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Pastoral Counseling Degree

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness”Martin Luther King, Jr.

Decades ago, Martin Luther King changed the world with his vision, a dream spurred by faith. His civil rights movement for racial equality changed the lives of many, and for the better. Changing lives through the unchanging words of God, he instilled hope in every being. His legacy shows how powerful faith can be, and how it can lead to change and improvement. Dr King was many things. He was an activist, a minister, a humanitarian and above all a pastor.

If you are interested in becoming a pastor, here is what you need to know.  

Pastoral counseling is a unique branch of counseling in which trained rabbis, priest, imams, and other individuals who hold a leadership position in a religious institution provide therapy services to individuals and families. This branch differs from other types of counseling as it emphasizes the principles of spirituality, theology, religion, and modern behavioral sciences altogether.
The popularity of pastoral counseling has increased in recent years. According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), approximately 96% of the American population believes in higher being, and accept faith can help in healing and recovery. As a result, many people turn towards pastoral counselors for guidance when it comes to faith, marital issues, and other personal matters. AAPC is a recognized institution that promotes this branch of counseling, and provides certification and training to pastoral counselors.
If you are looking for a career that revolves around spirituality, religion, and helping others, this can be suitable for you. You will need to equip yourself with a degree in pastoral counseling and a license. A masters level pastoral counseling degree is necessary to get certified or licensed. Please note that the exact licensing requirements may vary from state to state.

Masters of Science in Pastoral Counseling

This two-year program is comprehensively designed to offer students experience, skill, and knowledge necessary to become a counselor. The coursework will cover all theories of pastoral and clinical counseling, research, and will be integrated with practice. Students will be introduced to fundamental concepts and emphasis will be laid on hands on experience and practical learning.
Each of the course components will highlight different facets of the field that include marriage and family counseling, treatment planning, theology, and ministry.
Here are some of the courses along with their descriptions:

  • Human growth and development

This course will cover the physiological and social factors of the human personality. Students will understand how personality is shaped by different factors, and its development over lifetime.

  • Research

This will focus on research problems and hypotheses. Students will learn how to design research, measure variables, analyze research data, and implement a research proposal.

  • Counseling techniques

This course is designed to provide students with skills and understanding of basic counseling techniques. Students will explore different skills and beliefs, role playing, and development exercises.

  • Marriage and family counseling

This course will introduce students to the dynamics of marriage and family relationship. Students will learn about the structure of marriage, function of marriage, family systems, and healing interaction.

  • Pastoral theology and psychology

This course is for students who wish to work in the ministry as a parish counselor, pastoral counselor, or chaplain.

  • Introduction to pastoral care

With this course students will learn about pastoral care and its importance in the ministry. The course will emphasize on the functions of pastoral counseling restoring relationship with God, acts of love and justice, and community involvement.
Students enrolled in a masters in pastoral counseling will also undergo practical training as well. The practicum will help students develop skill and apply counseling techniques. Some schools include an internship in the program. The curriculum may vary with different schools.

PhD in Pastoral Counseling

This program is designed for individuals who want to teach, counsel, advocate, and supervise. The program focuses on developing clinical expertise, theological understanding, research skills, and scholarly knowledge. The coursework of the program is advanced in nature, and may also include clinical training.
Students enrolled in PhD pastoral counseling programs will be required to complete all the components of the curriculum, implement an independent research study, clear qualifying examinations, and work on their dissertation. The program will help students develop leadership skills necessary for advanced jobs in the field. Here are some of the courses and their descriptions:

  • Principles and practice of counseling theories

This course will provide students with an advanced understanding of traditional and contemporary counseling theory. Prevention of mental and emotional disorders, counseling theory, and future trends in counseling are some of the topics included in this course.   

  • Multi-cultural change, social change, and advocacy

Students in this course will gain in-depth knowledge of factors that shape social, cultural, racial, gender, and religious acceptance. The course will also highlight social change and emerging social justice issues in society.

  • Advanced mental health ethics and legal issues

This course will help students learn about the ethical and legal practice issues related to therapeutic care. Topics such as the special needs groups, counselor preparedness, codes of ethics, and standards of practice are covered.

  • Doctoral Practicum

Students are required to complete a minimum number of supervised hours in counseling practice. This may include direct service, clinical class conferences and more. Some schools may require a minimum of 100 hours of practice where others may require less. The main purpose of this course is to provide students with hands on experience.
The duration of a doctorate in pastoral counseling may vary from college to college. It could take 4 to 8 years to complete the program.

Program Objectives

  • Demonstrate understanding of different counseling techniques
  • Demonstrate understanding of the functions of counseling, role, standards, and history
  • Develop strong communication skills
  • Demonstrate effective counseling techniques
  • Understand the use of pastoral counseling in different groups
  • Understand the need and nature of individuals at different development levels
  • Practice within the legal and ethical scope of the profession

Pastoral Counseling Certification

The American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) offers the Certified Pastoral Counselor Certification. Getting a certification can help improve career prospects and will reflect your professional expertise. However, you must meet the requirements for certification.
These include:

  • Bachelor, masters or doctoral degree in biblical/theological/pastoral counseling
  • Religious body endorsement to ministry
  • 375 hours of pastoral counseling and 125 hours of supervision of counseling, one-third of that counseling must be with an AAPC fellow or Diplomate
  • Three years in ministry
  • One unit of clinical pastoral education completed
  • Membership or relationship with a religious community

Individuals can enhance their knowledge and skill with the help of a pastoral counseling certificate program.

Pastoral Counseling Degree Online

Getting a degree doesn’t mean you have to attend college full-time. You can pursue your degree program from home, by enrolling in an online program. Many colleges offer masters in pastoral counseling online, online pastoral counseling certificate programs, and other pastoral counseling courses online. Distance learning could be effective, flexible and suitable for working individuals or stay at home parents.

Career Prospects

Becoming a pastoral counselor will enable you to help others and provide counseling services. The income level may vary with location and employer. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has no salary data for this occupation. However, BLS has stated that mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, made a median annual income of $41,500 in 2012. The growth rate for these counselors is expected to grow at a faster than average rate.


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What sorts of courses are taught in pastoral counseling degree programs?

A:Pastoral counseling degree programs teach courses such as church history, counseling theories and techniques, the Biblical narrative, ethical and legal issues in counseling, pastoral crisis intervention, counseling and Christian beliefs, theories of personality development, advance issues in cross-cultural counseling, pastoral approaches to marriage and family counseling and pastoral diagnosis in care and counseling.

Q:What are pastoral counseling programs?

A:Pastoral counseling programs are designed to prepare students to provide counseling to congregations and communities around them. These programs cater to individuals who seek to receive in-depth understanding and training in dealing with the perplexing issues in life involving physical, spiritual or emotional crises. Students in this program will learn to develop sharper communication skills and integrate these with theological and biblical reflection.

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