Individuals, couples, and families often seek counseling for assistance with issues such as anxiety, depression, conflict resolution, communication challenges, and coping skills. Some turn to pastoral counselors, who incorporate religious or spiritual aspects with psychological techniques. For those who want to help others explore their spirituality and how it can provide a roadmap to healing, this subspecialty of counseling may be a fitting career path.
Earning a master’s in pastoral counseling is not always a path to state licensure as a counselor or therapist. Though many programs cater to members of the clergy, only a handful of states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Tennessee) license practitioners as pastoral counselors. This credential requires meeting the requirements for licensure as a marriage and family therapist (LMFT) or clinical professional counselor with demonstrated involvement in the ministry. In addition to a master’s degree, applicants must complete supervised clinical hours and pass an exam.
Graduates of pastoral counseling master’s degree programs are most likely to work in churches or other faith-based communities, but some work in medical or correctional facilities, schools, and community agencies. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide specific information related to pastoral counseling, the agency does predict that employment for LMFTs will increase by 22% between 2019-2029; the median annual wage for therapists is $49,610.
Online education programs for pastoral counselors vary by school, but many earn a master’s degree in biblical counseling, Christian counseling, or pastoral counseling. Coursework in these programs includes psychological theory, ethics, crisis care, and issue-specific training such as substance abuse or marriage counseling. Programs range from 18 months to four years.
Top 10 Low-Cost Online Master’s Degrees in Pastoral Counseling
||Apex School of Theology
||Luther Rice University & Seminary
||Faith Evangelical College & Seminary
||Ohio Christian University
||Shasta Bible College and Graduate School
||Mid-America Christian University
||Oklahoma City, OK
||Dallas Baptist University
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Featured Online Programs
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.
Master of Arts in Christian Counseling
Apex School of Theology offers a low-cost online Master of Arts in Christian Counseling. The Master of Arts in Christian Counseling offers two tracks of study the: professional counselor track; and marriage and family therapy track. This 69 credit program offers courses to prepare students to work as counselors with individuals, couples, and families, facing a multitude of issues, in church and community settings. Because licensure requirements vary by state students are encouraged to consult their home state licensing board to determine licensure eligibility as a licensed professional counselor or a licensed marriage and family therapist.
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; pre-practicum counseling skills; clinical practicum; group dynamics in counseling; and abnormal psychology.
- Credits Required: 69
- Cost: $233 / Credit Hour
Luther Rice University & Seminary
Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling
Luther Rice University and Seminary offers an online Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. This low-cost graduate degree in counseling is available 100% online. Students can complete this 36 credit program in 18-24 months. The Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling degree prepares graduates to work as counselors (non-licensed) providing Christian counseling and pastoral care in settings in and connected to the church. Along with careers as Christian Counselors, graduates have gone on to pursue careers as Chaplains in jail or prison, youth and family pastors, and ministry staff.
Courses include: introduction to the Old Testament; introduction to psychology and counseling theories; foundations of biblical counseling; 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.
- Credits Required: 36
- Cost: $238 / Credit Hour
Faith Evangelical College & Seminary
Master of Arts in Christian Counseling
The Master of Arts in Christian Counseling at Faith Evangelical College and Seminary provides a broad and inclusive Christian Counseling education. This low-cost online master's degree in counseling offers 72 credit hours of courses covering diverse issues related to the profession of counseling. Graduates will be ready to pursue professional careers providing Christian-based counseling in a range of settings from community mental health clinics to hospitals to churches to private practice. Depending on the student's home state licensing requirements graduates may be eligible to pursue state licensure. However, because licensing requirements vary by state applicants are encouraged to consult their home state licensing board for further information regarding licensure eligibility.
Courses include: essential doctrines of christian counseling; foundations of biblical counseling; introduction to pastoral counseling; introduction to crisis intervention; introduction to marriage and family counseling; human growth and development; cross-cultural counseling; domestic violence and anger management; addictions and substance abuse; group counseling; psychopathology; legal and ethical issues in counseling; and assessment and diagnosis.
- Credits Required: 72
- Cost: $280 / Credit Hour
Ohio Christian University
Master of Arts in Ministry with a concentration in Pastoral Care and Counseling
Ohio Christian University offers an online Master of Arts in Ministry with a concentration in Pastoral Care and Counseling. This low-cost online non-licensure track counseling degree is designed to prepare graduates to pursue ministry careers with the skills to offer counseling to individuals and families in times of need. The online education provided at regionally accredited Ohio Christian University is the same as the education provided at their on campus location. Ohio Christian University aims to support military families by providing qualifying students with tuition as low as $250 per credit.
Counseling concentration courses include: methods of pastoral counseling; spiritual issues in pastoral counseling; ethical and legal issues in pastoral counseling; and pastoral intervention in crisis.
- Credits Required: 36
- Cost: $330 / Credit Hour
Shasta Bible College and Graduate School
Master of Divinity in Biblical Counseling
Master of Divinity in Biblical Counseling and Christian Family
Shasta Bible College and Graduate School offers low-cost online master's degrees in counseling. Students interested in a graduate degree with a counseling focus can choose from the Master of Divinity in Biblical Counseling (39 credits) and the Master of Divinity in Biblical Counseling and Christian Family (96 credits). Both online degrees offer courses designed to prepare graduates to integrate Christian perspectives with counseling theory. Semesters are 15 weeks long and courses are designed to be flexible to accommodate the needs of students with busy work and family lives.
Courses include: physiology for biblical counseling and family life education; foundations of interpersonal relations and conflict resolution; the biblical counselor and family life educator; courtship, marriage, and the family; theology of biblical counseling; marital and family counseling; counseling children, adolescents, and their families; addictions; self-confrontation for the biblical counselor and family life educator; and premarital preparation and counseling.
- Credits Required: 39-96
- Cost: $350 / Credit Hour
Master of Arts in Christian Ministry - Pastoral Counseling Specialization
Master of Divinity- Pastoral Counseling Specialization
Liberty University offers students interested in an online degree in pastoral counseling the opportunity to choose between a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (36 credits) or a Master of Divinity (93 credits), both degrees offer specializations in Pastoral Counseling. Students working towards these degrees will learn to integrate counseling theory and theology. Graduates will be prepared to work as Christian Counselors providing counseling and offering support in areas of pre-marital issues, marriage, grief and loss, crises, and life cycle challenges.
Courses include: introduction to pastoral counseling; integration of psychology and theology; theology and spirituality in counseling; premarital and marital counseling; and crisis intervention and pastoral counseling.
- Credits Required: 36-93
- Cost: $565 / Credit Hour
Mid-America Christian University
Oklahoma City, OK
Master of Science in Counseling, Pastoral and Spiritual Direction emphasis
Mid-America Christian University offers several online degrees with a counseling focus including the Master of Science in Counseling, with an emphasis in Pastoral and Spiritual Direction. A Christian faith-based viewpoint is incorporated into the curriculum which offers courses covering counseling theory and courses related to the specifics of pastoral care. This low-cost online pastoral counseling program requires the completion of 42 credits and is offered through the Adult School of Psychology and Counseling.
Courses include: psychopathology; advanced principles and techniques of pastoral counseling; theories of counseling and psychotherapy; spiritual direction and spiritual formation; individual counseling and psychotherapy techniques; interpersonal communication in counseling and relationships; marriage and family systems and treatment; marital and family treatment techniques; human development; research methods; multi-cultural treatment planning for individuals and families; prayer, spirituality, and ministry; ethics and professional studies; and assessment of individuals and families in counseling.
- Credits Required: 42
- Cost: $594 / Credit Hour
Master of Divinity in Marriage and Family Therapy
Master of Divinity in Professional Counseling
Amridge University offers a number of degrees through their online programming, including several graduate degrees in counseling. Well established in the distance education community, Amridge University has been offering online learning for students since 1993. Two low-cost online master's degrees that may be of interest to students interested in the field of pastoral counseling include the Master of Divinity in Marriage and Family Therapy and the Master of Divinity in Professional Counseling. Both degrees require the completion of 96 credits and aim to prepare graduates to pursue licensure as either a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or a Licensed Professional Counselor in their home state. Additionally, dual licensure in these areas may be an option for students who are interested.
Courses include: spiritual leadership; critical introduction to the new testament; critical introduction the old testament; community and social systems; theories of counseling and psychotherapy; human development; human sexual development; theories of personality development; marriage and family development; social and multicultural diversity; counseling for abusive relationships; advanced therapy; group counseling; ethics and professional identity; lifestyle and career development; social and multicultural diversity; interpersonal and family dynamics; and assessment of individuals and families.
- Credits Required: 96
- Cost: $715 / Credit Hour
Master of Arts in Pastoral Care
Fordham University offers an online graduate degree in Pastoral Care. The 36 credit low-cost online Master of Arts in Pastoral Care integrates courses in counseling theory and theology. Graduates of this program will be prepared to provide pastoral counseling through ministry work to support individuals, couples, and families through challenging times. Applicants who are currently involved in ministry work in a variety of roles (or who wish to become involved) in providing care to youth, the elderly, and at-risk populations will find this program to be a good fit.
Courses include: pastoral counseling theory; human growth and development; professional ethics in pastoral counseling; theology of pastoral counseling and spiritual care; pastoral counseling skills; social and cultural foundations of pastoral counseling; marriage and family therapy; and death, dying and bereavement.
- Credits Required: 36
- Cost: $844 / Credit Hour
Dallas Baptist University
Master of Arts in Christian Counseling
The Master of Arts in Christian Counseling is available online at Dallas Baptist University. Rather than focusing on licensure, this low-cost online Christian Counseling degree is designed to prepare graduates to provide counseling in churches and other non-secular settings. The program strives to provide flexible scheduling with students having the opportunity to choose to take their courses online or in the classroom or a combination of both. Graduates Dallas Baptist University have gone on to serve their communities in roles as ministers, pastors, non-profit organization leaders, and in a variety of other roles.
Courses include: biblical servant leadership; spiritual formation and worship; christian history and heritage; counseling theories and techniques; lifespan human development; abnormal psychology; christian counseling skills; introduction to christian counseling; group counseling methods; marriage and family counseling; counseling victims of trauma; a christian approach to human sexuality; biblical foundations and models for small group ministry; conflict resolution in ministry; and victim assistance ministry training.
- Credits Required: 36
- Cost: $856 / Credit Hour
Applying to an Online Master’s Program in Pastoral Counseling
Specific admission requirements vary by school. However, most successful applicants must have an undergraduate degree with preference typically given to those who have studied in a related field such as psychology, theology, religious studies, sociology, or human services. Most schools have minimum GPA requirements ranging from 2.75-3.0 and require at least two letters of recommendation, including one from a clergy member. Expect to submit an essay or personal statement as part of your application as well.
Some schools have strict requirements related to church membership and character. For example, divorced applicants may need to submit additional documentation and have an interview before being granted admission. Admission requirements may also include an interview and personality or psychological testing.
Certification or licensure is not required to earn a master’s in pastoral counseling.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is certification available for pastoral counselors?
Until 2019, pastoral counselors were certified by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC). However, AAPC is now a part of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), which only certifies clinical pastoral educators, not counselors.
What is accreditation and why is it important?
Accredited programs align their course content and requirements to industry standards. Opting for an accredited program provides access to increased federal funding, including scholarships and loans. It also supports eligibility for admission to further educational opportunities as well as state licensure.
How long does it take to become a pastoral counselor?
Program lengths vary, but it is possible to earn a master’s in pastoral counseling in about 15 months. Most pastoral counseling degrees comprise coursework completed online or in-person as well as internships or supervised practical experience, which can take 2-4 years to complete.
Are pastoral counselors ordained ministers?
Although many pastoral counselors are ordained members of the clergy, it is not a requirement for most programs. However, the integration of psychological and theological perspectives in this type of counseling requires extensive training and education in theology; some people opt for a master of divinity (M.Div.) degree with a counseling-related concentration.