At some point in our lives, we all experience grief.
Despite knowing this, there’s no way to fully prepare for the death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship, or any other significant loss. In the aftermath, we can feel lost, unmotivated, and completely unlike ourselves.
If you’ve lived through grief or watched it affect someone close to you, you may feel inspired to help others along their healing journeys. While a coach isn’t a stand-in for a mental health professional (such as a therapist), they can help clients understand the grieving process and navigate its impacts on their lives. In other words, coaches form part of a team of support professionals to help a person through grief.
Whether you’re an established professional looking to change gears or a coach-to-be, working as a grief coach is a wonderful — and challenging — opportunity to put your compassion and empathy toward uplifting others during difficult times. Let’s explore exactly what a grief coach does so you can determine if this niche is the right fit for you.
What is grief coaching?
Before delving into the role of grief coaching, it’s essential to understand the reach of coaching in general. Grief is a sensitive process with serious mental health repercussions, so it’s crucial to clearly define what a coach's role is and isn’t.
A coach actively listens to a client to understand the individual's inner motivations, insecurities, and needs. Then, the coach helps the client identify action items to get the person closer to fulfilling these needs. Coaches aren’t therapists or counselors, meaning they don’t give advice. Instead, coaches provide a willing ear, educational resources, exercises, and support.
Grief coaching follows the above practice model, with a focus on clients suffering a loss. These coaches provide information on the grief process, listen to the client’s vision for the future, and help this person chart a course of action to regain stability in their life.
Grief coaches versus grief counselors
The term grief counseling may sound a lot like grief coaching, but the two aren’t interchangeable.
Unlike coaches, counselors are mental health professionals who provide therapeutic support and even perform psychotherapy. As such, grief counselors have a relevant and rigorous academic and meet certain licensure or certification requirements. Therapists and counselors are trained to intervene in mental health crises, while coaches aren’t.
How to become a grief coach
Grief coaching is a niche career, even within the industry. It’s not therapy, psychoanalysis, or counseling, but it is a profession focused on emotional support. So, in an industry where professionals generally have to chart their own course of study, how can grief coaches forge a path through even more uncharted terrain? Here are a few steps to guide anyone considering this career:
- Earn a relevant degree. While earning a degree in psychology or counseling doesn’t give you the license to practice either in a coaching role, the context helps you better understand clients. Whatever educational route you take, it’s always wise to earn a college-level degree before practicing as a coach, as these programs help you advance professional writing, speaking, and other analytical and administrative skills — regardless of the educational focus.
- Gain professional experience. Earn experience in a related field, whether it’s another role in the coaching industry (such as life coaching) or a mental or physical healthcare role. The idea is to familiarize yourself with either the coaching industry or grief process from another career perspective to have a strong professional frame of reference.
- Choose a grief coaching certification program. Seek out an International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited grief coaching program, such as the courses from the Institute for Life Coach Training or the Institute of Professional Grief Coaching (IOPGC). These programs will help you understand why and how people grieve, and you’ll gain non-therapeutic coaching skills to apply in sessions.
- Make a business plan. Write a business plan detailing your mission, career and financial goals, and target clientele. Include specifics about how you plan to market your business to that audience. Then, set session and package rates that allow you to earn a profit. You can estimate your projected grief coach salary against the average for life coaches, which is around $60,000 annually. That said, you should research what other grief coaches in your area make so your numbers fit into the local context.
- Launch and market your business. Once you complete your business plan, follow through on it. Register your business and set up an office and website. List your credentials, certifications, fees, and packages on your professional site, and let potential clients know what to expect from your program. Be sure to highlight that you’re not a therapist, and explain how coaching works. Then, begin advertising on social media or in local print publications to bring in your first clients. Ask satisfied clients to recommend you others and provide a testimonial for your site to help you grow your business.
What goes into grief coaching sessions
Unlike therapy, grief coaching focuses on helping clients set goals for healing and find ways to move forward rather than offering advice and analysis of the client’s emotional experience. In practice, a grief coaching session may share a few similarities with a therapy session, but the coach’s objective is always to look to the future, not to the past.
During a session, a grief coach may:
- Ask the client to share their feelings
- Invite the client to discuss obstacles to healing
- Provide educational materials on grief
- Run a journaling activity
- Provide a safe space for self-expression
- Consider the impact of grief on different areas of the client’s life
- Make the client feel they are not alone
Support your grief coaching business with Practice
Focus on helping your clients, not managing administrative tasks. Practice’s customer relationship management (CRM) tool allows coaches to quickly take bookings, message clients, and receive secure payments — all in one place.
To learn more about the industry, check out our blog, a dedicated resource for the coaching-curious. Read about the benefits of health coaching, the differences between coaches and managers, the role of coaching in the workplace, and much more.