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5 Hallmarks of a Quality Pastoral Counseling Degree Program

Traits of a Good Pastoral Counseling Degree Program

  • Integrates Biblical and Psychological Principles
  • Contains Courses in Communication
  • Meets Standards for Licensure as a Professional Counselor
  • Offers Supervised Internship or Practicum
  • Is Accredited

Some pastoral counseling degree programs are better than others. That is partially because the term “counselor” can apply to people who have little formal education and partially because many people assume all pastors are counselors. The truth is that people who do not understand the principles of effective counseling can do a great deal of harm. It is important for people who want to become counselors, either pastoral or secular, to have a good foundation of psychological theories and applications. Here are five characteristics of a good pastoral counseling degree program.

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Integrates Biblical and Psychological Principles

Although people of faith recognize the Bible as the ultimate authority, counselors also need an understanding of the foundations of psychological theory. Some methods may not be appropriate in a pastoral setting, but therapists need to understand general classifications of emotional and mental disorders.

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Contain Courses in Communication

Two of the hallmarks of a good counselor recognized by the American Psychological Association are empathy and persuasiveness. Counselors who cannot get clients to “buy in” to a treatment plan will accomplish little. Additionally, effective counseling depends on a degree of trust and a bond between the therapist and the client. The ability to communicate acceptance, competency and even hope is vital for a counselor.

Meets Standards for Licensure as a Professional Counselor

Anyone can call himself a counselor, but professional therapists are held to standards of treatment just as physicians are. For that reason, even pastoral counselors should be licensed. Good degree programs meet the standards for licensure for the state in which the program is located. Not every state requires licensure as a professional counselor. Some require pastor-counselors who are not licensed to register as lay counselors, and some require the pastor to meet the requisites of both the church and the state. Regardless of the supervisory agency involved, a good degree program should lead to some kind of certification to ensure that the counselor is competent.

Offers Supervised Internship or Practicum

This is an opportunity for students to gain valuable experience in a supervised situation and to identify areas of shortcoming. It is also a way for counselors to network and find positions.

Is Accredited

This is important in every degree program, but especially for people training for professions with latitude in certification. Some programs are accredited through Christian agencies such as the American Association of Christian Counselors, but it is still important to make certain the accrediting organizations are recognized by the Department of Education. Attending a school that is not so recognized can affect eligibility for student financial aid.
Counseling is an important component of pastoring. Most pastors perform pre-marital counseling and grief counseling, but to address the deeper issues of emotional or psychological illness requires a great deal of knowledge and skill. Most states require a master’s degree to be licensed as a professional counselor and pastoral degrees in counseling should rise to the same level as secular degrees.