Clinical Pastoral Counselor

Clinical pastoral counselors offer faith-based support and guidance to people dealing with problems and crises. Read on and learn more about the job, including salary prospects and education requirements, to determine whether this career is truly your calling.

Is Clinical Pastoral Counseling for Me?

Career Overview

Many spiritual leaders provide guidance to people in crises. This could include individuals experiencing marriage problems or dealing with the death of a loved one. However, to become a clinical pastoral counselor you need specialized training in human development that qualifies you to perform clinical counseling services.

Work Environment

As a clinical pastoral counselor, you might work in a church or other setting where ministry happens, but you typically won't be employed as a pastor or other clergy member. Instead, this is a separate counseling position. You might also be employed within a correctional institution or healthcare setting, such as a hospital, nursing home or mental health facility.

Salary Information

In certain settings, you might be referred to as a chaplain. Chaplains provide counseling services to people of all different faiths, whereas counselors working in ministry settings may primarily counsel people of their own congregation or faith. As a chaplain, you might expect to earn between $30,056 and $60,430 per year. This was the annual salary data for most chaplains reported by as of April 2014.

How Can I Become a Clinical Pastoral Counselor?

Education Requirements

To become a clinical pastoral counselor, you typically need to attend seminary or theological school. Although a variety of undergraduate majors may qualify you for seminary, a bachelor's degree in pastoral counseling may be a good way to prepare for this field. As of 2012, roughly 110 colleges offer an undergraduate major in this field, according to Such programs include courses in counseling theories and psychology, but you'll also learn about the Bible theology and church history. You might also complete a counseling practicum or internship as part of a bachelor's degree program.

Graduate Programs

Once accepted into seminary, you'll take more courses in pastoral counseling, but the typical seminary education generally isn't enough to qualify you for this career. To specialize in this field, you need to take additional counseling courses and complete supervised field experience. One route to accomplishing this is to complete a 2-year master's degree in clinical pastoral counseling. According to, such programs are offered at about 70 seminaries and theological schools. Some of the topics you'll study include human development, research methods, cultural systems, marital problems, grief counseling, substance abuse and mental illness. You'll also learn about the dynamics of counseling individuals, couples, families and groups. It's also possible to earn a doctorate in pastoral counseling, although such programs are less common. Earning a doctorate typically takes 3-5 years beyond a master's degree.

Necessary Skills

In addition to completing a formal training program, you need a mixture of skills to excel as a clinical pastoral counselor. In order to get people to open up and feel consoled, it's important that you have good supportive listening skills and are able to build rapport with others. For this particular type of counseling, you'll also need a thorough knowledge and understanding of Christianity and other faiths. You may reference the Bible or other religious sources in providing consolation or inspiration.

Licensing and Certification

Although you don't necessarily need to be ordained to work in this field, you may need a license or certification to become a chaplain or provide professional counseling services. You should check with your state credentialing agency for more details, because requirements vary by state.

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