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This article describes what a master’s degree in pastoral counseling is, and why earning one can be a good choice for some professionals. It describes what can be learned in this type of master’s program and why earning one can be advantageous. Also, there is information about an online master’s program in pastoral counseling.
What Is a Master’s in Pastoral Counseling?
A master’s degree in pastoral counseling focuses on a specialized field that combines psychotherapy and theology to help patients to deal with their problems. Students in pastoral counseling frequently are trained priests, ministers and rabbis. They often earn a master’s in pastoral counseling so that they can serve as counselors in their religious institution.
This profession is a combination of traditional religious training with behavioral therapy training and principles. Clients who have religious faith are often drawn to these counselors because they are trained in both religious faith and traditional counseling. For these patients, getting through life’s challenges and events is aided by talking to a counselor who is grounded in faith as well as science.
A master’s degree in pastoral counseling will teach you how to work with families, couples and individuals to offer them counseling services and spiritual support through various life problems:
- Substance abuse
- Job loss
- Death of a loved one
- Health problem
- Mental health condition
- Relationship problems
A pastoral counseling master’s degree provides you with the skills to work in many types of facilities: churches, mental health counseling centers, hospitals, homeless shelters and private practice.
Some of the common learning outcomes for pastoral counseling master’s degree programs are as follows:
- Be able to demonstrate, acknowledge and articulate self awareness related to people in pastoral and family ministry and other social systems
- Exhibit the skills that are needed to actively listen to people and to assess needs, followed by forming a means of intervention. Focus on reflective listening, assessment and intervention
- Develop skills to provide extensive and intensive pastoral care and counseling to individuals, groups and families
- Develop one’s ability to understand and apply clinical methods of learning
- Develop better awareness of how social conditions, systems and persons affect lives and affect one’s problems
- Be aware of how one’s values, assumptions and attitudes can affect one’s ability to provide effective counseling care
- Employ healthy counseling strategies that show nurture and self care
- Known how to conduct and engage in research and self reflection that is appropriate to the pastoral care field
Why Earn a Master’s in Pastoral Counseling?
There is a growing demand for mental health counseling that includes a spiritual element. This is caused by a number of important reasons. First, a 2015 survey of 35,000 Americans found that at least 78% of those surveyed identify as Christians. Also, a Gallup poll in the 1990s found that approximately ⅔ of those surveyed preferred to have a mental health counselor who represents their values and spiritual beliefs. That survey also showed that more than 80% desired therapy that includes both their values and personal beliefs.
When one considers the above numbers, it is logical that a large number of Americans would want to get help for emotional and psychological problems from therapists who are grounded in faith and spirituality.
Also, many religious professionals want to provide pastoral counseling because they see it as an alternative to secular mental health counseling, and also more strictly religious Christian counseling. A pastoral counseling master’s degree provides the therapist with the opportunity to provide therapy grounded in spirituality.
Strong Demand for Mental Health Counselors and Psychologists
Mental Health Counselors
Many professionals also are opting to become mental health counselors with a pastoral and religious component because of of the healthy growth of the occupation.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment for mental health counselors will grow by 19% by 2024, which is much faster than average. Employment for marriage and family therapists also is poised to grow by 15% by 2024. This level of job growth also is much faster than average when compared to other industries.
Growth in these fields is occurring because more Americans have mental healthcare coverage after federal healthcare reform. The new federal law requires for all US health insurance plans to cover treatments for mental health problems, just as it does for chronic diseases. It is anticipated that this will boost access to mental health treatment services.
Mental health centers and other counseling centers will be required to hire more mental health professionals to handle the higher level of demand.
The median salary for mental health counselors as of May 2016 was $42,800, and the top 10% earn more than $70,000 per year.
A related field to mental health counselors is psychology. Psychologists of many types today are seeing strong job growth. Generally, job growth in the field will increase by 19% by 2024. For clinical, counseling and school psychologists, demand will increase by a high 20%.
Demand for psychologists is being caused by more Americans wanting to be mentally as well as physically healthy. Psychologists also are being turned to more often today to help our aging population. It is common for people to need help dealing with the aging process and their physical limitations.
More psychology services also are needed as war veterans are returning to the US after deployment.
Pay for psychologists with at least a master’s is $75,200 per year, with those with a doctorate earning $121,000 per year.
Note: To practice as either a mental health counselor or a psychologist, you must obtain a state license. Most pastoral counseling programs do not result in licensure. It is important to check with your state board of mental health or psychology to learn about licensing requirements.
Online Pastoral Care Master’s Program
Liberty University offers an online Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling that offers students a strong foundation from which you may offer counseling grounded in biblical principles. This program will help you to be a non-licensed counselor within your church or religious organization.
Students in this two year, online master’s program will gain vital knowledge in the principles of theology, psychology, gerontology, healthy sexuality and mental health counseling.
The program consists of 36 total credit hours, and a maximum of 18 of those may be transferred from another program, if approved.
Some of the common job titles of graduates of this program are associate pastor, church counselor, counselor, pastor and women’s ministry director.
Some of your required courses include the following:
- PACO 500 Introduction to Pastoral Counseling
- PACO 501 Foundational Doctrines for Pastoral Counselors
- PACO 504 Multicultural Issues in Pastoral Counseling
- PACO 509 Spiritual Formation in Pastoral Counseling
- PACO 604 Crisis Intervention in Pastoral Counseling
- PACO 615 Marriage & Family Counseling
- PACO 617 Theories & Techniques in Pastoral Counseling
- PACO 699 Pastoral Counseling Internship
- PACO 506 Integration of Psychology & Theology
- PACO 507 Theology & Spirituality
Professionals and students who wish to combine a career in mental health therapy with their religious beliefs could be well served by earning a master’s degree in pastoral counseling.
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- Pastoral Counseling and Psychotherapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.addiction.com/a-z/pastoral-counseling-and-psychotherapy/
- Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm
- America’s Changing Religious Landscape. (2015, May 12). Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/