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Pastoral Thanatology Certification

“A Division of the American Academy of Grief Counseling”
Woman grieving a dying manThe American Academy of Grief Counseling offers a full program of “Certification” for the specialty practice of Pastoral Thanatology. This program is open to qualified individuals only. A two-tier program is available consisting of both “Certification” and “Fellowship” status in Pastoral Thanatology.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “thanatology” as the branch of science that studies death, especially its social and psychological aspects. The word was first used in 1842 and is from the greek expression “qa’ natos-logy. Related to health care, Webster’s defines the word as the study of the theory, philosophy and doctrine of death.

Today, the concept of Pastoral Thanatology focuses on care of the psychological, social and spiritual needs of the dying, as well as their families and loved ones. The American Academy of Grief Counseling places this specialty practice within the domain of “pastoral” care of the dying, with a strong emphasis on the spiritual aspects and needs of the dying. As such, qualifications for the program are restricted and defined below.

A Certified Pastoral Thanatologist is one who has attained high level training and has verified knowledge and skill sets to work specifically with the dying, related to spiritual, social, and human behavior aspects of end of life care. Certification attests to the completion of a continuing education program that provides such knowledge/skill sets.

Pastoral Thanatologists are each unique in their religious/spiritual beliefs and affiliations. All religions may well use the services of a pastoral thanatologist. Each person certified through our program retains the right to embrace and work with their own selected clients and religious affiliations. Our program does not discriminate as to one’s religious affiliation or spiritual beliefs.

Objectives of the Pastoral Thanatology Certification Program are:

  • Provide high quality programs of Certification and Fellowship for professionals practicing the specialty of pastoral care/thanatology to the dying.
  • Develop and support high standards of education and practice requirements for the attainment of certification, fellowship status, and re-certification.
  • Provide a mechanism for the ongoing involvement of a peer advisory board of qualified professionals to oversee program development and requirements for certification and fellowship of the program.
  • Provide society with a mechanism to ascertain the appropriate education, skills, knowledge and experience required by professionals who offer such services.
  • Establish quality standards and requirements for the recertification and re-fellowship of its credentialed members, attesting to ongoing education and skill attainment in the practice specialty of pastoral thanatology.
  • Provide a comprehensive program of approvals for continuing education, seminars, offerings, independent study, and other related educational activities, to ensure high quality standards are met and that such programs are of value to professionals practicing pastoral thanatology.


Certified Pastoral Thanatologist – requires attainment and/or verification of one of the following certification criteria:

  1.  Completion of an official, established education program to prepare qualified individuals and professionals for the practice of Pastoral Thanatology. To view approved programs and courses, click here.
  2. Educational programs must have provided a minimum of 270 hours of education/study. Candidates for certification must present valid evidence of successful completion of such program. The AAGC review board will review and approve programs on an individual basis. Once a program is approved, it will be published as “approved” by the AAGC. Programs submitted for approval consideration must have their curriculums specifically based in grief counseling and bereavement theory/practice as well as in care of the dying, including a pastoral perspective, cultural issues, world religions and spiritual care of the dying.  Candidates whose can demonstrate evidence of successful completion of such programs within a five (5) year period prior to the date of application for certification, are eligible to receive certification as a “Certified Pastoral Thanatologist.” Such programs may include university and college based courses, continuing education seminars, retreats, self-study and distance learning programs, etc. Candidates are welcome to submit an application and documentations of achieved education for review for consideration of certification status. A review may provide for acceptance or a written plan of additional requirements the candidate may need to achieve to be eligible for certification.

If you would like to find out if you meet the qualifications for this certification program. Please submit an Inquiry Form at the following link: Access Here.

Certification – Identification & Credentials

Those applicants who become certified by the AAGC- shall be deemed “certified” and may use the initials/credential PT-Csp, after their names: “Certified Specialist in Pastoral Thanatology”

Certification for this program is under the Division of the American Academy of Grief Counseling, as a sub-specialty of grief/bereavement counseling and education.

death and dying certificationThe Certification Process:

We have a dedicated page that provides a quick over-view of our certification process. It will provide you with good information about the process/phases of both the education courses and application for certification. To access: click here.


All certifications shall be for a period of 4 years from the date that the initial certification by the AAGC is granted.


The cost of the Certification, a four-year term, is $200.00.

Qualifications to Enter Program

All candidates for Certification must have achieved one of the following prerequisites:

  • Is a licensed minister or any legal clerical representative of a religion.
  • Holds a degree in theology and/or ministry from a legitimate school providing curriculum to meet defined objectives for conferral of a degree
  • Holds a college level degree in medicine, nursing, or health sciences and is able to document experiences in providing care/support to dying patients, including spiritual care.
  • Holds a legitimate current certification in pastoral care
  • Currently works in pastoral care under the direct supervision of a clergy, church or other type of organization or has a sponsorship by a licensed clergy/minister to study pastoral thanatology.
  • Holds a college level degree in a human behavior related field and has past experience working with the dying

Candidates must have achieved one of the above prerequisites and must be able to show evidence of the educational requirements as provided above.

Note: candidates must provide official documentation of at least one of the established prerequisites at the time of application for Certification. Failure to provide such documentation and evidence of education requirements will result in rejection of the application.


Certified members may receive re-certification at the expiration of their four year term by:

  • Obtaining 50 or more hours of continuing education within the four year period of certification. Click here to view the Criteria for Re-Certification.
  • Have successfully advanced to Fellowship Status in the AAGC prior to the expiration of their current certification. Fellowship projects must have been in the specialty of pastoral thanatology practice. Once a certified member achieves Fellowship in the AAGC, they are required only to reapply for Fellowship status, and continue to maintain their Certification along with their Fellowship.


Those applicants who have successfully achieved certification, or re-certification will receive a large size official Certificate attesting to certification, as well as an official letter of notification. The certificate is suitable for framing and details the official certification title, initials that may be used, and time frames for certification. Those re-certifying receive a new, updated certificate.

Standards & Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics for Certified Grief Counselors, Certified Pastoral Thanatologists and Fellows of the American Academy of Grief Counseling may be viewed online by clicking here.  The Code of Ethics is approved by the Governing Board and the Advisory Board of the American Academy of Grief Counseling.

Fee Schedule

  • The certification fee is $200.00 for the four year term of certification. Payment in full is due at the time of application. If an applicant does not meet certification criteria, the application fee is refunded. A completed application must be mailed in to the with full payment to be considered for certification. Application is available on this website.
  • Application for re-certification is $200.00 for the next four year period. This is a one time payment and is required in full at the time of application for re-certification. A completed application must accompany the payment.
  • Major credit cards are accepted. Check and money orders are to be payable to: The American Institute of Healthcare Professionals.

Fellowship Program

The American Academy of Grief Counseling offers a Fellowship program in Grief Counseling for its Certified Members. Access Information.  Those certified in Pastoral Thanatology may also elect to achieve a Fellowship specifically in Pastoral Thanatology: Access Information

Click here to view education programs that are approved by the AAGC

Click here to request more information.

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Online Application

Click here for the online application. Please print application and postal mail.

What is Certification?

“A certification is a third-party attestation of an individual’s level of knowledge or proficiency in a certain industry or profession. They are granted by authorities in the field, such as professional societies and universities, or by private certificate-granting agencies. Most certifications are time-limited; some expire after a period of time (e.g., the lifetime of a product that required certification for use), while others can be renewed indefinitely as long as certain requirements are met. Renewal usually requires ongoing education to remain up-to-date on advancements in the field, evidenced by earning the specified number of continuing education credits (CECs), or continuing education units (CE’s), from approved professional development courses. “ 1

Certification is an official recognition from a “Professional Organization” that one has met all of the established standards as determined by that professional organization to be conferred the specific “certification” by that professional organization.  Certifications are most frequently established and conferred by “professional organizations.” Certification is thus a validation that a professional has thus achieved a high standard of knowledge, learning and skills in a specific specialty area of practice. It attests to an achievement in professional practice that is beyond that achieved for licensure. It is also specialty practice specific, rather than generic in nature.

Certification is distinctly different from ‘licensing.” Licensure is conferred /granted by the Government. In most all cases, licensure is the responsibility of the State Government. Every state has its own government agencies that oversee and confer licensure to professionals, i.e. the state boards of nursing.  Licensure is established by “laws” and then specific rules and regulations which conform to the tenets of the state’s laws. Licensure is granted and over-seen by state agencies. Certification, on the other hand, is NOT licensure and is not established by any “laws.”  Licensing agencies generally do not “oversee” professional certifications, unless their specific laws mandate a certain professional certification, in order to practice. An example of this would be: for a registered nurse to receive and be conferred a license as a “Nurse Practitioner” most states require that the RN also have Certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.  So, in order to be licensed as a nurse practitioner, the nurse must hold certification from one of those two professional organizations. The State Board of Nursing does not oversee the certification, but rather requires it for nurse practitioner license.

Why Achieve a Certification?

“Professional certification shows consumers and potential employers that you are committed to your profession and are well-trained. It gives them confidence in your abilities and knowledge. Certification makes you more valuable to employers, so you can expect to earn more than someone without certification. Certification also offers advancement opportunities.” 2  Other compelling reasons to consider a specialty practice certification include: Acquire advanced knowledge and skills in a sub-specialty health care practice: 1) Achieve national recognition for attainment of knowledge and skills by meeting established standards of professional advanced practice, 2). Enhance and expand your health care practice, 3). Increase your marketability, 4). Be viewed as a credentialed expert in your practice specialty, and 5). Become part of a professional group and network of recognized and certified health care specialists.

Report findings published on revealed the following regarding Nurses that held certifications: 1). Certified nurses make more money, 2). Certified nurses have respect and recognition, 3). Certified nurses have validated competence in their specialty area, 4). Certified nurses are more marketable and hireable, 5). Certified nurses perceive they have more power in their organizations, 6). Certified nurses have more professional opportunities, 7). Certified nurses have standing among their professional peers, and 8). Certified nurses are more confident. 3

While these study finds were specific to the nursing profession, we believe such benefits are applicable to all health care professionals who hold practice specialty certifications, especially related to recognition, opportunities in employment and validated competency in their practices.

Ongoing Learning

A major hallmark of quality Certification programs is the mandate that Certified Members commit to continued learning in order to maintain their certifications. This is most generally achieved by requiring a recertification process in which certified member’s document continued learning in their practice specialty by way of continuing education. Certifying bodies will establish quality standards for the requirements for its certified members to achieve contact hours of continuing education credits in order to maintain their certification status by the organization or association. 1, 2

The American Institute of Health Care Professionals upholds this high quality standard for recertification of its members by an established program of recertification via mandatory continuing education as well as clinical practice hours over a four-year time frame.  Certified members may recertify their status upon meeting the standards established for recertification of their practice specialties.


  1. October 2018. Page 1.
  2. October 2018
  3. October 2018