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Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling: Degree Overview

Learn about doctoral education programs that prepare students to become pastoral counselors. See the program requirements as well as the courses you may take. Review the employment outlook and salary statistics along with the continuing education options.

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Essential Information

Graduate programs in pastoral counseling are designed to provide individuals with extensive training and education in the methods of spiritual and religious counseling. The most advanced degree type offered in the subject is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Pastoral Counseling. This program of study is suitable for students looking to gain a solid theoretical understanding of how the concepts of theology, faith and spirituality can affect counseling methods. Such a program is particularly appropriate for pastors or church leaders who are seeking the education necessary to successfully counsel parishioners. It is also well-suited for candidates who are looking to gain supervisory and teaching positions in the field of counseling education.

The goal of a doctoral program in pastoral counseling is to help students develop clinical counseling expertise and experience, gain a theoretical and spiritual background in counseling methods and develop strong research skills. Students in a doctoral program are often required to complete a dissertation project that further explores the current knowledge base of the pastoral counseling profession and is often subject to committee approval. Professional certifications are available to experienced candidates.

Education Prerequisites

Students are often required to complete both a baccalaureate and a master's degree program in psychology, social work, counseling or a similar field before they can enroll in a doctoral program in pastoral counseling. Many universities also require that incoming doctoral candidates have completed some amount of professional clinical training or experience before they apply.

Program Coursework

A doctoral program in pastoral counseling typically takes between 5-6 years to complete and includes both individual research sessions and classroom seminars. The core curriculum covers psychology theory, research methods and spiritual themes. Some examples of class topics are listed below:

  • Psychodynamic theory
  • Cognitive behavioral theory
  • Humanistic theory
  • Consultation theory and practice
  • Group leadership
  • Treatment in family systems
  • Quantitative research
  • Spiritual themes in pastoral counseling
  • Psychosocial and religious research
  • Psychospiritual issues in pastoral counseling

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Pastoral counselors can offer psychological and theological guidance to individuals through private clinical healthcare settings, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes or churches. They are not medical professionals, but they often work alongside medical professionals to provide psychological and counseling assistance to patients at healthcare facilities.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't track data for pastoral counselors specifically, it reports that the average salary for mental health counselors was $43,290 in 2012 (www.bls.gov). Ph.D. holders in this area may also be able to teach psychology at the college level. The BLS shows that psychology professors made an average salary of $74,240 in 2012.

Continuing Education Options

Although a doctoral degree is the most advanced type of degree available for pastoral counselors, graduates do have the option of gaining national certification in the field. The National Board for Certified Pastoral Counselors offers four levels of certification that are based upon experience, education and examinations (www.nbcpc.org).

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Popular Schools

Other Schools:

  • School locations:
    • California (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical Informatics and Illustration
      • Medical Residency Programs
  • School locations:
    • Massachusetts (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Dental
      • Medical and Health Preparatory Sciences
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Public Health and Safety
  • School locations:
    • Pennsylvania (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Pennsylvania include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Dental
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical Ethics and Bioethics
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Mental Health Services
        • Community Health Services
        • Medical Social Work
      • Nursing Professions
      • Public Health and Safety
      • Veterinary Medicine and Clinical Sciences
  • School locations:
    • Rhode Island (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Brown University include:
      • Graduate: First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Ethics and Bioethics
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Public Health and Safety
  • School locations:
    • North Carolina (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Duke University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Diagnostic and Treatment Professions
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Nursing Professions
      • Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Professions

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics