While the term ‘Christian Counseling’ may include Pastoral Counseling, Pastoral Counseling is a unique form of counseling for which practitioners are uniquely equipped to facilitate the healing of the whole person—spirit, soul, and body—through the integration of spirituality and psychology.  This type of counseling is provided by counselors who are not only mental health professionals but also persons who have in-depth religious and theological training.

Most pastoral counselors are ordained clergy or persons otherwise endorsed by a religious faith group. Pastoral counseling is very much like other professional counseling that a person would receive from other counseling professional s (i.e., psychologists, psychotherapist, licensed social worker or other mental health professionals).  The distinction is that pastoral counselors also have been trained in issues of spirituality and faith.

Pastoral counselors, psychologists, psychotherapists and clinical social workers receive the same type of education and clinical training in psychology and behavioral health.   The difference is that Pastoral counselors receive additional education and training in working with people of faith.

Pastoral counselors must obtain a master’s degree or a doctorate in this specialized area of counseling. When a counselee seeks to integrate their faith and religious understanding into how they address their problems, a pastoral counselor can competently facilitate this process.  Pastoral counselors combine theology and psychology to help individuals cope with mental health problems, and spiritual, emotional and behavioral issues, as well as provide relationship and career advice.

Pastoral Counseling must be biblically-based, as opposed to secular psychology or psychotherapy which is based primarily on the teachings of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Carl Rogers, etc.  It is the duty and responsibility of Pastoral counselors to offer a more holistic approach to healing than what secular counselors, even if they are Christian therapists or psychologists.

Christian Pastoral Counseling

What distinguishes Christian Pastoral Counseling from other forms of counseling and psychotherapy is the role and accountability of the counselor, his or her understanding and expression of the pastoral relationship and the fact that the counseling provided aligns with Christian Biblical principles. Christian Pastoral Counseling uses the truths of Scripture, explaining and applying them to the individual’s life through exhortation, admonition, rebuke, correction and training.  The practical help is gained through the understanding and application of the Word of God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Hebrews 4:12).  Christian Pastoral counselors primarily serve as a counselor on church staff, in counseling centers, in clinical practice, hospitals or other institutions.

Pastoral Counseling Ministry

Most students who enroll in the SCMi Institute articulate a discernment of God’s CALL to counseling ministry.  Further, they consider pastoral counseling to be a form of ministry or an extension of their current pastoral ministry. Some denominations recognize pastoral counselors as specialized ministers or deacons and may commission, license or ordain and endorse them accordingly (check with the specific denomination as to commission, license or ordination).

The academic training and practical experience that pastoral counselors receive in the Soul Care Ministries Institute’s N.C.C.A. Program prepares them for counseling service (not specifically for preaching and/or teaching ministries).

Pastoral Counseling, Biblical Counseling, Christian Counseling, Pastoral Care and Spiritual Direction

Pastoral Counseling is not the same as Biblical Counseling, Christian Counseling, Pastoral Care or Spiritual Direction.  Each of these ministries have different nuances:

Pastoral counselors use proven and effective psychological theory, technique, skillful practice and methods in counseling while integrating the counselee’s spiritual or religious beliefs as part of holistic treatment of body, mind, and spirit.  Christian Pastoral Counselors use the scriptures in counseling sessions as God’s perfect (inerrant) instruction to counselees, pray for them and also make some use of behavioral science insights.  Pastoral counseling is an extended and structured conversation focused on the needs and concerns of the one seeking help (Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling).

Biblical counselors typically use the Christian Bible as their sole counseling text and do not make use of psychological theory and methods in counseling.

Christian counselors, as respects those who hold secular/state license, are typically ‘Christians who counsel’.  In this context, Christian counselors may or may not be trained in the biblical, pastoral or theological counseling modality.  The only time a state licensed counselor can legally involve religious (Christian) principles, morals, and activities is when the counselee initiates or requests counsel in those areas.

Pastoral Care and counseling share common training, interests, and goals yet also include distinct differences.  These two areas of ministry sometimes overlap when it comes to care-giving.  Pastoral Care is an extension of pastoral ministry that is aimed at providing emotional and spiritual support to individuals and families who are facing illness, loss, or other stressful situations.  Pastoral care may include listening, supporting, encouraging and befriending.  While Pastoral Care often involves visiting the home bound or the ill and infirm; it is not limited to that.  Most individuals (not all) who are trained to serve in pastoral care ministry are not trained, qualified professional counselors.

Spiritual Directors focus on the spiritual awareness and journey of persons in their relationship with God.  Spiritual direction is not counseling or psychotherapy.  Christian Spiritual Direction involves a relationship with a wise and grounded person with whom to discuss and pray about what is happening in your life in Christ.  Some Pastoral counselors who are trained in spiritual direction may include that as part of their treatment, or as follow up, when requested by their counselee or client.

Clinical Pastoral Counseling

Clinical Pastoral Counseling is a professional extension of the counseling ministries of the spiritual and faith communities.  That ‘clinical’ setting may be in a pastor’s office or other location outside the four walls of the church to include a conference or meeting room, a counseling center, a professional office or other mutually agreed upon location.

Professional Clinical Pastoral Counseling moves beyond the support or encouragement that a pastor, minister or religious community can offer by providing psychologically sound therapeutic counseling that integrate the religious and spiritual dimension.  The counseling may pertain to mental health, emotional, behavioral, relational and/or spiritual issues.

Certification and Licensing of Pastoral Counselors

Pastoral counselors are first and foremost minister – Christian ministers, priests, rabbi’s etc.  According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), only six states offered a pastoral counselor license in 2010 (aapc.org).  Some of the other states allow Pastoral counselors to obtain secular licenses as Marriage and Family Therapists or other professional mental health counselors.  While the states have educational, experience and examination requirements for licensure, they also pose restrictions on the practice of Pastoral Counseling due to laws regarding separation of church and state.

There are a limited number of organizations that offer a voluntary credentialing program in Pastoral counseling.  The two leading organizations, in this field, are the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) and the National Christian Counselors Association (N.C.C.A.).  The AAPC offers a certification program.  The N.C.C.A. offers certification and licensure as well as a degrees transfer assistance program whereby students are able to earn AA, BA, MA and Doctorate Degrees.

The Need and Demand for Pastoral Counselors

The demand upon modern day pastors, and church leaders, alone creates more need for professionally trained and credentialed counselors within the Body of Christ.  Pastoral counselors may also serve as a specialized resource for churches, community programs, hospitals, hospice centers as well as other institutions, organizations and businesses that embrace faith-based guidance.  In addition, we are living in a time when there is an increased interest in spirituality as well as emphasis on therapy.

 It has been reported that Pastoral Counseling has now become a major provider of mental health services in the U.S., accounting for over 3 million hours of treatment annually in both institutional and private settings.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that marriage and family counselor jobs were expected to rise 14% between 2008 and 2018 (www.bls.gov). Pastoral counselors who obtain professional and credentials in treating behavioral disorders and substance abuse counseling may have a career advantage, since the BLS predicted jobs in these specialties would increase 21% between 2008 and 2018.

Are you “called” by the Lord to counsel and minister to the needs of the hurting?  If you answered ‘yes’, this is the season for equipping and moving forward as a credentialed Pastoral Counselor.