Pastoral Counseling Degree

A pastoral counseling degree prepares you for a career helping people manage their life challenges, while also providing job security, reasonable earnings, and a sense of purpose. Pastoral counselors earn a master’s degree or higher in their specific field, so before you can begin working with people, you must complete the necessary education and licensing requirements.

If you want to work as a pastoral counselor, you’ll need to invest in your education. The job requires an academic background in theology and psychotherapy, enabling you to support those with mental health problems, or career and relationship needs from a theological point of view. Counselors work with churches, prisons, community centers, and hospitals, and might also be licensed as marriage and family therapists.

The job outlook for graduates of pastoral counseling programs is good. There is an ever-growing need for counselors throughout the country and the world, and many people in need of support and guidance want to receive it from someone who shares their religious convictions and has a strong knowledge of their faith.

Online Pastoral Degree

Pastoral counseling degrees are not available in all areas of the country, so if a student is interested in that specific program, he or she might consider distance or online education. There are also other programs similar to pastoral counseling offered online, including a Biblical counseling degree and a Christian counseling degree.

Additionally, many programs include both online and on-campus learning, so check with the program you’re considering to determine how and when you will attend class. Most students are also required to participate in mentored internships of some kind, so even if you’re enrolled in an online program, there will likely still be off-line requirements during the course of earning your degree.

Courses in online programs typically include reading assignments, video lectures, or self-paced study guides that you can complete on your own schedule. Additionally, some programs use one-on-one mentoring via phone and e-mail so students are able to have direct interaction with professors. Many colleges also provide online access to libraries and resource centers.

If you believe earning a Pastoral Counseling Degree could help you achieve your career goals, please take a few moments to request information from the education sources provided.

Pastoral Counseling Courses

Pastoral counselors must have a graduate degree – either a master’s or doctorate in counseling – that include courses in both psychology and theology. Courses might include Bible study and ministry, job counseling, psychopathology, marriage and family counseling, ethics, human development, counseling theories, world religions, cultural awareness, diagnosis of disorders, group counseling, and substance abuse or intervention. Ideally, the candidate pursuing the degree will have some idea what population he or she wants to serve and can choose courses based on that population, in addition to the required courses.

The goal of a pastoral counseling education is to learn to blend spirituality with contemporary and traditional counseling methods. Pastoral counselors assist patients with healing and provide an optimistic approach to self-care to those who are struggling with emotional and spiritual issues.


Certification and licensing requirements to work as a pastoral counselor vary some from state to state. There are only six states that require and provide a license specifically for pastoral counselors. The remaining states require those working as pastoral counselors to be licensed as MFTs or professional mental health counselors of some kind. There are also varying experience levels, education, and testing requirements from state to state. Patients should always review the qualifications and experience of any counselor and you should do the same for any mentors to whom you are referred.

Since licenses are only required in certain states, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors offers its own certification program in an effort to ensure patients can identify counselors that meet the highest standards. Those who have earned a pastoral counseling degree and wish to increase their credibility with employers and clients can voluntarily participate in the program. They are required to earn their graduate degree in pastoral counseling, or biblical studies or theology if a pastoral counseling degree is not available in their area. The degree must be from one of the AAPC approved schools located throughout the country or from an approved online program.

Graduates of an approved program must then receive an endorsement from a religious organization and provide documented field hours working with their local faith-based community. Finally, they are required to pass a certification exam. To qualify to take the test they must have three years of ministry experience and 375 of counseling experience with 125 of those hours supervised.

The Need to Combine the Spiritual with Traditional Counseling

The connection between religious-based emotional support and traditional counseling is centuries old. It wasn’t until more recently though religious leaders and conventional therapists began to recognize the need to blend the two approaches. The integration of religion and psychology for therapeutic purposes began during the 1930’s and eventually evolved from counseling within the church to pastoral psychotherapy that integrates religion, spirituality, the resources of faith communities, the behavioral sciences, and more recently, systemic theory.

More and more people are seeking counseling these days, but often find it difficult to participate in a program for financial reasons. It’s for this reason many turn to religious leaders. They know they can receive comfort and guidance without paying a premium or turning over their personal information to an insurer or their employer.

Fortunately, churches and religious organizations have recognized the need to provide well-trained counselors to their members. As a matter of fact, there are efforts underway to ensure church leaders are equipped with the skills needed to counsel members through difficult times. According to the National Center in Addiction and Substance Abuse, more than 90% of religious leaders consider substance use an important problem within their congregations. However, as of that 2001 survey, as little as just 12.5% of faith leaders had any training for dealing with substance abuse issues. Despite improvements, there is still a need for educated counselors capable of handling the problems of a given religious community.

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