Though rare, a few private schools offer online master's degree programs in spiritual counseling (sometimes called pastoral counseling). Spiritual counseling may be offered as a concentration in a counseling degree. These programs can be completed through distance learning courses or through a mix of online and on-campus courses. They are designed for ministers and pastoral staff in a religious organization or church and take about two years to complete.
Students working toward 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 such as premarital, marital, adolescent and elder counseling. Other courses may cover sexuality, history of religions and the integration of psychology and theology. Students develop 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Examines the major theories and models of psychological therapy in use today. Coursework focuses on applying therapeutic techniques and developing sensitivity, insight, compassion and other qualities essential to effective counseling.
Reviews the history and influences of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism and various pagan religions. Considered topics include religious origins, vocabulary, concepts of God or gods, rituals, main teachings and values.
Introductory Spiritual Counseling
Preliminary work begins toward integrating concepts from psychology and spirituality, combining them into a whole with professional applications in counseling. Covers culture, religious traditions, stages of development and theories of mind.
Considers the psychological impact of loss and death as it manifests in the grieving process and surveys historical and current attitudes toward death. Prepares students for the stress of counseling families and individuals who have experienced loss.
A master's degree program in spiritual counseling prepares graduates 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 22%, and employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors to increase 22% from 2018-2028. In 2018, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned a median salary of $44,630, marriage and family therapists' wages were $50,090. According to O*Net online, in clergy members that same year made approximately $48,990 per year.
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 numerous doctoral programs in spiritual counseling, though they are rarely offered online.
Individuals with a bachelor's degree in psychology or another related field may pursue a master's degree in spiritual counseling. These programs incorporate religion and spirituality into counseling and can be completely online or in a hybrid format.