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The Choice Between Marriage an Family Therapy and Pastoral Counseling

With the complexities of modern life pushing and pulling people in all directions, it is no wonder that the approaches of Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) and Pastoral Counselors to the problems generated by social and economic forces are different in several ways. Though both specialties deal with the difficulties of life, the educational foundations and practical applications of the regimen are different. As a result, the certification of each degree comes from a different source.

What is a Marriage and Family Therapist Degree?

A mental health professional with an MFT degree is trained in psychotherapy and family system mechanics. The degree is a Master’s level certification that allows the graduate to administer treatment through system theory models to uncover and address family, marriage, and other group issues. The therapy focuses on the mechanical aspects of relationships from a theoretical approach to modern problems. The degree requires a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an intense internship after master level educational achievement. Most states require MFT candidates to complete a Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) program.

What is a Pastoral Counselor Degree?

According to the American Association of Pastoral Counseling (AAPC), which is the governing body that issues Pastoral Counseling licensing, the candidate must have a Bachelor’s Degree in theology or psychology and a master’s degree from an accredited institution. Along with the Master’s, the AAPC demands a minimum of three years in an active ministry to a community. Further requirements are 375 hours of internship as a Pastoral Counselor of which 125 hours are supervised in an approved training environment. The Pastoral Counselor deals with the family, community, and personal issues that plague spiritually minded persons who live in a permissive society. Pastoral Counseling utilizes the psychological and social advances of communities to address fundamental concerns about relationships between individuals and the community through a spiritual and theological approach. The focus of Pastoral Counseling is to reinforce positive behavioral traits found in religions that promote spirituality and one’s place in modern society.

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The Inherent Differences Between the MFT and Pastoral Counseling

Other than the educational requirements and the internships as already mentioned there are differences of approach to the sensitive subject of personal and communal relationship building that every U.S. citizen experiences today. While both services are pay-as-you-go programs, Pastoral Counseling programs are more likely to serve as pro bono advocates within a religious community. By law, both services are always confidential and inviolate except in the direst circumstances. The approach to problems fostered through MFT programs is a system analysis that is impersonal and remains within the office where the therapy takes place. Pastoral Counseling approaches issues from a more communal standpoint. Pastoral Councilors often begin the process of treatment in an office or a church setting, but the counselor usually knows the individual/couple or family as members of their immediate community. The result is that the therapy may extend into the community.

Which is Better?

Both approaches serve the public. The value found in each program is based on the value system of the client. For those whose life is surrounded by religious values and family concerns, Pastoral Counseling may be the better choice. For those who are more individualized, the better option may be an MFT program. The decision is left to the client. Knowing the difference between the two approaches lends the client the information to make that choice.

Related resources: 

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