyman and Betty Kramer to serve as a supplementary resource. Dr. Kramer, faculty in the UW-Madison School of Social Work, served as a consultant as we were creating this course. While this book will not be referred to directly in the lessons or be required reading, it serves as the academic, theoretical foundation of the course.



ADEC® Continuing education requirements

The Association for Death Education and Counseling® has deemed this program as counting toward the continuing education requirements for the ADEC CT and FT program.

About the Program

The program includes five weeks of instruction and three weeks to complete a project/paper relevant to one’s work or life, centered on educating or counseling people who have suffered from some major loss: loss due to death, divorce, job loss, loss of health, the losses associated with substance abuse, loss of self-worth, etc. The fully online format provides a flexible schedule making it possible to earn the certificate without traveling or taking time off work. The instructors are renowned experts in the field, more than one of whom have experienced great loss themselves.


What makes this program so unique is not only the quality and practicality of the content, but that it's the only such certificate granted by a major university.

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, we encourage you to have a bachelor’s degree and/or at least 3-5 years’ experience in social services, non-profit, business, school, health care, or counseling setting.

The UW–Madison Grief Support Specialist Certificate program is now approved for 35 Category 1 Continuing Education Hours for Funeral Home Directors.

Learn more about CEUs and CE approved hours.

Program Delivery and Time Commitment

The online version of the Grief Support Specialist Certificate replicates the in-person 5-day version in learning objectives and content, but over a two-month period of time. The designs of many of the lectures and small group assignments and activities are slightly altered to better match the format of an online course.

This course is fully online with no real-time requirements. While the course is completely online, it is instructor-facilitated with significant interaction between instructor and student and between students. Participants are able to adjust their involvement in listening to the lectures and doing the assignments according to their personal and professional schedules.

Participants are expected to commit approximately 20–25 hours’ worth of time during the first five weeks of the course — about 5 hours per week (the lectures and assignments portion); and then 15–20 hours for a project or paper during the final three weeks of the course. Participants will upload weekly reflections and comment on at least two classmates’ work in small groups. Each student will comment on at least two classmates’ final projects to satisfy the requirements of the course.

It is possible to complete this course successfully while working full time and caring for a family.

Overview: Extra Information

Grief is universal; our students are international

Students from across the globe take the Grief Support Specialist Certificate

“It was a pleasure and privilege to be a part of this program. The information and knowledge gained was second to none. What I loved about this class were the modular layout, the videos, and the quick and encouraging responses from the instructors. I believe this course is fundamental to all hoping to assist anyone with loss.”

— Muriel Williams, online student from Bermuda

In the news

Read stories about this program in Isthmus and Brava Magazine.

Course Outline

Week One: Psycho-Spiritual Model of Care, Theories and Tools - Doug Smith, lead instructor, explains a Psycho-Spiritual Model of Care and discusses grief counseling assessments, assessing for someone’s style of grieving, personal strengths and personal needs. Doug also focuses on the grief counseling theories and tools of J. William Worden, Thomas Attig, John James and Russell Friedman as well as general grief counseling tools and techniques.

Objectives Week One:

  1. Explain a style of counseling that helps people find meaning and value in the midst of suffering, even if the suffering cannot be removed.
  2. Describe the differences between “intuitive” (feeling-centered) grievers and “instrumental” (cognitive-centered or action-centered) grievers.
  3. Use a client’s own strengths to encourage self-help and self-determination.
  4. Explain the counseling theories of Worden, Attig, James & Friedman.
  5. Identify and use various tools and techniques that help clients process their feelings and thoughts related to loss.

Week Two: Supporting Children and Adolescents in Loss - Molly Tomony describes the developmental, relationship and cultural variables influencing how children and adolescents understand and cope with loss/death/change. Participants will explore ways to creatively support children by learning hands-on experiential activities.

Objectives Week Two:

  1. Examine the cognitive, emotional and physical grief responses based upon a client’s developmental age.
  2. Describe cultural, religious and relationship variables affecting children’s grief.
  3. Develop creative individual and group interventions to support grieving children and adolescents.
  4. Describe what disenfranchised traumatic loss is and how it may impact an individual’s coping.

Week Three: Spirituality - Doug Smith discusses spiritual issues and variables influencing attitudes towards loss along with tools and techniques addressing a client's spiritual concerns.

Week Three: Cultural Competence - Gabriela Caballero-Moersfelder discusses cultural influences in grief counseling by taking a deeper look at grief and loss in the Latino community as a lens to understand the importance of cultural humility. This session is designed to assist participants in enhancing their toolbox for working with multicultural clients.

Week Three: Traumatic Grief - Doug Smith explains how to move beyond grief counseling with individuals or small groups to see ways to address large-scale grieving that a community may experience.

Objectives Week Three:

  1. Explain several ways of assessing someone’s spiritual language.
  2. Describe how to discover someone’s spiritual concerns and expectations.
  3. Use prayer/meditation with clients of various religious/spiritual backgrounds.
  4. Explain the influences of various prejudices on grief education/counseling, examining both the counselor’s and client’s perspectives.
  5. Develop a basic set of multicultural clinical practice competencies that can be used as guidelines for working with diverse patients and families.
  6. Identify options for addressing large-scale trauma that leaves large groups dealing with grief.

Week Four: Working with Atypical Types of Grief – Erica Srinivasan discusses features of disenfranchised grief, ambiguous loss, and complicated grief and ways to work with people experiencing those.

Week Four: Self-care for Grief Counselors- Molly Tomony provides tools and techniques to help grief educators/counselors deal with compassion fatigue and care for themselves, equipping them to continue to care for others.

Objectives Week Four:

  1. Define ambiguous loss, disenfranchised grief and complicated grief and identify tools for helping clients cope with these challenges.
  2. Explain the nature of compassion fatigue and why grief educators/ counselors cannot ignore its potential impact on them.
  3. Describe techniques that can help care for and recharge oneself.

Project/Paper Assignment: Each student will develop a project or paper related to his/her particular interests: e.g. an outline for a book, a job design/proposal and strategy, a research paper on an aspect of grief counseling/support. Doug Smith will be available for consulting on these projects/papers.

Sharing projects with others: Students will share a description of their project online with the other participants and learn from the sharing of others.

Objectives for the Project/Paper:

  1. Review the course content.
  2. Integrate key learnings into a paper or project of your choosing that will help you professionally or personally.
  3. Review other’s projects and provide substantive and supportive comments.

Certificates and documentation of continuing education hours are granted upon satisfactory completion of the program and project and will be sent within four weeks of course completion.

Earn Continuing Education Hours

By participating in this class you will earn:

Instructional Hours 35
University of Wisconsin Continuing Education Units 3.5
American Psychological Association - Continuing Education Credit 35
Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services - Substance Abuse Counselors - Continuing Education Credit Hours 35
Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services - Marriage and Family Therapists - Continuing Education Credit Hours 35
Certified Health Education Specialist - Continuing Education Contact Hours 26
Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services - Social Workers - Continuing Education Credit Hours 35

Explanation of Continuing Education Hours

Upcoming dates

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Program Questions?

Contact Kristi Obmascher at kristi.obmascher@wisc.edu or 608-262-8971

Registration Questions?

Email registrations@pyle.wisc.edu or call 608-262-2451.

Continuing Studies FAQs

Meet your instructor(s)

Doug Smith


(MDiv, MA, MS) is a seasoned trainer, consultant, counselor, and author of several books. In
addition to being co-creator of two Continuing Studies certificate courses, he has worked for hospices, hospitals, addiction treatment programs, and universities across the United States and Canada.

Erica Srinivasan


(PhD) is an assistant professor of psychology at UW-La Crosse, where she also serves as the director for the Center for Grief and Death Education. She is co-chair for the gerontology emphasis.

Molly Tomony


(MA, ATR-BC, LPC), a child and family therapist, is a visiting assistant professor of art therapy at Edgewood College and currently coordinates the undergraduate art therapy department. Molly has also taught art therapy and education for the University of Wisconsin and Edgewood College.

Gabriela Caballero-Moersfelder


(MS, LPC) has been working as a psychotherapist, pastoral associate, spiritual director, and community volunteer in the Waukesha/Milwaukee area for more than 30 years. Gabriela's own immigrant experience inspired in her a passion for encouraging others to explore the beauty of diversity.

What Attendees Are Saying

“This class far exceeded my expectations. I cannot put into words how much I enjoyed the incredible professors and the other students in the class. I learned a great deal and also enjoyed the interactions with the others in the class. Thank you for this outstanding course. I would highly recommend it.”

“This course was wonderful from start to finish. The content was rich, my classmates were so insightful, and the instructors were top-notch professionals and lovely human beings. Truly, I found this course to be perspective-altering and life-changing.”