Pastoral counselors take on unique roles, working at the intersection of religion and psychology. They provide counseling guidance to parishioners or clients and integrate faith into their practice. Pastoral counselors are indeed mental health professionals, but they are trained in both counseling psychology and theology.
Six states offer pastoral counseling licensure: Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Pastoral counselors in other states typically earn related licensure credentials, such as marriage and family therapist or clinical professional counselor licensure.
To earn these credentials, pastoral counselors need an advanced degree in theology and/or counseling psychology. Some schools offer programs specifically within the pastoral counseling specialization. Depending on state licensure requirements, they may need either a master’s degree or doctorate. Master’s in pastoral counseling degrees typically last two years, while a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in pastoral counseling can take 3-7 years. In addition to advanced courses, these programs require degree seekers to complete supervised clinical work.
If a career in pastoral care and counseling appeals to you, then you can find a list of the most affordable pastoral counseling degrees below.
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Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.
Top 10 Top Most Affordable Advanced Degrees in Pastoral Care and Counseling
Chestnut Hill, MA
Founded in 1863 and based in Boston, BC enrolls nearly 15,000 students annually and features an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Boston College offers a master of arts in theology and ministry. Learners may complete the two-year degree on campus or online. The program focuses on intensive study of theology, pastoral development, and engagement in spiritual formation. Students receive practical experience with a supervised ministry placement during the program, learning about inquiry and contextual realities to prepare for many careers in the church.
Optional program tracks include a Hispanic ministry track and a religious education track. Students may pursue a dual-degree program to earn an MBA, a master of counseling, or a master's in social work alongside the master of arts in theology and ministry.
Boston College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Spiritual Formation for Ministry | Theological Foundations in Practical Perspective | Ethics
Hispanic track | Religious education track | Spiritual seminar
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Founded in 1908 and based in La Mirada, California, Biola offers more than 150 degree programs.
Biola's Talbot School of Theology offers a master of divinity in pastoral care and counseling, available on campus and through a hybrid format. The program prepares students for ministry opportunities in biblical counseling, conflict resolution, crisis management, and grief counseling. Students also learn to develop care teams and become lay counselors.
All students in the Talbot School of Theology take classes in biblical and theological foundation coursework, complete Greek and Hebrew classes, and receive training in preaching and counseling.
Biola University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
Hermeneutics and Bible Study Methods | Old Testament Survey | Reformation and Modern Theology
Three internships | Spiritual formation core focus | Ministry specialization
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Boiling Springs, NC
Founded in 1905 and located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Gardner-Webb enrolls more than 3,500 students annually and features a 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Gardner-Webb offers a dual-degree master of divinity and master of arts program in clinical mental health counseling. The program prepares graduates for careers as church counselors, religious-affiliated institution counselors, and private-practice counselors. The 120-credit program allows students to choose from divinity and mental health electives and divides into four components: theoretical, professional, skill, and applied.
Students also explore elective coursework in the pastoral care of families, couples counseling, grief counseling, and a contemporary issues seminar.
Gardner-Webb University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Counseling Theories and Techniques | Group Counseling | Crisis Intervention Counseling
Practicum | Two internships | Dual-degree program
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Grace College and Seminary
Founded in 1948 in Winona Lake, Indiana, Grace College and Seminary enrolls more than 1,200 students annually.
Grace offers a master of divinity in pastoral counseling. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Students with a GPA below 2.5 or who do not hold a bachelor's may gain admission with academic restrictions. Applicants must submit transcripts, a spiritual life reference letter, and test scores before being admitted to the program.
The master of divinity program offers a curriculum that optimizes graduate theological study for students to work in ministry positions. The three-year degree requires 75 credits and features eight concentrations in general studies, pastoral studies, pastoral counseling, Christian ministry, exegetical studies, intercultural studies, women's leadership, and chaplaincy studies.
Grace College and Theological Seminary is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Courses Include Source:
History of Doctrine and the Church | New Testament Greek | Understanding and Engaging Culture
Academic restriction enrollment options | Eight areas of concentration | Advanced standing and transfer credits allowed
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Founded in 1841, Fordham University, a Jesuit, Catholic academic institution enrolls more than 16,000 students through its nine schools.
Fordham offers a master of arts in pastoral mental health counseling degree program. The on-campus program entails 20 courses (60 semester credits) and nine clinical internship or field placement credits. Students choose from full-time or part-time enrollment and, upon graduation, qualify to apply for mental health counseling licensure from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, among other states.
Students must finish a capstone clinical paper on practical and theoretical concepts for matriculation. Learners gain hands-on experience with a supervised clinical internship alongside faculty advisors and professional counselors. Program participants also take one spirituality course, one Scripture course, and one theology course.
Fordham University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Human Growth and Development | Advanced Life Span Issues and Career Counseling | Christian Contemplation and Action
Mental health counseling licensure | Full- and part-time options | Supervised clinical internship
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Applying to an Advanced Degree Program in Pastoral Care and Counseling
Prerequisites to pastoral counseling degrees vary depending on the school and degree level. A master’s in pastoral counseling requires incoming students to possess a bachelor’s degree. Schools may also require applicants to have studied a subject related to psychology, counseling, or theology. Prospective students usually need to meet a minimum GPA requirement, which might range from 2.5-3.0.
In contrast, a Ph.D. in pastoral counseling requires students to hold a master’s degree in a related field. At the doctoral level, applicants generally need a high GPA in their master’s program to be competitive.
Finally, admission requirements may include additional components, such as GRE or MAT scores, recommendation letters, and personal essays.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is clinical pastoral counseling?
Clinical pastoral counseling refers to a branch of counseling that incorporates both psychology and spirituality. Pastoral counselors are either mental health professionals who incorporate religion or spirituality into their practice, or religious leaders who are trained in psychology. Pastoral counselors approach their profession with an element of faith; they often help parishioners or clients through major life events, such as grief or other crises.
Where do pastoral counselors typically work?
Pastoral counselors work in churches, synagogues, or other religious centers. However, they also work in other settings, such as correctional institutions, mental health facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, homeless shelters, nursing homes, hospitals, and in private clinical practice.
How long does it take to become a pastoral counselor?
This depends on an individual’s chosen pathway. Many pastoral counselors complete a four-year bachelor’s degree and then a two-year master’s degree, which may take six years of education in total. A doctorate takes even longer, from 3-7 years. However, some prospective pastoral counselors, such as religious figures, often work in their field for years in between earning the two degrees. In addition, students may enroll part time or in accelerated programs, which can affect the time it takes to become a pastoral counselor.
Why is it important that a pastoral counseling program be accredited?
Accreditation is important for all higher education programs, but especially if pastoral counselors choose to pursue licensure. Accreditation ensures that degrees and schools offer a quality education, so state regulatory boards require candidates to apply for licensure with an accredited degree. Students in pastoral counseling should be particularly careful, as sometimes religious schools may operate independently and without accreditation.