Are Pastoral Counselors Ordained Ministers?

| Staff Writers

Sometimes, because of the close counselor/client relationship, Christian counselors may be asked to perform religious rites, but are all Pastoral Counselors ordained ministers? The answer to that question depends upon what is meant by the term Christian, or pastoral, counselor. Understanding the answer involves looking at several issues in Christian counseling.

Who can be a Counselor?

Anyone can establish an office and call himself a counselor. Many times, Christians who feel they are gifted in communication and insight will offer their services as Christian counselors. They may charge a fee and may even offer valid advice. States do not regulate that type of counseling and, as a result, there are many life-coaches, career counselors and other uncertified “advice-givers.” Only those who have certification by recognized organizations will have credentials which testify to their education and proficiency. In addition, only certified, or licensed, counselors may bill insurance companies. All pastors offer some type of counseling, but not all are credentialed professional counselors.

How Christian Counseling Differs from Other Counseling

Though scientific principles of psychotherapy pertain, Christian counselors recognize the impact of faith on the lives of their clients. A Wikipedia article notes that in 1925 Doctor Richard Cabot, who was a physician at Harvard Divinity School, advocated for counseling courses as a part of every divinity student’s curriculum in the same manner that it is presented top medical students. In the 1930s Reverend Anton Boiser began putting theological students into direct contact with mental patients during their training. At about the same time, Norman Vincent Peale and Doctor Smiley Blanton began the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry. Then, in 1963, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, which is still the main credentialing organization, was founded.

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How Christian Counselors Differ from One Another

All pastors offer comfort and advice; some will not perform marriage ceremonies unless the couple involved has undergone pre-marital counseling with them. That does not mean that the pastors qualify as trained counselors. In fact, the requisites to become licensed as a minister vary by denomination, according to Some denominations only ask that ministers take a course of prescribed classes online to become licensed with their organizations. These programs offer rudimentary counseling classes.

Pastors that attend Bible college study more organized tracks in psychology and counseling. Examples of the classes they might take are Human Development and Personality, Interpersonal Dynamics, Cultural Systems and others. They become licensed as pastors and sometimes go on to more advanced education.

License as a minister, though, is not the same thing as a license to be a professional counselor. In addition, there are Christian counseling organizations that offer online classes in certain areas of counseling for certification. Ordained ministers often hold master’s degrees and have taken “minors” in counseling that enable them to become licensed through the state as professional counselors. In fact, some Christian credentialing organizations require as many supervised hours of clinical practice as do secular counseling degrees.

In short, although all pastors do some amount of counseling, only certain ministers are certified as counselors and fewer are licensed by the state. Even without that licensure, however, they may become certified to offer Christian counseling through their denominations. Ordained ministers usually hold Master’s of Divinity degrees and, if they have concentrations in psychology or counseling, meet the requisites for licensure by the state as well as their denominations. So there are many kinds of Christian counselors and not all Pastoral Counselors are ordained ministers.

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