Why a Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling Degree + Online Option!

This article describes the doctorate in pastoral counseling degree program, some of the subject matters and courses the degree covers, and why completing this degree could be a good option for your career. It also presents a high-quality doctorate in pastoral counseling program that can be completed online.

What Is a Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling?

A doctorate in pastoral counseling is usually a PhD. This means that students are educated and trained in the ways of religious and spiritual counseling. The foundation of the degree is in the concepts of counseling, and students also take part in clinical counseling to gain real-world experience. The program has been designed for those who want to work as pastors or other types of church leaders, and also for those with an interest in academia or research in the field of counseling. It usually takes between five and six years for a doctorate in pastoral counseling to be completed, and students will have to write and defend a full dissertation.

Each school has its own admission requirements for the degree program. However, it is common for them to want at least a bachelor’s degree and graduate degree in a field relevant to counseling, such as counseling, social work, or psychology. Furthermore, most schools will only accept candidates who have at least some form of experience or training.

The aim of the doctorate degree in pastoral counseling is to provide students with the experience and expertise in counseling needed to make a difference in the lives of others. This is done from both spiritual and theoretical backgrounds focusing on established counseling methods. At the same time, students are encouraged to develop strong research skills, so that they can identify the effectiveness of existing programs and develop new programs as and where appropriate. Students usually take part in classroom seminars and in individual research sessions.

Just as schools are able to set their own admission requirements, they can also set their own curriculum. That said, they usually follow the same core topics, such as:

  • Consultation Theory and Practice
  • Humanistic Theory and Quantitative Research
  • Spiritual Themes in Pastoral Counseling
  • Treatment In Family Systems
  • Psycho-Spiritual Issues in Pastoral Counseling
  • Psychosocial and Research

Why Earn a Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling?

Those who complete a doctorate in pastoral counseling are able to find work in a variety of different settings. Many, obviously, find work in churches, but they can also find employment in areas, such as nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, private health care facilities, and so on. Graduates are not medical professionals but they do generally work side by side with health care professionals in providing theological and psychological guidance to those who use health care facilities.

This type of degree is the most advanced obtainable for pastoral counselors. Yet, upon completion, graduates can still obtain other certifications as well, some of which are nationally or even internationally recognized. Most of these certifications are offered through the National Board for Certified Pastoral Counselors or through the American Association of Christian Counselors. Both offer different certification levels that are based on examinations, prior education, and experience.

Completing a doctorate degree in pastoral counseling is a great pathway for those who want to teach at college or university level or those who want to provide counseling to people in distress using a spiritual perspective. This is achieved through independent research and through coursework alike. In so doing, students gain all the knowledge and experience they need to become successful in their profession.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have specific salary information available for those with a doctoral degree in pastoral counseling. They do report that mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists had a median salary of $44,170 per year as of May 2016. Meanwhile, the BLS has also reported that the median earnings for the clergy was $45,740 per year as of May 2016. However, these salaries are unlikely to be representative of those with a doctorate degree, not in the least because those with this level of education usually take on positions of leadership, academia, or research.

Online Option for Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling

Liberty University

If you are interested in a doctorate in pastoral counseling degree, you may want to consider the Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Counseling program offered by Liberty University. This program, which is delivered 100 percent online, provides students the knowledge they require to address the spiritual, emotional, and mental struggles that people have, focusing on the mind and heart. It is a degree designed for those who already have counseling experience and who want to have a greater impact on the lives of people from a spiritual perspective. Students learn about pastoral leadership, best practices in pastoral counseling, biblical principles of counseling, and more.

The program requires a total of 33 credit hours for completion. The school also offers optional intensive courses to interested students. Uniquely, only as many as six hours can be transferred into the degree, although many of Liberty University‘s degrees accept up to 50% of credit hours to be transferred. This shows the uniqueness of this particular program.

Students must also complete a thesis for graduation. This counts towards nine credit hours, required to complete a doctor of ministry degree. A thesis project handbook is listed on the university’s website that highlights precisely the expectations of the thesis project.

Core courses that make up the curriculum of the degree are:

  • Research and Writing of the Thesis Project
  • Spiritual Factors of Growing Churches
  • Growth and Development of the Contemporary Minister
  • Individual and Family Issues in Pastoral Counseling
  • Premarital and Marital Issues in Pastoral Counseling
  • Crises and Current Issues in Pastoral Counseling

Those who graduate from Liberty University‘s Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Counseling program, or from other such degree programs, can find work as:

  • Senior pastor
  • Senior church administrator
  • Lead or associate pastor
  • Military chaplain
  • Missionary
  • Youth pastor
  • Church planter
  • Evangelist
  • Pastoral counselor
  • Worship leader
  • Community chaplain
  • Discipleship pastor
  • Church administrator
  • Preaching pastor
  • Small group pastor


By completing a doctorate in pastoral counseling degree, you will have the opportunity to significantly advance your career. You can become better at counseling itself, using a spiritual perspective, you can become a researcher, or you can become involved in academics, teaching the next generation of pastoral counselors. Regardless of which career you choose to complete, you will be in a position to make a positive difference in the lives of anyone you work with.