Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling: Degree Overview

Graduate programs in pastoral counseling are designed to provide individuals with extensive training and education in the methods of spiritual and religious counseling. Students gain experience in clinical counseling, and a foundation in counseling concepts.

Essential Information

The most advanced degree type offered for students in religious training is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Pastoral Counseling. The program is appropriate for future pastors or church leaders. It is also well-suited for candidates looking to gain supervisory and teaching positions in the counseling education field.

Students in a doctoral program are required to complete a dissertation project to further explore the current knowledge base of the pastoral counseling profession, and it's often subject to committee approval. A doctoral program in pastoral counseling takes between 5-6 years to complete. Students are required to complete a baccalaureate and a master's degree program in psychology, social work, counseling, or a similar field before they enroll in a doctoral program in pastoral counseling. Many universities also require incoming doctoral candidates to have completed some amount of professional clinical training or experience before applying.

  • Program Levels in Pastoral Counseling: Doctorate
  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's and master's degree in a related field; professional clinical training or experience
  • Program Length: 5-6 years
  • Other Requirements: Dissertation

Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling

The goal of a doctoral program in pastoral counseling is to help students develop clinical counseling expertise and experience, gain a theoretical and spiritual background in counseling methods, and develop strong research skills. Doctoral programs in pastoral counseling include individual research sessions and classroom seminars. The core curriculum covers psychology theory, research methods, and spiritual themes. Some examples of class topics are listed below:

  • Humanistic theory and quantitative research
  • Consultation theory and practice
  • Treatment in family systems
  • Spiritual themes in pastoral counseling
  • Psychosocial and religious research
  • Psychospiritual issues in pastoral counseling

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Pastoral counselors can offer psychological and theological guidance to individuals through private clinical healthcare settings, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes or churches. They are not medical professionals, but they often work alongside medical professionals to provide psychological and counseling assistance to patients at healthcare facilities.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't track data for pastoral counselors specifically, it reports that the average salary for mental health counselors was $43,990 in 2014 (www.bls.gov). Ph.D. holders in this area may also be able to teach psychology at the college level. The BLS shows that psychology professors made an average salary of $76,390 in 2014.

Continuing Education Options

Although a doctoral degree is the most advanced type of degree available for pastoral counselors, graduates do have the option of gaining national certification in the field. The National Board for Certified Pastoral Counselors offers four levels of certification that are based upon experience, education and examinations (www.nbcpc.org).

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