Pastoral counseling combines counseling with theological training to offer patients a unique and integrated approach to therapeutic treatment. A pastoral counselor is a licensed mental health professional who has also had religious training and/or theological education. Clinical Services are non-sectarian and respect the spiritual commitments, religious beliefs and traditions of patients, including couples, families, mental health patients and substance abusers. Pastoral counseling may incorporate collaborative community based services, training and education to improve the well-being of person in need.
Pastoral counselors provide therapeutic support and spiritual guidance to people in need of all ages and circumstances. The unique orientation and listening perspective that pastoral counselors provide helps those in need find peace, forgiveness and acceptance.
The Evolution of Pastoral Counseling
The practice of Pastoral Counseling dates back to the 1930s. For centuries, religious Americans have turned to their priests, ministers and rabbis in times of crises. Churches and temples provide personalized support and informal counseling for members of their community, including those with mental illness, depression, relationship issues, and drug and alcohol addiction. While traditional religious counseling continues to provide support, the need for a measure of professional therapy was recognized long ago for effective treatment. In the early 1900s the Clinical Pastoral Education movement was founded, and led to the integration of religion and psychology for therapeutic purposes as an academic discipline. The field steadily evolved with endorsements from religious leaders as well as psychologists and psychiatrists like Carl Jung, Karl Menninger and Abraham Maslow. Leaders in both arenas came together to found the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, now the Blanton-Peale Institute in New York City.
Pastoral counseling has evolved from religious counseling to pastoral psychotherapy, which integrates theology and other faith tradition knowledge, spirituality, the resources of faith communities, the behavioral sciences, and in recent years, systemic theory. "It only makes sense that religion and psychology — each of which is concerned with the fullness of the human experience — should be recognized as partners, because they function as partners within the human psyche," said Dr. Arthur Caliandro, Senior Minister Emeritus, Marble Collegiate Church, New York City. According to the AAPC, pastoral counseling now accounts for three million hours of treatment annually in institutional and community-based settings. (AAPC)
How to Become a Pastoral Counselor
Some states distinguish pastoral counselors from other counseling practitioners, but most do not, so you might need to earn licensure as a marriage and family therapist or professional counselor. Individual state requirements vary, but generally include completion of a master's program or higher and at least two years of supervised experience, as well as passage of a state-recognized exam.
Pastoral counselors are typically clergy who have been formally trained in both religion and behavioral science in a clinical setting that integrates psychological and theological disciplines. A typical course of education includes a three-year professional degree from a seminary and a master's or doctoral degree in pastoral counseling, with supervised clinical experience. Pastoral counselors are often certified by the AAPC, which also accredits pastoral counseling centers and approves related training programs. In most states, licensure is not required to practice pastoral counseling, and many practitioners are ministers, priests, or rabbis. A national licensing examination is being developed by AAPC.
The AAPC website offers a comprehensive list of programs.
Are there certification requirements?
Voluntary certification is offered through the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. You can apply to be a Certified Pastoral Counselor, Fellow or Diplomate, depending on your level of experience. The AAPC sets professional practice standards for over 2000 Pastoral Counselors and 75 Pastoral Counseling Centers. AAPC offers a Pastoral Counselor certification program, as well as continuing education and advocacy for practicing counselors. Becoming an AAPC certified pastoral counselor requires a serious commitment that begins with stringent education requirements – a B.A. and a Master of Divinity, or a master’s or doctoral level degree in theological/spiritual or biblical studies, or a Masters or Doctoral level degree in pastoral counseling, from accredited colleges or universities. Additional requirements include Religious body endorsement to ministry, active relationship to a local religious community, completion of a supervised self-reflective pastoral experience, three years in ministry, and 375 hours of pastoral counseling together, including 125 hours supervised by an AAPC diplomate or fellow, or in an AAPC approved training program in pastoral counseling.
Career Outlook for a Pastoral Counselor
According to both the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Payscale.com, the average annual salary for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists (the closest related fields for which BLS provides data) in the U.S. is about $43,190. Salaries for marriage and family therapists are represented by a range of $37,500 to $61,000 depending on the setting. The high end of the range is accounted for by those employed by the government – not a likely employer for a pastoral counselor. For example, counselors employed at offices of health care practitioners, outpatient care centers, individual and family services earn between $42,000 and $45,000. At the low end of the pay scale are those employed by nursing and residential care facilities. Few entering into this rich and rewarding field do so for monetary gain.
Pastoral Counselors are employed in a variety of settings, including hospitals, hospice care, parishes, private practice, substance abuse programs, correctional facilities, domestic violence centers and other community based organizations. Most are affiliated with a church or other religious institution.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 29 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.
- Program Name: Master's Degree in Counseling (M.A.)
- Program Structure: Mostly online with two on-campus 3-day intensives (Thursday – Saturday)
- Degree Types: Full-time and part-time
- Program Length: 3 to 4 years depending on pace
- Instruction Methods: Asynchronous
- 69 Credit hours
- 100 hour practicum experience
- 600 hour internship experience
- Official transcripts demonstrating a 2.5 GPA in a completed bachelors degree at an accredited institution
- Mail to: Graduate Admissions at Cornerstone University | 1001 E. Beltline Ave. NE | Grand Rapids, MI 49525
- Ministry Reference
- Personal Reference
- Program Name: Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling
- Program Structure: Online
- Program Length: Varies (must be completed within 5 years)
- Instruction Methods: Online
- 30 total hours
- Up to 6 credit hours may be transferred in from an un-conferred master's degree
- Apply online or download the graduate application and submit via mail.
- $50.00 Deferred application fee (Assessed during financial check in)
- Fax / scan unofficial college transcripts. Unofficial transcripts can be used for acceptance purposes.
- Mail official college transcripts (sealed, unopened copy)
- Regionally or nationally accredited bachelor’s degree with at least a 2.0 GPA for admission in good standing.
- TOEFL scores for students who speak English as a second language (score of 600 paper-based test; 250 computer-based test; 80 internet-based test)
- Program Name: Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling
- Program Structure: 100% online or on campus
- Program Length: 18-24 months
- Instruction Methods: Online and traditional
- 36 credits
- For admissions requirements, contact an Enrollment Advisor at 1-800-442-1577 or by email at Admissions@lutherrice.edu.
- Program Name: Master of Arts in Ministry Pastoral Care and Counseling Concentration
- Program Structure: Online and on-campus
- Program Length: 2 years to 3 years
- Instruction Methods: Online and on-campus
- Credit Hours: 36
- The Master of Arts with a major in Ministry program consists of a core requirement (eight courses) and concentrations (Practical Theology or Pastoral Care and Counseling), each consisting of four courses.
- Must hold a bachelor or graduate degree from a regionally or ABHE accredited institution with a minimum overall GPA of 2.75*
- Education and experience requirements:
- Minimum 2 years of pastoral or lay leader experience
- Minimum 6 semester credits in Bible (undergraduate or graduate)
- Minimum 3 semester credits in Theology (undergraduate or graduate)
- Completed application and payment of $25.00 application fee
- Official transcripts should be sent to the Ohio Christian University AGS program directly from the degree-granting institution, any graduate institutions if transferring graduate hours, and any institution where a prerequisite course was taken. They can be sent either by faxor by mail in a sealed envelope.
- Ministry Reference Forms (two references)