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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.
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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.
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