Salary and Career Information for Pastoral Counselors

Working as a pastoral counselor requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

Pastoral counselors combine theology and psychotherapy to help individuals cope with mental health problems as well as providing relationship and career advice. Counselors may serve as a specialized resource for churches, communities and hospitals. Depending on state requirements, they can be licensed as pastoral counselors or as marriage and family therapists. A pastoral counselor, like other types of mental health therapists, must hold a master's or doctoral degree in their field of study.

Required Education Master's or doctoral degree in counseling
Other Requirements State licensing is required for therapists and counselors in all states; voluntary certification as a pastoral counselor available through the American Association of Pastoral Counselors
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 29% for mental health counselors;
31% for marriage and family therapists
Median Salary (2013)* $40,580 for mental health counselors;
$48,160 for marriage and family therapists

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information for Pastoral Counselors

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), mental health counselors earned a median salary of $40,580 per year in May 2013. Many pastoral counselors are licensed marriage and family therapists (MFTs). The BLS reported the median salary for marriage and family therapists at $48,160 per year at that time.

The BLS stated that marriage and family therapist jobs were expected to rise 31% between 2012 and 2022, which is significantly higher than the average; mental health counselors in general were expected to see a 29% increase in employment during that time, which is also very high (www.bls.gov).

Career Information for Pastoral Counselors

Pastoral counselors provide a blend of psychological therapy and spiritual advice. They work for counseling centers, churches, community programs and hospitals. Counselors may simultaneously be employed as ministers. They provide faith-based marriage advice and help patients who are coping with grief, depression and substance abuse.

Education Requirements

Pastoral counselors must obtain a master's degree or a doctorate in counseling. Graduate degree programs in pastoral counseling feature interdisciplinary coursework that incorporates theology and psychology. Courses may include:

  • Cultural awareness
  • Job counseling
  • Incorporating faith in treatments
  • Bible study and ministry
  • Diagnosis of disorders
  • Substance abuse and intervention
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Psychopathology

License Requirements

According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), only six states offered a pastoral counselor license in 2010 (aapc.org). In other states, pastoral counselors must meet the license requirements for MFTs or other professional mental health counselors. State education, experience and licensure exam requirements vary.


The AAPC offers a voluntary certification program. Candidates are required to have a graduate degree in theology, biblical studies or pastoral counseling. They also must be endorsed by a religious organization and provide documentation of field hours serving their local faith-based community. Candidates for the AAPC certification exam must have three years experience in ministry and 375 hours of counseling, of which 125 are supervised hours.

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