Working as a pastoral counselor is a challenging and rewarding career. With the proper training and willingness to help clients overcome their struggles, you can enjoy work in a field that offers support to those who need it most. The following provides an overview of the work of pastoral counselors, as well as information on how to become a pastoral counselor:
Pastoral Counselor Career
Pastoral counseling combines traditional counseling methods with spiritual resources to help clients recover and grow. Counselors are not only licensed mental health professionals, but also trained in theological and/or religious studies. Pastoral counseling services are non-sectarian, so clients are not required to adhere to a particular denomination or belief unless they choose. However, they must want to incorporate spirituality, traditions of religion, and theological perspectives into their counseling.
The pastoral counselor job description combines aspects of the work of traditional religious leaders and that of mental health professionals. Religious leaders have always helped members of their communities, but over time, many realized more in-depth training was needed to deal with certain situations.
The practice of blending religion and counseling evolved over several decades to become pastoral psychotherapy, which is an integration of theology and other traditions of faith and spirituality with the resources of the faith community, as well as the behavior sciences and systemic theory. Today, members of various religious communities receive more than three million hours per year of pastoral counseling in institutional and community-based environment.
Steps to Become a Pastoral Counselor
Becoming a certified pastoral counselor requires a significant amount of education. Counselors certified by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, considered the highest standard among accrediting agencies, have postgraduate degrees from accredited universities, as well as experience and training in the ministry and an existing relationship with the local religious community. They also ensure members have significant training and supervised counseling experience. All are also licensed social workers, marriage or family counselors, or psychologists within their states of practice.
If you believe work as a pastoral counselor is right for you, it is important to find a program that provides education based on God’s Word. You want a degree, certification, or credentials to help you become qualified in offering quality counseling services with a religious foundation.
Students entering pastoral counseling education programs are sometimes already clergy, but do not need to be. Some might be counselors with a desire to incorporate religious tradition into their existing counseling practice. There are also people who seek a pastoral education who begin with no experience – their initial career goals are specifically pastoral counseling and they are looking for a program that is Biblically sound and highly effective for helping them gain the skills needed. Whether you are young, mature, retired, currently working in the secular community, already ordained as a minister – it doesn’t matter. Finding a program that offers everything you need is the first step in how to become a pastoral counselor.
Once you determine working as a pastoral counselor is right for you, there are several steps you can take to achieve your goals:
- Determine which type of pastoral counseling training is right for you. You can attend online classes or learn in a brick-and-mortar institution, depending on the programs that are available in your area. Some schools combine both at-home learning with classroom time.
- Complete all the necessary coursework. Programs include both text book and classroom learning (lectures), as well as hands-on work. All aspects are essential for enabling you to provide counseling services.
- As your initial program continues, determine if additional education is needed. Utilize the resources available to you to determine what higher education is available and what is necessary to pursue the exact path of counseling you have chosen.
- Research the various credentialing and licensing options available. Choose one that is recognized by a church and that is considered reputable within the pastoral counseling community. Complete all paperwork and testing needed to secure your license or credentials.
- Choose whether you will operate a private counseling practice on your own or work within an organization. It might be possible to combine more than one opportunity.
- Research insurance options for professional protection if it is not part of the benefits provided by an employer.
- Begin working with clients and give the support and guidance you are trained to provide.
Working as a pastoral counselor comes with challenges, but will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. If you think this is a career choice that might be right for you, please take a few moments to request information from the education sources provided.
The Need for Pastoral Counselors
Modern-day therapy clients are looking for a blend of psychotherapeutic and spiritual and theological support. Statistics show the vast majority (96%) of Americans believe in God and nearly 80% acknowledge their faith has helped them deal with a health issue. Many people prefer their physician address their spiritual, as well as physical health during assessments. People are looking for more than a quick fix to their medical issues and they want their spirituality to play a role in how they heal, whether their issues are physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of the three.
People are also turning to pastoral counselors for support out of necessity. Changes in medical insurance, the unpredictable job market, and overall financial strain has made it difficult for people to pursue secular methods of counseling, while simultaneously increasing the need for counseling. As a result, many people are turning to faith leaders for assistance with their issues. Statistics show approximately 25% of people who have sought treatment have done so from a faith leader – a higher rate than those who have turned to general medical doctors or psychiatrists for support during difficult emotional times.
Many of the people seeking assistance are dealing with more than basic emotional struggles or relationship issues. Approximately a quarter of all people approaching faith leaders for assistance have serious mental disorders. And more than 90% of religious leaders report substance abuse as problematic within their congregations. Unfortunately, only about 10% have the necessary training to address these serious issues.
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