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Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling: Degree Overview

If you are interested in becoming a pastoral counselor or pursuing an academic research position in the field, a Ph.D. program can meet your educational needs. Learn more about admissions requirements, common coursework, and post-graduation options.

Essential Information

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in Pastoral Counseling provide students with extensive training and education in the methods of spiritual and religious counseling. Students gain a foundation in counseling concepts and experience in clinical counseling. The program is appropriate for future pastors and church leaders and for candidates seeking academic research and teaching positions in the field of counseling. A doctoral program in pastoral counseling takes between five and six years to complete. Prior to graduation, students must complete a dissertation project, which is subject to committee approval.

In order to apply, students need to have completed a baccalaureate and a master's degree program in psychology, social work, counseling, or a similar field. Many universities also require incoming doctoral candidates to have completed some amount of professional clinical training or experience before applying.


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 research
  • Psychospiritual issues in pastoral counseling

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Pastoral counselors mat be employed at 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 theological guidance 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 $45,080 in 2015 (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 $79,370 in 2015.

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).

A Ph.D. in pastoral counseling is a great educational option for aspiring counselors and college professors. Through theoretical coursework and independent research, they gain the knowledge of the field that they need for success in either profession.

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