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Add care, support, and compassion to your skillset with an online Certificate in Thanatology.

Supporting individuals and families as they contend with issues related to death, dying, loss, and bereavement takes a special understanding, compassion and knowledge of the processes, psychological, and social issues involved with death and grieving. Marian’s graduate Certificate in Thanatology is designed to deliver that in-depth knowledge and comprehensive training, so you’ll be ready to positively impact lives.  

The Certificate in Thanatology prepares working professionals with additional education that adds to their existing skillset. Students will learn about delivery of care for individuals and families confronting end-of-life healthcare, bereavement issues, suicide, and more. Graduates of the certificate program may pursue or enhance their careers in churches, funeral homes, hospices, hospitals, and non-profit organizations.  

Marian University’s accomplished thanatology faculty are leaders in the field, regularly publishing in respected journals and trade books and speaking at national conferences. They bring years of experience working in professional settings and use that experience to provide students with invaluable professional feedback and guidance.  

Give Hope and Healing. Earn Your Certificate in Thanatology – 100% Online

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    Our Partners in Thanatology Education

    In order to provide you the best curriculum for the professional Certificate in Thanatology, Marian University has partnered with national and international organizations, making those important connections that mean your thanatology education is aligned with the body of knowledge of these important organizations. Marian has educational partnerships with the National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC), the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, The Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), and the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).

    Members of these organizations, plus members of the National Funeral Directors Association, are eligible for tuition discounts.

    MPath 15 week logo

    MPath Online Program Schedule: 15-Week Semester

    Marian’s Certificate in Thanatology is designed to prepare busy adult learners for a career providing support for people facing end-of-life and bereavement issues. An advanced degree is not required but students who already hold an advanced degree in a caregiving or healthcare field such as counseling, nursing or faith and community leadership may want to add to their skill set through education in thanatology.

    MPath’s 15-week semester provides a more traditional semester experience in a format built for the modern student. Our 100% online program helps adult learners move forward on their path to reaching their goals with small class sizes, faculty feedback, and in-depth topic discussion. The online traditional semester helps students:

    • Complete their degree in a convenient format 
    • Learn how to think critically about a new topic 
    • Absorb and reflect on lessons 
    • Learn through robust online course content 
    • Take time for scholarly inquiry 
    • Integrate learning with their other adult responsibilities 

    Why Choose Marian University for your Thanatology Education?

    In addition to the Certificate in Thanatology, Marian University offers a Master of Science in Thanatology. Hear Dr. Janet McCord, Professor of Thanatology, describe how Marian’s thanatology degree and certificate program prepare students to help others through grief and loss.

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    The Program

    Students in the 18-credit Graduate Certificate in Thanatology program will complete their coursework entirely online supported by expert faculty highly accomplished in their field. Personalized instruction helps students form connections and professional networks through hospitals, hospices, nonprofit organizations, and other employers.

    The Thanatology Certificate can be completed in about one year.  Students may start at three different times each year.  Courses include a 12-credit core curriculum with 6 credits of electives with topics across the spectrum of end-of-life studies.

    • Palliative and Hospice Care
    • Ethics
    • Spirituality and Religion
    • Suicide and Prevention
    • Traumatic Death
    • End-of-life Decision Making
    • Communication with Service Providers and Families
    • Program Development and Assessment
    • Diversity
    • Death Education

    Students enrolling in certificate programs do not qualify for federal financial aid but should check with employers for programs that may help pay for certificate tuition and expenses.

    Thanatology Graduate Certificate students will take courses covering topics such as:

    • Palliative and hospice care
    • Ethics
    • Spirituality and religion
    • Suicide and prevention
    • Traumatic death
    • End-of-life decision making

    For more details regarding this program, view Marian’s Academic Bulletin.

    Sample Course Plan:
    Download Sample Course Plan

    Certificate Curriculum, 12 credits:

    Introduction to death, dying, grief and bereavement. Topics include the dying process; end-of-life decision making; disposition of remains/use of corpses; grief & mourning; death competence; family/individual interpretations; spiritual/religious perspectives; suicide; ethical and legal aspects; cross-cultural considerations.

    Examination of bereavement theory and techniques in individual and group facilitation skills. Topics include assessment of complicated grief; techniques for helping the bereaved after special losses; attending to individual spiritual needs; cross-cultural considerations; lifespan issues; setting appropriate boundaries; self-care for the caregiver; confidentiality.

    Examines concepts of immortality related to death, dying, grief and bereavement including Western philosophical and religious beliefs. Topics include an examination of contemporary perspectives towards death, dying, and bereavement practices within Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Native American communities. Emphasis on practical/effective spiritual care techniques for assisting individuals, families, and health care providers in their quest for meaning, growth and transition through the dying and grieving process.

    Examination of applied ethics related to end-of-life care and bereavement services. Topics include the definition of death and brain death, do-not-resuscitate orders, advance directives, patient privacy, confidentiality, end-of-life decision-making, moral and ethical frameworks, theory versus praxis.

    6 credits from the following:

    Exploration of how research contributes to the identification of best practices in thanatology. Topics include scientific methods & techniques used specifically in contemporary thanatology research, emphasis on qualitative & mixed methods; critical reading & use of thanatology research studies; theories and methods of data collection, analysis, and interpretation; IRB issues; research ethics; & study design.

    Examination of the attitudes & responses of children and teens to death, loss, and grief, in context of human developmental stages. Topics include strategies for working with families and caregivers of terminally ill children/teens; facilitating communication between healthcare providers & families; strategies for helping children/teens in the midst of family illness; & models of bereavement programs.

    Introductory examination of current theories of the causes of suicide, and contemporary approaches to prevention, intervention and post-intervention. Topics include nomenclature, current and emerging theoretical models, suicide across the life span, cultural contexts, suicide in the military and among combat veterans.

    Examines the impact of sudden, unexpected death including implications for bereavement, first-responder effectiveness, and impact on communities. Topics include military death, accidents, disasters, homicide, suicide, crisis intervention, critical incident stress management, community response activities, & grief support.


    Examination of suicide among children & teens. Topics include prevalence of suicide among children, youth & older adolescents; screening; prevention; intervention; post-intervention; stressors including AODA, LGBTQ and cultural issues, evidence-based programs, current research & best practices.

    Examination of the practical elements of program design, development, implementation and assessment. Topics include examination of existing and emerging program models; volunteer recruitment and training, funding, working with other agencies and organizations, board recruitment, governance, and utilization.


    In-depth examination of suicide prevention & postvention program design, implementation and assessment. Topics include evidence-based programs, current research and best practices.

    Examination of the history, theory and practice of hospice and palliative care. Topics include the palliative approach to medicine; the medical aspects of dying; terminal disease trajectories; “active” dying and the dying process; and multidimensional aspects of pain control. Also includes practical strategies for assisting families in communicating with healthcare providers; the impact of end-stage terminal illness on caretakers and family members; and self-care for caregivers.

    Exploration of the personal and community spiritual resources that undergird effective care of the dying and bereaved. Topics include philosophies of spiritual formation; theories of spiritual formation in the context of hospice; spiritual growth techniques and exercises. Spiritual formation throughout the process of terminal diagnosis, dying process, death, bereavement, and for caregivers will be addressed.

    Examination of cultural contexts of death, dying and bereavement through literature. Topics include themes of death & bereavement in novels, short story, drama, poetry, elegy and music, and how literature can be used in work with the dying & bereaved.

    The Master of Science and Graduate Certificate in Thanatology programs offer a comprehensive, interdisciplinary and scientific study of the dying and grieving process; cultural attitudes towards death and loss; spirituality and ethical standards; suicide prevention education; applied research; and the spiritual, social, psychological and medical aspects of dying, death, loss and grief. Our curriculum is aligned with the Association for Death Education and Counseling’s (ADEC) Body of Knowledge, and prepares students to take the ADEC certification examination. As a graduate, you’ll be prepared to find employment in areas like churches, funeral homes, hospices, hospitals and non-profit organizations, among others.


    The mission of the Edwin S. Shneidman Program in Thanatology is to educate students from diverse backgrounds in the fundamental concepts, knowledge, research, techniques and skills of thanatology in order to (1) prepare them for employment in a wide variety of thanatology-related positions and (2) prepare them to contribute to the discipline of thanatology academically and professionally.

    The Program is committed to the education of the whole person, integrating professional preparation with a liberal arts foundation and embracing justice, compassion, and service to the local and global community. The five core values of Marian University of community, learning, service, social justice and spiritual traditions inspire and inform the curricula within this Program.

    Learning Outcomes

    • Recognize and articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and dominant criticisms of contemporary thanatology theory and practice,
    • Demonstrate competence in applying thanatology evidence-based best practices in needs assessment and support services/program development, delivery and assessment for individuals and families confronting the end of life, death, loss and bereavement including bereavement after natural death, traumatic death, in various cultural contexts, and across the life span;
    • Design and implement educational programs on death, the dying process, end-of-life decision making, and bereavement topics for communities and professional audiences,
    • Analyze, synthesize and evaluate the relationship between religious and spiritual belief systems and the reaction to and coping with death, and incorporate these elements appropriately into service delivery,
    • Conduct and evaluate thanatology action research critically and reflectively,
    • Participate effectively in the academic and professional community, and
    • Identify and discuss common ethical issues with individuals and families.

    Our graduates have good employability, and it is important to recognize that some come to the program for the additional content knowledge it provides for them to be more successful in their thanatology-related positions. Our first graduate was hired as a hospice bereavement program coordinator while still a student in the program, and was offered the position over applicants with MSW degrees.

    There is no accreditation for thanatology education programs. However, the primary international professional association for thanatology, the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), has identified a Body of Knowledge (BoK) matrix that guides curriculum and practitioner credentialing.

    Marian University’s (MU) thanatology curriculum and learning outcomes align closely with the ADEC Body of Knowledge and the Foundations of Thanatology course (THA605) utilizes the ADEC sponsored Meagher D. & Balk D. (2013)Handbook of Thanatology: The Essential Body of Knowledge for the Study of Death, Dying and Bereavement, 2nd Edition (Routledge Press, New York, NY) as a core text. This course introduces the field of thanatology to students, facilitates discussion on the meaning of death, and offers them a glimpse into the breadth and depth of the discipline, starting them on their way to becoming scholar-practitioners.

    ADEC’s Certification in Thanatology (CT)© and Fellow in Thanatology (FT)©programs aim to protect the public by creating a standard for thanatology practice, while helping professionals develop and demonstrate their mastery of knowledge of issues related to death, dying and bereavement. Marian University’s thanatology program is pre-approved as educational contact hours for ADEC Certification (CT) candidates, and once they meet the application criteria, they are allowed to take the certification examination.

    Individuals with Master’s or Doctoral degrees plus 5 years of experience in the discipline (paid or volunteer) can apply for FT status without earning the CT first, which means that Marian University thanatology graduates can apply for and attain advanced certification right away provided they have relevant experience and take the certification examination.

    Information on ADEC can be found at

    Marian University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

    Admission Requirements

    To be considered for admission into the Graduate Certificate in Thanatology, the applicant must submit the following:

    • A completed Marian University application form
    • A $50 non-refundable application fee
    • An official transcript from each college or university attended; applicants must have an undergraduate or graduate degree from a regionally accredited institution.
    • Cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Students may be considered for admission on a probationary status with less than a 3.0 GPA
    • Career goal statement

    To apply for the Certificate in Thanatology, use the Admissions Checklist. This document will guide you through the process and ensure that you have submitted all of the necessary materials.

    Jean Rogers approached Thanatology later in her career. Already having a Master’s Degree in Counseling, Jean chose the Graduate Certificate in Thanatology with a plan to utilize her studies in retirement. With a background in counseling and advising elementary through college students and individuals with disabilities, Jean began teaching part-time in the Social Studies field in the Wisconsin Technical College System. This allowed her to dedicate time as a volunteer Facilitator for the Center for Grieving Children and as a Hospice Volunteer with Affinity. Jean holds a Certification in Thanatology (CT) from the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and is an Instructor for the Children, Teens and Death undergraduate course at Marian University.

    Dr. (Chaplain) John South, USA Ret. is truly a lifelong learner. He holds a bachelor of Criminal Justice Degree, a Master of Divinity Degree, a Doctor of Ministry Degree and a Graduate Certificate in Grief and Bereavement from Marian University, which he completed in 2011. His military education includes the Army Chaplain Schools, C & GS and the Army War College including a Master’s in Strategic Studies. Across his education he has had a special interest in Suicidology and suicide prevention/intervention.

    His major enlisted assignments: 3rd Armor Division Freiberg, Germany, 1st Infantry Division Republic of Vietnam. He entered the Army Reserve Chaplaincy in June 1982. Chaplain assignments include: 313th MASH, Ft. Vancouver, WA; 164th CSG, Phoenix, AZ; 259th MI. BN, Phoenix, AZ; and Command Chaplain 63 RRC, Los Alamitos, CA. He has served as a police chaplain for the past 30 years in Portland, OR and Phoenix, AZ. He assisted ATF teams in Colorado in 1999 after the Columbine shootings, worked with ATF employees affected by the 9/11 in NYC, and conducted PTSD briefings for ATF agents deployed to Iraq to Iraqi police.

    His awards and decorations include: Purple Heart; Legion of Merit; Meritorious Service Medal; Army Commendation with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters; Army Achievement with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters; Meritorious Unit Commendation; Army Superior Unit Award; Army Reserve Component Achievement Award 3, National Defense Service Medal 2; Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry; Armed Forces Reserve Medal; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon 2; Army Reserve Component Overseas Training Ribbon 2; Combat Infantry Badge; and The Global War on Terrorism Medal.

    He says: “I chose Marian University because I was seeking a graduate level university that had a degree or advanced certificate in suicide intervention and grief support. A professor friend at NYU highly recommended Marian University. She advocated I talk to Dr. Janet McCord. The courses were outstanding and continue to be beneficial in my ministry in helping police officers, soldiers, and family members that deal with PTSD and suicidal ideation on a daily basis.”


    Janet S. McCord, PhD, FT, Professor
    Thanatology Department Chair; Edwin S. Shneidman Program in Thanatology Chair


    Rebecca Morse, PhD

    Brad DeFord, PhD

    Judith H. Prather, DMin

    Thomas Vail, PhD

    Christina M. Zampitella, PsyD, FT

    For more information, please contact:

    Office of Adult and Online Studies

    Questions about the Thanatology Curriculum can be addressed to:
    Janet S. McCord, PhD, FT


    J. McCord ADEC video

    Inspired to serve, Professor Janet McCord describes how Marian’s thanatology program prepares students to help others through grief and loss. Click here to learn more.