What Level of Education Does a Pastoral Counselor Need?

Pastoral counselors are trained mental health professionals that provide both psychological therapy and spiritual guidance to individuals, couples, families, and groups in various settings. Beyond the support or encouragement of a religious community, pastoral counselors offer clients sound psychological techniques that perfectly weave in an added religious or spiritual dimension.

Founded on the strong belief that God speaks to and guides people during their challenges and dilemmas, pastoral counseling aims to help clients form a deeper understanding of their religious beliefs to receive spiritual awareness and direction on their journey through life.

Due to the nature of their counseling work, pastoral counselors must be highly trained in both psychology and theology. Therefore, the following are the education requirements needed to get on the right track to a rewarding career as a successful pastoral counselor.

Education Requirements for Pastoral Counselors

Aspiring pastoral counselors are required to first achieve a proper undergraduate bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology, theology, religious studies, or other human services. After graduation with a four-year degree, pastoral counselors must advance their education to earn a graduate master’s or doctoral degree in the field. While the degrees offered will vary greatly from school to school, most pastoral counselors choose to receive a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in theology, Biblical studies, spirituality, or pastoral counseling. Beyond the theories and studies conducted within the classroom environment, a significant portion of the training is spent in clinical experience providing therapy services in both crisis and long-term counseling situations.

Qualifications for Certification and Licensure as a Pastoral Counselor

In addition to satisfying the above education requirements, it is required in most states for pastoral counselors to be licensed to practice. There are only six states in the United States that actually license individuals with the title of Licensed Pastoral Counselor (LPC), which are Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Since the other states still require pastoral counselors to possess a valid license to practice in their borders, it is common for pastoral counselors to gain licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or a Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC). It is important to note that pastoral counselors may need to complete supplemental coursework to match the curriculum needed for these licenses, depending on individual state requirements.

Although it is not required for practice in the majority of states, many pastoral counselors receive professional recognition by obtaining certification as a Certified Pastoral Counselor (CpastC) or Certified Clinical Pastoral Therapist (CCPT) from the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. For certification, counselors must have a master’s degree from an accredited institution, a minimum of three years in ministry with an active relationship to the local religious community, and at least 375 hours of pastoral counseling experience with 125 hours of supervision in an AAPC-approved training program.

After fulfilling all of the education and certification requirements, pastoral counselors are prepared to provide advice in a religious context, help individuals find direction in their crises of faith, and offer personal or vocational counseling sessions. There will be a high demand for pastoral counselors to provide these services in churches, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, community centers, military bases, rehabilitation clinics, and more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for counselors is expected to grow much faster than average at a rapid rate of 37 percent before 2020, meaning that it is an excellent time for those interested in this gratifying profession to get started!

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