Christian counselors work with churches, ministries and religious groups to assess and treat individuals, groups and families. Some Christian counselors choose to focus on one aspect of counseling, such as mental health, substance abuse or childhood counseling. Christian counselor training programs provide extensive knowledge of Christian principles, psychology, human services and sociology.
Many aspiring Christian counselors enter a master's degree program already holding a bachelor's degree in psychology, social work, human services, theology or a related field, which is required for most programs. Master's degree programs in Christian or pastoral counseling typically equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to meet employment and licensure requirements set by most states. Ph.D. programs in the field are also widely available and require a master's degree in a related field.
Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling
Master's degree programs in Christian or pastoral counseling focus on ethical and theological issues in counseling, psychological theories and research in counseling and psychology. Students learn to integrate theological principles with modern psychological approaches to counseling. Students are required to complete a thesis that demonstrates proficiency in psychological and counseling concepts. Programs typically require 48-60 credit hours and may include courses in:
- Bible interpretation
- Theories of personality
- Individual and group psychological assessment
- Christian values
- Family systems therapy
Ph.D. Programs in Christian Counseling
Doctoral programs in pastoral counseling are intended for Christian counselors seeking research-based, supervisory or teaching positions. Ph.D. programs combine clinical, psychological and counseling experience with research studies and professional development. Students learn advanced research methodologies in pastoral counseling and improve their knowledge through supervised counseling experience. These programs require students complete a doctoral dissertation, which is often the product of independent pastoral counseling research conducted by the student. Courses typically address the psychological, social and culture dimensions of pastoral counseling through an academic and professional perspective.
Licenses and Certifications
Christian counselors are typically required to have a master's degree in Christian or pastoral counseling, several years of supervised counseling experience and state licensure as a professional or mental health counselor. There is no specific licensure for Christian counselors; however, to practice as a counselor of any sort, state licensure is required. Licensure requirements vary greatly, but most counselors are required to have a master's degree in counseling and at least two years of clinical counseling experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-administered counseling exam and participate in annual continuing education programs to remain licensed.
Voluntary certification is available from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The board grants National Certified Counselor (NCC) credentials for those who meet the educational and experience requirements, which are similar to many state licensure standards. NCC certification is granted after counselors pass an NBCC-approved exam. Although NCC certification is different from state licensure, some states allow counselors to pass the NBCC exam in place of a state licensure exam.
Professional development and continuing education information is available from numerous organizations, including the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), the National Christian Counselors Association (NCCA), Associates in Christian Counseling (ACC) and Christian Counseling Associates (CCA). Each of these organizations offers academic, professional and continuing education resources for Christian counselors. There are newsletters, publications, conferences and online stores where Christian counselors can learn more about religious support and psychological models of evaluation.
Christian counselors can also enroll in a pastoral counseling graduate certificate program. These programs address advanced topics in Christian counseling and allow counselors to advance their knowledge in a short period of time. Most graduate certificate programs require 18-30 credits and can be completed in 1-2 semesters. Courses address topics such as pastoral counseling, theology and ethics, theological anthropology and moral development.
The AACC offers intensive training sessions for counselors to gain technical knowledge of Christian counseling practices. These training sessions focus on mediation in counseling and crisis response. The NCCA also offers training sessions for religious professionals interested in becoming Christian counselors.
Individuals with a bachelor's degree in a related field may wish to become Christian counselors by obtaining a master's degree and potentially going on to pursue a doctoral degree. Those who have already become Christian counselors also have the option of pursuing a graduate certificate to continue their education in the field.