Top Most Affordable Advanced Degrees in Pastoral Care and Counseling

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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.

Top 10 Top Most Affordable Advanced Degrees in Pastoral Care and Counseling

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  1. Apex School of Theology
    Location

    Durham, NC

    Apex School of Theology offers a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling and a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. The Master of Arts in Christian Counseling (69 credits) offers tracks of study in Professional Counseling and in Marriage and Family Therapy. Graduates of this program will be prepared through classroom and clinical training to provide professional counseling to individuals, couples, and families in church and community settings. The Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling (36 credits) is a briefer program that focuses on training students to develop, support, and provide church-based counseling services.

    Courses include: foundations in theology; history of Christian thought; introduction to pastoral counseling; advanced developmental psychology; theories of personality; family systems therapy; counseling theories and techniques; cross-cultural counseling; individual and systems assessment; introduction to professional and ethical counseling; group dynamics counseling; theological perspectives of forgiveness and reconciliation; crisis and conflict management in the church; career counseling theories and practice; and marriage and family counseling.

    • Cost: $4,200.00
    • Religious Accreditation: Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools

  2. Luther Rice College and Seminary
    Location

    Lithonia, GA

    Luther Rice College & Seminary offers a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. The program emphasizes a commitment to Christ-centered counseling and pastoral care with a focus on training graduates for careers in Christian and church settings. This 36 credit program can be completed in 18-24 months. Students who are interested in this program have the choice between completing the degree 100% online or through a combination of online and on-campus courses. All students will engage in a practicum experience to develop critical counseling skills. Graduates of the program have gone on to pursue careers in roles including church counselor; ministry staff; jail/prison chaplain; youth and family pastor; and Christian counselor.

    Courses include: introduction to psychology and counseling theories; introduction to the new testament; helping skills; spiritual formation; marriage and family counseling; issues, ethics, and legal concerns for counselors; crisis counseling and pastoral care; methodology for biblical counseling; and biblical counseling practicum.

    • Cost: $4,536.00
    • Religious Accreditation: Association for Biblical Higher Education
    • Religious Accreditation: Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools

  3. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
    Location

    Wake Forest, NC

    A Master of Divinity in Biblical Counseling is offered at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This 88 credit program, with 70 credits in the Master of Divinity core and 18 credits in biblical counseling, can be completed in 3-4 years. Elective courses, not required for the degree, are available in areas that may assist graduates in working towards state licensure as a professional counselor but state licensure is not the focus of the program. Graduates of the program will be prepared for careers in the church with the specialized skills to provide counseling, pastoral care and family ministries.

    Courses include: counseling individuals with problematic emotions; marital and premarital counseling; counseling and the church; counseling theory; counseling individuals with addiction problems; counseling parents and children; cross-cultural counseling; and mentored counseling internship.

    • Cost: $4,734.00
    • Regional Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
    • Religious Accreditation: Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools

  4. Kentucky Christian University
    Location

    Grayson, KY

    A Master of Arts in Christian Leadership with a program option in pastoral care (counseling) is offered at Kentucky Christian University. The Christian Leadership degree offers students the opportunity to complete 24 credits of core courses followed by 18 credits of courses that match their individual area of interest in terms of how they would like to serve and lead in the church. Program options are available in: theological studies; pastoral care (counseling); Christian ministry; leadership; and preaching. Students that select the pastoral care (counseling) option will work closely with their advisor to select counseling courses that fit their future career goals.

    Courses include: history of Christian thought; world Christianity; ethical foundations for Christian leadership; old testament research; new testament research; Bible/theology elective; and specifically chosen counseling courses.

    • Cost: $4,950.00
    • Regional Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

  5. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
    Location

    New Orleans, LA

    New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary offers a Master of Divinity with a number of areas of specialization for students to choose from. Areas of specialization with a counseling focus include: Chaplaincy/Pastoral Care (84-86 credits); Counseling/Non-Licensure Track (87 credits); and Marriage and Family Counseling (101-102 credits). A number of Master of Arts degrees with a counseling focus are also available. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary also offers a number of graduate certificates that may be of interest to students that hope to focus on pastoral care in a church setting. The variety of degree options available make this graduate school a good match for students that want to focus their degree in a particular and specific area of interest.

    Core content areas include: Biblical exposition; Christian theological heritage; disciple making; interpersonal skills; servant leadership; spiritual and character formation; worship leadership; and electives.

    • Cost: $5,040.00
    • Regional Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
    • Religious Accreditation: Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools

  6. Maple Springs Baptist Bible College and Seminary
    Location

    Capitol Heights, MD

    Maple Springs Baptist Bible College and Seminary offers a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling. Students in the program will learn counseling theories and skills to support individuals emotionally and spiritually through ministry in the church setting. In learning to support the spiritual and psychological needs of others, students in the program will develop personally in these areas as well. Graduates will be prepared to successfully integrate theories of psychology and the values of the church.

    Courses include: principles of counseling; counseling techniques and practices; counseling the chemically dependent; counseling case studies; counseling practicum; and Christian writing and research.

    • Cost: $5,280.00
    • Religious Accreditation: Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools

  7. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
    Location

    Kansas City, MO

    A Master of Divinity with a concentration in Counseling is offered at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is a 96 credit program with core courses (60 credits) and concentration courses (36 credits) designed to prepare graduates for licensure (in Missouri). Through coursework and practicum experiences students will learn the theories, techniques, and skills to work effectively as professional counselors in both ministry and/or community settings. In addition to counseling, graduates may go on to serve the church in other ways (such as pastor or preacher) or choose to pursue a doctorate degree in a related field.

    Courses include: counseling theories; lifespan development; professional orientation and ethics; marriage and family counseling; diagnosis and treatment of addiction disorders; theory and methods of group counseling; abnormal psychology: theory, diagnosis, and treatment; career development and counseling; multicultural counseling; and integration Christian theology and counseling.

    • Cost: $5,500.00
    • Regional Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
    • Religious Accreditation: Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools

  8. Ashland University
    Location

    Ashland, OH

    Ashland Theological Seminary at Ashland University offers multiple graduate degrees with a counseling focus and a Christian worldview including the CACREP accredited Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and the Master of Divinity. The degrees are quite different allowing students to thoughtfully select the degree to match the career path of their choice. The CACREP accredited Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling (64 credits) offers a cohort model program with a flexible schedule that is designed to prepare graduates for professional licensure. The Master of Divinity is focused on preparing graduates for pastoral leadership and is designed for individuals who plan to provide counsel within the context of the church setting.

    Courses include: spiritual themes in clinical counseling; introduction to clinical mental health counseling; human growth and development; social and cultural issues in counseling; professional ethics and responsibilities; personality assessment; crisis counseling; spiritual formation core; story of the Christian faith; Christian ethics; leading the people of God; worship and the community of God; well being in ministry; and pastoral counseling and care.

    • Cost: $5,713.00
    • Regional Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

  9. Holy Apostles College and Seminary
    Location

    Cromwell, CT

    Holy Apostles College and Seminary offers a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies. This degree offers a number of areas of concentration including a Pastoral Counseling concentration. The program focuses on preparing students for ministry that matches the mission of the Roman Catholic Church. Students in the pastoral counseling concentration will learn to provide psycho-spiritual counseling for individuals in the church and for people in crisis. Students may also be interested in this program if they want to pursue careers as a Christian Life Coach and/or Board Certified Professional Life Coach. Additionally, licensed professional counselors may wish to use this degree to enhance their current career as a licensed professional counselor to have the skills to apply faith-integrated approaches in their practice. Students can choose to complete this program 100% online.

    Courses include: fundamentals of practical theology; nature and grace; pastoral counseling: spiritual helping and accompaniment; Catholic social teaching; nurturing the domestic church: fostering authentic marriage and family life & spirituality; pastoral counseling: spiritual diagnosis and intervention; morals and psychology; pastoral issues with human sexuality; pastoral issues of marriage and the family; intercultural competencies; and methods in counseling.

    • Cost: $5,760.00
    • Regional Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges
    • Religious Accreditation: Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools

  10. Baptist Bible College
    Location

    Springfield, MO

    Baptist Bible College offers several seminary degrees that include a counseling focus. The degrees include: Master of Arts in Church Ministries (36 credits); Master of Arts in Biblical Studies (72 credits); Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling (60 credits); and the Master of Divinity (96 credits). This variety of degrees allows students to be thoughtful about the type of degree they need to pursue their career goals. Graduates with these degrees from Baptist Bible College will find that they are prepared for the career of their choice in areas including: local church ministry; military chaplaincy; counseling in K-12 settings; college counseling; hospital chaplaincy; and/or to teach at the Bible college level.

    Courses include: dynamics of biblical change; theology and secular counseling; biblical counselor; human personality; local church and counseling; methods of biblical change; marriage counseling; family counseling; problems and procedures; issues in biblical counseling; and local church and counseling.

    • Cost: $6,210.00
    • Regional Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
    • Religious Accreditation: Association for Biblical Higher Education

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.


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