Doctorate Programs in Pastoral Counseling

Doctorate options in the pastoral counseling field include a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) in Pastoral Counseling. Read on to find out how these degree programs can teach you to help people cope with substance abuse, marital problems or the loss of loved ones. Check the coursework and online availability of the programs while reviewing the career options and licensure requirements in this field. Schools offering Christian Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Will I Learn in a Doctorate in Pastoral Counseling Program?

A doctoral program can teach you counseling theories and techniques based on psychotherapy practice as well as religious values and ethics. Not only can you gain clinical expertise, but you may also prepare for teaching and supervisory responsibilities. These programs are available as a Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Theology in Pastoral Counseling.

Available Degrees Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Theology (Th.D.)
Program Curriculum Research methods, cognitive behavior theory, practical theology, consultation theory; clinical hours in schools or healthcare facilities
Occupational Prospects Pastoral educator, marriage and family therapist, pastoral counselor, pastoral care manager
Licensure Varies by state; may include obtaining mental health counselor licensure or becoming a Certified Pastoral Counselor
Online Programs Rarely available; they may not fulfill licensure requirements

What Courses Will I Take?

A pastoral counseling program includes core courses in Jungian and Adlerian theory and practice, consultation theory, cognitive behavior theory and practical theology. Coursework in research methods and statistics is also included. Some programs include elective courses based on whether you want to practice, teach or conduct research in the field, such as clinical mentoring, counselor education or advanced qualitative research.

You will also need to accumulate clinical hours to complete program requirements. These consist of up to 600 hours of face-to-face counseling sessions at schools, mental health centers and hospices. You may find yourself counseling individuals, groups and couples on issues such as chemical dependency, marriage or aging.

What Will the Degree Prepare Me For?

According to the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), a doctorate in pastoral counseling can prepare you for work as a pastoral counselor or pastoral care manager in hospitals, correctional facilities, mental health facilities and nursing homes ( You may also find work as a marriage and family therapist or pastoral educator. The ACPE is an accrediting agency for clinical pastoral education, as recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Will I Need to Be Licensed to Practice?

Licensure requirements vary by state and occupational title. To practice in some states you must be a Certified Pastoral Counselor. This credential is awarded by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) to individuals who have completed a master's or doctoral degree program in pastoral counseling, 375 hours of clinical experience and three years of active ministry ( You must also have an endorsement from a religious organization.

In other states, pastoral counselors must be licensed as mental health professionals. These requirements may include a master's or doctoral degree that meets a state's core curriculum requirements and 400 hours of clinical experience in an ACPE-accredited program. You may have to pass the National Board for Certified Counselors' National Counselor Examination and perhaps also the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination. Some states may also require membership in a religious organization and a letter of endorsement.

Are These Programs Offered Online?

Online doctorates in pastoral education are rare. You should be aware that these programs do not include clinical rotations often required for licensure or AAPC certification. Check with your local licensing agency to determine if additional clinical experience is required for state licensure.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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