The Best Career Paths for Thanatology

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Updated: March 27, 2024, Reading time: 9 minutes

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Only a few professions provide the much-needed services as much as what a thanatologist can offer, especially during the global pandemic.

Thanatology professionals have the knowledge and expertise on the subject of dying, grief, and loss, using that verified knowledge to support family members and people who are experiencing great bereavement and loss.

We can see so many thanatology working professionals in different situations, all of them focusing on grief counseling. They work for hospice agencies, supporting those who have lost a parent or a spouse.

Sometimes, you can see them offering support to families because of sudden traumatic death such as suicide or an accident. These professionals play a huge role in working with families when a member needs end-of-life care.

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What is Thanatology?

Thanatology pertains to the study of death and dying in a variety of fields, one of which is psychology, which deals with the feelings and other psychological phenomena a dying person encounters and those who care for them.

This scientific discipline examines death from different perspectives, including ethical, physical, spiritual, psychological, sociological, social justice, and medical aspects.

Concentrations of the Thanatology Program

Different professionals incorporate their work with thanatology, and this will depend on what knowledge they want to know about the dying and grieving process.

For example, a coroner, nurse, doctor, medical examiners, and other medical practitioners in the field of health sciences might want to get a certificate program in thanatology so they will further understand the whole physical process of death- what happens to the human body during death and immediately thereafter.

Social scientists, on the other hand, like cultural historians, psychologists, and archaeologists, study thanatology to learn about the rituals, rites, and ceremonies people use in honoring and remembering their loved ones from a cultural standpoint. Among the many professionals whose sole focus of their work is thanatology are:

Psychological Thanatologists

Psychological thanatologists are counselors and therapists who deal with people facing their own death, or that of somebody close to them, or those who are in the grieving process of losing a loved one.

Biological Thanatologists

These thanatology program professionals usually work in the field of forensic sciences as medical examiners and coroners.

Medical Ethicists

They use thanatology in supporting work issues like euthanasia and assisted suicide, both of which has legal implications.

Music Thanatologists

These types of thanatologists are usually part of a palliative care team. They use a harp or any music at the patient’s bedside to bring calm and person to a dying person.

Pastoral Thanatologist

People in pastoral thanatology minister to people who are dying. They have the skill sets and verified knowledge related to social, spiritual, and human behavior aspects of end-of-life care.

Pastoral thanatologists represent a range of spiritual beliefs/religions and affiliations, primarily providing spiritual care.

Death Doulas

During the dying process, death doulas are almost always present. These non-healthcare professionals provide emotional and physical support to people at the end of life, as well as the members of the family and loved ones around them.

Become a Thanatologist - fact

Subspecialties of Thanatology Programs

The specialties below use and practice thanatology:

Training and Certificate Programs in Thanatology

If you want to study thanatology, know that there are no standardized educational programs in this field, given the wide range of professions in which it plays a role.

However, you can still find several universities and colleges that offer certification or thanatology programs. In some schools, thanatology is offered as part of a curriculum or as an adjunct to other areas of study like psychology or theology.

Students who wish to gain employment in a specific area will need a deep understanding and knowledge of specific aspects of thanatology.

They can receive certification and training via accredited professional organizations, including the American Institute of Health Care Professionals or the Association for Death Education and Counselling. There is a full program for certificates in pastoral thanatology as well at the American Academy of Grief Counseling.

Admission requirements for a certificate program include a high school diploma or equivalent. The certification is usually 12-18 credits and is designed for working individuals.

For the advanced certificate programs, students are required to be certified or licensed healthcare workers with professional experience.

For the master’s degree, a bachelor’s degree is required, together with the official transcript of record.

The Importance of Getting a Thanatology Certificate

Funeral directors and other funeral service professionals with a certification in thanatology can take advantage of the many benefits in the field.

After successful completion of a graduate certificate, the skills and knowledge they obtain through general and applied thanatology provide them with a better knowledge base about dealing with death and the kin of a deceased.

For the most part, death is a very emotional time for families. The necessity to deal with families confronting death and the ways how to work through their grief is extremely difficult.

This is where death education comes in handy– an education every program director for funeral homes should have.

The information you get through a comprehensive thanatology certification program provides you with a better understanding of your clients and their needs. In the funeral industry, thanatology is an advantageous course of study. But this is also a great knowledge base for other end-of-life workers.

The Best Career Paths for Thanatologist

Below are some of the career options where specialized thanatology certification can be put to great use.

Funeral Directors

Funeral Directors

A thanatology certification offers so much information that can help directors of funeral homes how to better serve the dying and their families.

Family Caregivers

Family Caregivers

Today, younger members of the family can care for their elders. Many families cannot afford to hire full-time health personnel, which explains why most of the personal and health care needs of a patient fall to relatives.

A thanatology curriculum allows members to be eligible to care for their members who are already in their final stages of life. 

Courses in thanatology will teach them how to provide good coping methods for both the psychological and emotional needs of their dying loved one, as well as their extended family.

Hospice Volunteers

Hospice Volunteers

Those working with hospice patients and palliative care are often the first ones to see the dying and grieving process in the most intimate way. A certificate in thanatology teaches you how to master the ways of helping patients and their kin as they enter their final transition.

Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Personnel

Nursing Home and Long Term Care Personnel

For those in this field, a thanatology certification provides you with the right developmental perspectives, allows you to observe cultural attitudes, and gives you more advanced tools in aiding your patients and their families.

Spiritual and Ministry Personnel

Spiritual and Ministry Personnel

These are the very first people grieving family members turn to when death happens. They are highly skilled in their spiritual teachings. Their fundamental knowledge of death allows them to provide an in-depth understanding of the process of aiding members of their faith.

What is a Certified Pastoral Thanatologist?

The American Academy of Grief Counseling runs a full certification program for the specialty practice of Pastoral Thanatology, a two-tier program consisting of “Fellowship” and “Certification” status, and is open to any qualified student. This program focuses on the care for the social and spiritual needs of the dying, as well as their loved ones. 

A Certified Pastoral Thanatologist is somebody who has completed the highest level of training and has the skill sets to specifically work with the dying. They deal with the social, spiritual, and human behavior aspects of the end of life.

Students who attain the certification by the AAGC are deemed “certified” and are allowed to use the credential/initials PT-CSP after their names: “Certified Specialist in Pastoral Thanatotology”.

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

Qualifications to Join the Program

Students for this certification must meet any of the education requirements below:


Certified members can re-certify at the expiration of their four-year term by:

You can submit your online application for a graduate certificate/re-certification on death education at this site. Certain fees apply, and tuition discounts are provided as well.

Qualities of a Thanatologist

Succeeding in thanatology will differ depending on your area of focus, but the qualities below are important across all other jobs related to thanatology.

Critical Thinking

Reading relevant literature, understanding evidence-based practice, and applying this expertise when directly working with people are crucial skills of a thanatologist.

Cultural Humility

The end of life or death is a very sensitive issue among human beings. No amount of education and courses can teach you about the importance of cultural humility Common sense dictates that we should be wary of an individual’s race, culture, gender expression, and spirituality.

This is a core skill that every thanatologist must possess. You should know how one’s culture and race impact death beliefs, rituals, and practices. Being interested and open-minded in learning about what others’ beliefs are is essential.

Summary Points

A thanatologist holds a very unique specialization. The science of studying death and dying is useful in so many settings, organizations, and professions.

For those interested in the field, you can get the required education from different organizations like the American Institute of Health Care Professionals or the Association for Death Education and Counselling.

Additional Information: