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An online pastoral counseling degree connects psychology with personal faith. This program combines the study of psychology with Biblical principles to prepare students for a career in the church or private practice. Pastoral counseling program graduates work with individuals on behavioral health issues, but many specialize in family therapy or community outreach. Prospective students should realize that a pastoral counselor facilitates therapy based on religious principles. Choose this program—and not an online counseling degree—for training on how to conduct therapy sessions based on Biblical principles and tradition, or texts of another faith, depending on the program. If you are interested in helping people along their life’s journey, and want to use faith as a way to improve people’s lives, then perhaps an online pastoral counseling degree would be right for you! With this education, you can move into many exciting careers, but most importantly, you’ll be an essential component for making an outstanding community through support for individuals, couples, families, and groups.
THE CAREER PATH
First of all, it helps for us to completely understand what pastoral counseling really is. This is essentially a form of counseling that involves religious leadership, including pastors, rabbis, and imams. Using psychology and religious training, this career provides support by searching for answers in religious teachings. They practice standard psychological techniques but also typically incorporate their faith into counseling sessions. This may include prayer or examining scripture for moral reference. As such, many online pastoral counseling programs are steeped in a particular church denomination's stances. Students should be comfortable with the particular beliefs of the school before entering an online degree program.
With an education in pastoral counseling, you can hold many different and interesting positions. You could work your way into a traditional counseling career, such as a school counselor, or you could work for mental health services. Marriage or family therapy is another option for people with this type of education. Any position where you will be providing faith-based counseling is an option when you complete an online pastoral counseling degree.
The advantage of this education is that you get to move into a career where you are helping people everyday. Your work matters to the community and to individuals, and this can often be the best reward for any career, regardless of salary or stability. There is also the fact that some of these careers are expected to grow in demand. For example, the career of mental health counselors is expected to grow by 23% between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here is more information on two specific careers you might enter…
- School or Career Counselor—Career counselors are important for helping people make decisions about their future. They evaluate student’s abilities to work in certain careers, and identify possible options for a job seeker, all with the goals of finding a career where someone will both be happy and productive. In this career, you will enjoy a median salary of $55,410, although the top 10% can expect a salary over $91,000. It also has an expected growth of 13%, largely driven by the increased need to help people with career changes, which seem to be happening more often.
- Mental Health Counselor—People who suffer from substance abuse or mental disorders often turn to mental health counselors for help. These professionals provide treatment plans for individuals, families, and couples, and may treat a variety of conditions including anxiety, depression, stress, or even suicidal tendencies. This career has a median salary of $43,300, although the top 10% can expect to earn over $70,000. With an expected career growth of 23%, there will be plenty of opportunities available, although you will likely need a master’s degree for most positions.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
To excel in a pastoral counseling program, you need to have many different characteristics, but two in particular will be extremely important. First, you need to have a caring attitude. To enjoy the careers that come with this degree, you will be working with many people who seriously need your help, and your patience and resolve will be tested every day. A caring attitude will go a long way in helping you along your education and career.
Next, you need to have a strong faith, or at least a belief in the power of faith to help people improve their lives. Pastoral counseling focuses on improving lives through the use of faith and spirituality, so if you don’t believe that religion can be used for a positive good, you’ll have a hard time providing the best possible support.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Pastoral counselors start with a bachelor’s and typically go on to earn at least a master’s degree before conducting therapy sessions. They may also complete an internship under the guidance of a pastor or other religious leader. Specialty options for online master’s degree candidates include clinical pastoral counseling, youth counseling, family counseling and Christian group counseling. Online doctorate programs are also available for counselors interested in research and teaching.
Graduates who work for a private church agency may be exempt from earning a counseling license, which is required to engage in mental health counseling or therapy in most states. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) administers a national counseling certification program that can boost credibility, as can taking the National Counselor Examination (NCE). Check with state licensing boards for licensing and certification requirements before committing to any online Christian counseling degree program.
A pastoral counseling degree online has many of the same core courses as a regular counseling major. Typical courses in both degrees may include marital therapy, research methods and crisis counseling. However, there are unique differences between the two degrees, with some Christian counseling courses dealing directly with faith issues. These might include ethics and the use of scripture and prayer in sessions.
If you want more information about online pastoral counseling degrees, click on a program below. Compare accreditation, admission requirements, and tuition carefully before you enroll!