Online Degrees in Spiritual Counseling: Program Information

Spiritual counseling programs provide a dual focus in psychology and spirituality. Typically offered through private schools, online master's degree programs in spiritual counseling are relatively rare. A master's program in spiritual counseling may provide career opportunities to graduates in several areas of therapy and advocacy.

Essential Information

Online master's degree programs in spiritual counseling, sometimes called pastoral counseling, are rare, but a few private schools offer them. Spiritual counseling may be offered as a concentration in a counseling degree program. These programs can be completed totally through distance learning courses that students can view anytime or through a mix of online and on-campus courses. These degree programs are designed for ministers and pastoral staff in a religious organization or church and take about two years to complete.

Students working towards a master's degree in spiritual counseling may take courses that give them a foundation in general counseling theory and techniques. They look at methods of incorporating spiritual and religious beliefs into counseling practice and take courses in various types of counseling such as premarital, marital, adolescent and elder counseling. Other courses may cover sexuality, history of religions and the integration of psychology and theology. An internship may be required.

Graduates of these programs may have to be certified or licensed in order to work as a counselor. Requirements vary by state, and the rules may be different for a counselor affiliated with a religious organization.

Overview of an Online Master's Degree in Spiritual Counseling

Spiritual counseling programs are generally geared toward ministers and the clergy of a church or religious organization. An online master's degree program in spiritual counseling develops an approach to providing therapeutic services that draws concepts from psychology, spirituality and the various religious traditions. Students develop their listening and communication skills, and learn to draw on their capacity for empathy. Enrollment in a master's degree program requires a bachelor's degree, preferably in psychology, and a 3.0 or better grade point average in undergraduate studies.

Program Information and Requirements

Courses in an online master's degree program in spiritual counseling can be completed entirely online or in a hybrid format. Fully online options often allow open enrollment at any time during the year. Course readings, lectures, presentations and other materials are accessible through a school's website. Students interact with instructors and other students via online forums and email. A master's degree is typically earned in two years.

Participation in an online program requires a relatively new personal computer, productivity software, such as Microsoft Office, and Internet access. Schools may use a proprietary content management system or a commercial system, such as Blackboard.

List of Common Courses

Master's degree programs in spiritual counseling are likely to offer the topic as a specialty or concentration within a master's degree program in counseling. Under this structure, students will have to complete a core set of counseling courses.

Counseling Theory Course

Students examine the major theories and models of psychological therapy in use today. Course work focuses on applying therapeutic techniques and developing sensitivity, insight, compassion and other qualities essential to effective counseling.

Religious History Course

This course reviews the history and influences of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism and various pagan religions. Religious origins, vocabulary, concepts of God or gods, rituals, main teachings and values are among the topics considered.

Spiritual Counseling Introductory Course

In this course, preliminary work begins toward integrating concepts from psychology and spirituality, combining them into a whole that has professional applications in counseling. Culture, religious traditions, stages of development and theories of mind are among the topics covered.

Human Mortality Course

Students consider the psychological impact of loss and death as it manifests in the grieving process. Coursework surveys historical and current attitudes towards death and prepares students for the stress of counseling families and individuals who have experienced a loss.

Career Information for Spiritual Counseling Graduates

Graduates of a master's degree program in spiritual counseling are prepared to work as mental health counselors who bring a religious or spiritual dimension to their work. Counselors who have established careers as spiritual leaders may work in a variety of medical and religious institutions, such as hospitals, churches and synagogues. Spiritual counselors typically offer marital and mental health counseling services to a diverse group of people. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected employment of marriage and family therapists to grow 14%, and employment of mental health counselors to increase 24% from 2008-2018. In 2009, mental health counselors earned a median salary of $38,010, marriage and family therapists' wages were $46,920 and clergy members made approximately $42,950 per year.

Continuing Education and Licensure Information

Spiritual counselors working within a church or religious organization may face different certification and licensure requirements than public therapists. Most states require a minimum of a master's degree, and licensing often varies by occupation. Students wishing to extend studies or conduct specific research may find that doctoral programs in spiritual counseling are widely available. However, schools generally do not offer spiritual counseling doctoral programs online.

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