Think You’re Certified as a Grief Guide or Death Doula?
Think Again!

February 11, 2023


By Terri Daniel, DMin, FFGT



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.


UPDATE!  A new investigative article by Astrid Langdon: 

Buyer, Be Aware:  An Inside Look at Four Online Grief Counseling Certificate Programs

Dr. Terri Daniel,  DMin, CT, CCTP
End-of-Life Educator  Interfaith Chaplaincy,
Bereavement  and Trauma Support
Certified in Death, Dying and Bereavement, ADEC
Cell: 503-957-7419


PS. The same issue applies to death doula training. Please see related article HERE. 

Terri Daniel


  1. Patricia Jauchler, MA, MS, RDT-BCT, CT, CDP on March 15, 2023 at 12:11 am

    Thank you for bringing attention to this issue. I, too, have raised an eyebrow at the number of “certifications” out there that purport to bestow credibility on unregulated fields. I wish more people explained the difference between being certified vs being a certificate holder. Certification requires a regulating body, strict standards of care, and a code of ethics, as well as requirements for continuing education to remain current in the certifying field. As an EOL Doula, I am certified through ADEC as a CT so I can assure my clients that my qualifications to serve them are bound by ethics and standards of care that go beyond my own personal principles. This ensures that they receive the best care possible.

    • Terri Daniel on March 15, 2023 at 1:50 am

      Thank YOU Patricia, for recognizing this problem, and for having such excellent credentials yourself!

  2. Aimee Harmon on August 20, 2023 at 7:45 pm

    These types of articles and publishings are so important for people like me that want to educate ourselves when trying to navigate a career in the death care industry. At age 49, after making sure my three daughters got through their schooling, it’s now my turn.

    End-of-life care is a field I’m now studying as it seems meant for me (because it keeps “finding me” – ha!) I am volunteering at my local hospice while taking the next (at least) six months to educate myself through accredited organizations including INELDA, but also PESI.

    As of today, Aug 2023, interestingly enough, Megan Devine is currently partnering with PESI to offer a grief care program. Megan is a psychotherapist and the author of the book “It’s OK That You’re Not OK” (which has been seen in the New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Spirituality & Health, and HuffPost as well as being featured on NPR’s Radio Times and Wisconsin Public radio). I have zero affiliations with Megan or PESI.

    I’d just think someone with Megan Devine’s standing, experience and credentials would do the type of research needed before partnering with an organization like PESI. So, I’m investing in that program for myself. I almost didn’t though, due to this article.

    As of today, the link in the above article related to Kessler “not [being] taken seriously in professional circles” doesn’t open another article to research. Instead it’s has an error message stating, “This content has been temporarily removed for correction” – so I can’t research it and the author (Terri Daniel) may want to update the link or provide the content in some other way.

    To the rest of you who, like myself, are taking your education seriously and investing your time and money to gain the experience needed to provide the best end-of-life care you possibly can, I salute you. We have to take care of each other and keep this special type of work as respectable as possible. Look me up on social media (if you can) at Death With Harmony to follow my journey or to connect and share legitimate resources and experiences! Love and light – Aimée Harmon, Ohio

    • Terri Daniel on August 20, 2023 at 11:35 pm

      Thank you for your excellent comment Aimee. I too was surprised to Megan Devine selling out to PESI. She and David Kessler can laugh together all the way to the bank. What a shame.
      Here’s a new link to my article that mentions Kessler:

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