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.
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.
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.
Top Four Low-Cost Online Master’s Degrees in Pastoral Counseling
The hybrid master of arts in clinical mental health counseling program through HU requires 48-60 credits, depending on which of two tracks students select. Learners can complete coursework entirely online, but clinical hours must take place in person.
The 60-hour program meets or exceeds most state requirements for licensure and includes clinical experience working with clients. The 48-hour program meets requirements for licensure in some states and does not entail real-world clinical experience.
Both tracks incorporate at least two hours per week of supervision while seeing clients. They also provide training and supervision from a variety of theoretical perspectives, emphasizing the integration of the Christian faith and practice.
Admission requirements include a completed program application and associated fee, two recommendations, a professional resume, official transcripts, answers to questions on the supplemental application, and prerequisite completion.
- Theory and techniques of the helping relationship
- Methods and practice of research and evaluation
- Advanced evaluation and diagnosis of mental and emotional disorders
- Foundations of crisis and trauma counseling
- Two track choices: 48 credits and 60 credits
- Supervised internship
- Counseling-oriented research or program evaluation
- Emphasis on Christian faith
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ORU's College of Theology and Ministry offers a hybrid master of arts in professional counseling program with three available concentrations: professional counseling, marital and family therapy, and addictions counseling. These tracks can meet professional licensing requirements in all 50 states.
The 63-hour program combines theological process with effective models and theories of counseling. The curriculum includes didactic courses, seminars, practical experiences, and three progress assessments designed to confirm student progress and academic retention. Students pay a flat-rate tuition of $460 per credit hour and can expect to complete degree requirements in two years.
Admission requirements include official transcripts, a personal sketch essay, a faculty interview, and two letters of recommendation.
- Christian approaches to counseling
- Counseling diverse populations
- Addiction in the family counseling
- Human growth and development
- Meets professional licensure requirements in all 50 states
- Three available tracks
- Emphasis on the combination of theological process and theories of counseling
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Holy Apostles College and Seminary
Holy Apostles offers a completely online ministerial master of arts in pastoral studies with a concentration in pastoral counseling. This program requires 36 credits across 12 courses. All students must complete a comprehensive examination at the culmination of their studies.
The program seeks to grow the emotional, spiritual, and relational skills of people of faith. In doing so, students develop the tools for ethical and effective interventions. Students can complete the program in as little as two years.
Prospective students complete an online application and submit official transcripts showing an undergraduate degree with a recommended GPA of 3.0, three letters of recommendation, and a personal essay.
- Contemporary moral issues
- Methods in counseling
- Pastoral counseling
- Ministerial program, not a professional licensing program
- All faculty members gain approval from the bishop
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Amridge offers a master of divinity in professional counseling for individuals planning to enter or continue careers in full-time ministry. The program requires at least 96 semester hours and 600 hours of documented clinical experience. Students can transfer up to 45 semester hours into the program.
Students must complete all required coursework with a minimum 3.0 GPA and pass the culminating comprehensive exam. The curriculum satisfies degree and coursework requirements for professional licensing in 45 states and Washington, D.C.
To apply, students complete an online application and submit official transcripts demonstrating a BS or BA degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
- Community and social systems
- Human sexual development
- Marital and family systems
- Counseling for abusive relationships
- Students take responsibility for practicum and clinical locations
- Students can transfer up to 45 semester hours into the program
- Professional licensing possibility in 45 states plus Washington, D.C.
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