Pastoral Counselor: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a pastoral counselor. Learn about job responsibilities, education and licensing requirements, and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Christian Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Pastoral Counselor?

Pastoral counselors provide support and guidance to people of all ages and circumstances who are looking to approach their issues from a spiritual perspective. They help their clients address personal conflict, marriage and family, or spiritual issues. They guide clients as they emotionally process life changes and decisions, and help them develop strategies. The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required Varies, but bachelor's degree is common and master's degree is available for advancement
Licensure Requirements differ by state
Job Duties Counsel clients in one-on-one or group scenarios, provide referrals to community services, offer spiritual guidance
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 22% (for all substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors); 22% (for all marriage and family therapists)
Median Salary (2018)* $44,630 (for all substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors); $50,090 (for all marriage and family therapists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Pastoral Counselor Do?

In this position, you might find work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals and hospices
  • Parishes
  • Private practices
  • Substance abuse programs
  • Correctional facilities
  • Domestic violence centers

As a pastoral counselor, you must be able to combine the science of psychology with spirituality and faith while remaining tolerant of other beliefs. Your clients might include couples, families, mental health patients and drug addicts.

What Training Do I Need?

Some possible educational paths include earning a bachelor's degree, a 3-year seminary degree or a graduate degree in mental health. In particular, a master's degree program in pastoral care and counseling could qualify you for licensure and give you the training you need to take the National Counselor Examination, which is used for voluntary certification and, in many states, licensure. Alternatively, you might seek a doctorate in pastoral community counseling.

After your formal education, you might participate in a part-time or full-time residency program. You would be supervised as you counsel clients one-on-one or in group scenarios, in addition to serving couples and families. You also might provide therapy for clients in crisis and those who have long-term issues. Although many people in pastoral counseling residency programs come from a professional theological background, you might only need to identify with a particular faith community.

What Should I Know About Licensing and Certification?

Few states distinguish pastoral counselors from other counselors, so you might need to earn licensure as a marriage and family therapist or professional counselor. Requirements vary by state but generally include completion of a master's program or higher and at least two years of supervised experience, as well as passage of a state-recognized exam.

Voluntary certification is offered through the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. You can apply to be a Certified Pastoral Counselor, Fellow or Diplomate, depending on your level of experience.

How Much Might I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide salary statistics specific to pastoral counselors, but salary information for marriage and family therapists and clergy members is available. The BLS reported that, as of May 2018, the average salary for marriage and family therapists was $54,150 ( At the same time, members of the clergy earned an average salary of $53,290.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers to mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists include rehabilitation counselors, school counselors, and social and community service managers. Rehabilitation counselors help those with disabilities live independently. School counselors help students reach their academic objectives. Social and community service managers oversee community programs, and must obtain a bachelor's degree before practicing. Rehabilitation and school counselors must have a master's degree to enter their field.

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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