Research suggests that graduate students in counseling and beginning counselors rate grief and death-related topics as those with which they are most uncomfortable (Kirchberg & Neimeyer, 1991; Kirchberg, Neimeyer, & James, 1998). Yet, historically, little training has been provided to students in the area of grief counseling (Allen & Miller, 1998; Ober, Granello, & Wheaton, 2012; Stephenson, 1981). This is concerning given that research also suggests professional training and experience is a strong predictor of perceived grief counseling competencies in helping professionals (Charkow, 2002; Ober et al., 2012).
This study explored grief counseling training and competencies with master’s level counseling students in the field experience part of their training. The Grief Counseling Experience and Training Survey (GCETS) was used to assess professional training and experience with grief and the Death Counseling Survey (DCS) and its five subscales (Personal Competencies, Conceptual Skills/Knowledge, Assessment Skills, Treatment Skills, and Professional Skills) were used to assess perceived grief counseling competencies.
Descriptive information revealed participants lacked grief counseling training, despite nearly three-fourths of them having already worked with grieving clients. Further, respondents rated themselves as competent on general counseling skills related to grief (e.g., practicing self-care, exhibiting genuineness, providing a supportive setting in counseling, etc.), but scored much lower on grief-specific knowledge and skills (e.g., having knowledge of grief theories, being able to articulate developmentally appropriate grief reactions, and recognizing complicated grief symptoms, etc.).
Regression analyses were used to explore the relationship between perceived grief counseling competencies and the variables of age, gender, professional training and experience with grief, and type of grief counseling training received. Age was found to be a significant predictor of Personal Competencies and gender a significant predictor of Overall Grief Counseling Competency, Conceptual Skills/Knowledge, Treatment Skills, and Professional Skills; though, these variables accounted for little unique contribution. Professional training and experience with grief was a significant predictor of all the competency subscales and accounted for much more unique contribution (ß = .22 - .70).
The data analyzed in this study suggest a lack of grief counseling training opportunities despite professional training and experience being a strong predictor of perceived competencies. Further, students rate themselves as competent on general counseling abilities, but their scores decline drastically on grief specific skills and knowledge.