Think You’re Certified as a Grief Guide or Death Doula?
February 11, 2023
By Terri Daniel, DMin, CT
Many of you who follow my work are familiar with my rants about the deplorable practice of “certifying” people as mental health or spiritual care professionals via cheap, quick online seminars. The internet abounds with individuals claiming to be death doulas and grief guides who have no supervised clinical experience and nothing more than a boilerplate “certificate” confirming that they’ve paid the price and watched some online presentations.
This has been a thorn in my side for years, but it really came to light this week when a colleague directed by attention to this excellent article by Astrid Landon. The author, an investigative journalist, explored several online programs that promise certification in a variety of mental health disciplines. Her research is thorough and accurate, but it was nothing I didn’t already know.
With one exception.
It turns out that a certification I’ve had as a “clinical trauma professional” since 2019 is a sham. I fell for the bait… or did I? In my defense, I was completing a doctoral degree at the time, and had 12 years of experience in hospice, plus clinical training as a chaplain and a certification in thanatology from ADEC (the gold standard for professional work in death, dying and bereavement). I had the education, experience and skills, but I wanted to add trauma-specific training to my tool kit.
To be qualified to take the trauma course, applicants must have a masters degree, submit a number of CE credit hours, and pass a final exam after completing the 12-hour course. All of this looked quite professional to me, and after receiving my certification, I proudly added “CCTP” to my academic alphabet soup.
In Landon’s investigative article, she had this to say about the CCTP certification:
“They gave a “Certified Clinical Trauma Professional” certification test and materials to a 14-year-old, the daughter of an author’s friend. She answered all 50 questions correctly thanks to matching sentences in the study guide.”
Again, in my defense, I don’t recall there being a study guide with all the answers when I passed that test. I took copious notes during the course and studied hard for the exam. Perhaps they added the cheat sheet later?
To add insult to injury, Landon’s article connected some other disturbing dots for me. I didn’t realize that the organization conferring the certificate was affiliated with an umbrella group called PESI. In my opinion, PESI’s ethics are questionable because they continue to offer David Kessler’s “Sixth Stage of Grief” courses, even though the stage theory hasn’t been considered viable for decades, and Kessler is not taken seriously in professional circles (see related article HERE). In fact, he perpetrates the very scam that Landon describes in her article, selling online workshops to certify people as “grief educators,” despite the fact that he has no relative academic or mental health credentials, and his certification requires no experience, education or supervision. The fact that PESI — and by association, the trauma certification — still supports the grief stage theory disqualifies them from professional respectability.
So I will not be renewing my CCTP credential, and am in the process of removing it from all my websites, email signatures, bios and promo materials. It’s embarrassing.
Dr. Terri Daniel, DMin, CT,
End-of-Life Educator Interfaith Chaplaincy,
Bereavement and Trauma Support
Certified in Death, Dying and Bereavement, ADEC
PS. The same issue applies to death doula training. Please see related article HERE.