NMU Grief Support Specialist Program

Coping with grief for personal or professional growth

The Grief Support Specialist Program is an 8 week, non-credit certificate program through Continuing Education and Workforce Development at NMU. This program evolved from the Grief Specialist Program at UW-Madison.

Participants will learn the principles and many practical tools and techniques to enhance their professional and personal life related to grief.  Topics include: grief counseling theories and strategies, assessments, COVID and grief, recovery tools and intervention, attachment styles and grief, children and youth coping with grief, different age coping skills, grief groups for children, Vicarious Grief, Disenfranchised Grief, Complicated Grief coping with dying, legal issues & end of life decisions, spiritual, ethical, and culture issues, group therapy, self-care and career enhancement. Brief meditation and relaxation exercises are included during the synchronous instructions.

Participants could be, but are not limited to: Social Workers, Counselors, Psychologists, Clergy Workers, Funeral Directors, Teachers/Educators, Hospice, Health Care Workers and Nursing Home Employees. 

Continuing Education Credit Hours Available

  • 16 State Continuing Education Clock Hours (SCECH) through the Department of Education | Information
  • 24 Credits - Michigan Social Work Continuing Education Collaborative | Information 
  • Association for Death Education and Counseling | Information 
  • National Association of Social Workers | Information 
  • The Association for Death Education and Counseling® has deemed this program as counting toward the continuing education requirements for the ADEC CT and FT programs.” | Information 

Synchronous Class Sessions:  

Eight Mondays from April 22 - June 17, 2024 (skipping Memorial Day). 

6pm-9pm EST.

Course sitehttps://cewd-online.nmu.edu/ 

Note: Doug’s sessions will all be pre-recorded.


Forums: 4 Forums. Please post by the deadlines specified on the course site.

Final Project:

Due at 11:00 pm EST on Monday, July 8, 2024 to be submitted via the course site. Prior to the final project due date, by June 10, 2024 you will need to submit the title of your project/paper and a one-paragraph summary of that project/paper to the GSSP team. More to come on this. 

Throughout the program, participants will have the opportunity to interact on forums and work on a project under instructor guidance.

The course involves detailed lectures/instruction, illustrative case studies and client stories, facilitated discussions and activities as well a project phase where participants can design a project of importance to their employer or for their own personal development.

Call (906)227-2103 for more information on next session dates. 

Early-Bird Registration Now Open! 

The Early-Bird price is $1300 per person & increases to $1450 per person two weeks before the course begins. 

For MiLeap grant funding, please schedule an appointment with Michigan Works representative, Kara Borghi. 

CE Opportunities: 

24 Credits - Michigan Social Work Continuing Education Collaborative https://www.socialworkcec.com/

Association for Death Education and Counseling https://www.adec.org/

National Association of Social Workers https://www.socialworkers.org/

The Association for Death Education and Counseling® has deemed this program as counting toward the continuing education requirements for the ADEC CT and FT programs.”  https://www.adec.org/page/Pre_approved_Program


Anna, Student Success Specialist, Program Participant

"NMU's Grief Support Specialist Program provided everything that it promised and more. All of the instructors were very knowledgeable and taught real skills that we could immediately implement in our personal and professional lives. They not only talked about how to support others and ourselves during times of grief, loss, and struggle, but modeled how to treat everyone with unconditional positive regard. Doug and Yan, who led the program, are excellent teachers, compassionate guides, and wonderful human beings. Their willingness to be vulnerable and the generosity with which they shared their own personal experiences with grief, loss, and their journey of resilience was inspiring. While no one can avoid tragedy, loss, or pain, I feel more prepared to welcome them into my life and find healing when they inevitably arrive. Everyone should go through this course because it teaches an essential life skill that is typically not taught in school: how to face the hard times in life with grace. Thank you, Doug and Yan, for this priceless gift!"

Kelsey, Educator, Program Participant

"I was nervous for the Grief Support Specialist training at first, because I did not have much experience talking about grief in either a professional or personal setting. I also wasn’t sure how it would directly apply to my work in education, however, I am so happy I took this course. The instructors are top-notch and the content is accessible for everyone, even if you don’t have a background in the topic. Immediately after taking the course, I was able to apply what I learned to my workplace, being able to connect on a deeper level with students and feel more confident tackling sensitive subjects like grief or mental health concerns. The instructors were also very understanding about trying to balance a full-time job, social life, and taking this course. I found the workload very manageable. This course was an emotional journey, but so beneficial for my personal and professional life!"

the front of jamrich hall on a sunny summer day

"This course has opened me in ways I never thought possible. I am now opened to the pureness of living and sharing and caring."

Celia, Art Therapist

Program Participant


Douglas C. Smith M.Div., MA, MS

Lead Instructor -

Douglas C. Smith has three masters’ degrees in three different healthcare disciplines (M.Div., MA, MS), giving him a truly holistic approach to healthcare. He has most recently been the lead instructor in the University of Wisconsin’s Grief Support Specialist Certificate program. Before that he trained social workers, psychotherapists, counselors, nurses, chaplains, physicians and other healthcare professionals in meeting the various needs of the dying and the grieving, having done trainings/workshops in all 50 states and all the provinces in Canada; he has also authored eight books on those subjects. In addition to working for several hospices in multiple capacities throughout his career, he has also had much personal experience in grieving, having lost his parents, a brother and two daughters to death and having been a patient in a mental hospital for an extended period of time. Doug lives with his partner Tara (a mosaic artist) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. All training session's with Doug are pre-recorded. 


Doug Smith Lead Instuctor

Dr. Yan Zhao Ciupak

Associate Professor of Sociology

Dr. Yan Zhao Ciupak is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Northern Michigan University.  She developed the first Sociology and Social Work course on Death, Dying, and Bereavement at Northern Michigan University and initiated the Grief Support Specialist program at the institution. She has numerous national and international publications and presentations. Yan is a Grief Support Specialist, a yoga teacher-in-training, and an advocate for inclusive federal bereavement policies and mindfulness-based end-of-life care.  


Dr. Yan Zhao Ciupak

Caroline Cheng, MSW, PhD.

Assistant Professor of Social Work

Caroline has been a hospice grief group facilitator, a leader of children bereavement camp, and a researcher for subjective wellbeing in the Global Health field. She has ample of experience working with diverse populations who face all sorts of loss – children losing parents and their home, older adults losing their spouses and/or children, and refugees losing their family members and homeland. Caroline has worked with people from all walks of life and in different parts of the world, such as Hong Kong, China, the U.K., Canada, India, and the U.S. She has also been an advocate for children and families from multicultural populations at court in Minnesota.

Caroline Cheng earned a Doctorate in Global Health and Development, specializing the mental health of refugees and asylum seekers; a Master’s Degree in Social Work; and a postgraduate certificate in Education. She is currently teaching various Social Work Courses at the Northern Michigan University as an assistant professor. Her research interests and practice experiences include health and well-being, trauma and coping mechanisms, human rights advocacy, spirituality social work, holistic healing, child protection, and migration. She is actively working on global collaborations and involved in research projects relating to political asylum seeking and trauma, as well as the impact of Covid-19 on wellbeing. She has published a few articles on various topics, such as the impact of social connections on subjective wellbeing.


Caroline Cheng

Molly Tomony MA, ATR-BC, LPC

Art Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor

Molly Tomony MA, ATR-BC, LPC is a board-certified, registered Art Therapist and licensed professional counselor. She has worked at hospice, Gilda's Club and Rainbow Project providing grief groups for children and teens who are grieving or have experienced trauma. Molly currently coordinates the Art Therapy program at Edgewood College in Madison, WI. She understands the power of art to express feelings when words are not enough. Witnessing young people use art to transform pain and anger into insight and growth has fueled her to continue this work for over 25 years. In her free time, she likes to paint and spend time outdoors with her family. 


Molly Tomony

Dr. Mark Vande Braak, PH.D, FT, MT-BC

Dr. Mark helps people who have suffered traumatic loss and complicated or prolonged grief through individual sessions provided in person in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, or via telehealth anywhere in the US. 

In addition to working with individuals, Dr. Mark serves people experiencing a wide variety of losses through virtual and in-person groups. Topics addressed include supporting parents following loss of a child due to illness, suicide, trauma, miscarriage, or stillbirth; and spouses or families of those suffering traumatic brain injury or life-changing illnesses such as ALS, Huntington's, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, or other dementias. 

Dr. Mark works with families, congregations, and communities in the face of tragedy from accidents, shootings, natural disasters, and suicide. He is available for speaking engagements at universities, educational events, and community settings. He provides consultation to physicians, attorneys, pastors, teachers, and church workers as they support their people through loss and grief.

Dr. Mark Vande Braak

Contact Information

Mailing Address

Northern Michigan University
Continuing Education & Workforce Development
1401 Presque Isle Ave.
Marquette, MI  49855

Campus Location

Continuing Education & Workforce Development is located at 103 Jacobetti Complex, 2296 Sugarloaf Ave. The Jacobetti Complex is located on the Northside of campus. (See campus map.)

(906) 227-2103 or Fax: (906) 227-2108