Pastoral counselors are not expected to preach because they are mental health professionals who provide spiritual guidance and psychological therapy to clients. The term pastoral can be confused for the term and position of pastor, but most states require pastoral counselors to maintain mental health therapy licensure. Pastoral counselors usually have the credentials of a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC).
From a religious perspective, pastoral counselors provide spiritual care and support to clients, couples and families. From a secular perspective, they develop individualized care plans and perform assessments to meet identified spiritual and therapeutic needs. Pastoral counselors maintain legal records of therapy utilization and organizational records of spiritual services. They participate in mandatory quality assurance, program development, policy review, and procedure update activities and meetings. They participate in professional development programs to maintain professional expertise and licensure.
Pastoral counselors usually serve as liaison to church pastors, community chaplains, and spiritual counselors. They attend church leadership, patient care conferences, and interdisciplinary group meetings. Some pastoral counselors manage and maintain accreditation and compliance with regulatory agencies. Other pastoral counselors will provide educational activities to church employees and leaders to train them in secular compliance, ethical guidelines, and appropriate communication. They support the mission and vision of their church by demonstrating compliance with all organizational policies and procedures.
Sample Job Description
A pastoral counselor who is employed by a church-based mental health organization will primarily perform secular therapeutic duties. This could be an organization that serves populations such as foster children, delinquent youth and the homeless. These pastoral counselors will complete clinical documentation of services, treatment and individual plans per policy and time frames. This could include weekly, monthly, intervention and progress reports. They may complete admissions assessments and follow-up psychosocial assessments that include the diagnosis of mental health disorders per the diagnostic criteria in the DSM V.
Pastoral counselors must have strong communication skills that convey confidence and credibility. They must excel at asking clarifying questions and understanding implicit and explicit subtext. Pastoral counselors demonstrate positive client orientation through building relationships, understanding needs, addressing complaints, soliciting feedback and exhibiting cultural sensitivity. Their interpersonal effectiveness means they carefully and attentively listen while maintaining objectivity. Due to the unpredictable nature of their work, they must be masters at reprioritizing, organizing and scheduling.
How to Become a Pastoral Counselor
According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, most states require pastoral counselors to have a state license. This generally requires a master’s degree in a field like psychology, counseling or social work. Some employers prefer job candidates who have a master’s degree in divinity, counseling or pastoral care. Most employers want pastoral counselors who have professional training and field experience as a mental health clinician. Pastoral counselors must demonstrate the ability to effectively work with individuals who are sometimes upset and struggling as well as from diverse communities.
Pastoral counselors also need excellent critical thinking and problem-solving skills to diagnose issues, gather facts and develop solutions. Pastoral counselors usually aren’t public figures who preach, but the flexible nature of religious employment allows them to participate in leadership roles if needed or preferred.