For people whose faith plays an important role in their lives, traditional secular counseling may not provide all the therapy elements they need. Christian counseling incorporates elements of faith and Christianity that do not exist in traditional counseling. Christian counselors root their therapy methods in biblical teachings and faith-based practices, combining religion with traditional psychology to provide a therapy experience ideal for those seeking to improve their faith and mental health.
Christian counselors root their therapy methods in biblical teachings and faith-based practices, combining religion with traditional psychology to provide a therapy experience ideal for those seeking to improve their faith and mental health.
This guide details a Christian counselor's typical career, including jobs, work environments, and salaries. Keep reading to explore how to become a Christian counselor, how to choose the right Christian counseling degree, and what you can expect to learn in one of these programs.
What Do Christian Counselors Do?
Christian counselors work in many of the same capacities as traditional, secular counselors, just with the added layer of incorporating Christianity and biblical elements into therapy. Many people with religious beliefs find that a therapeutic approach to mental health counseling provides the full, rounded emotional healing they need that helps them grow in their faith.
To serve these individuals, Christian counselors work in many traditional and Christian-centered environments. These counselors work in traditional counseling centers, private practices, churches, temples, and hospitals. Some professionals pursue counseling positions within correctional facilities, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, and military bases.
Christian counseling requires many of the same skills as secular counseling, including empathy and the capacity for strong, attentive listening. Christian counselors often hold other titles, such as priest, chaplain, and rabbi, while also holding counseling licensure and certification. This allows them to serve as leaders in their faith communities while also offering their counseling knowledge to help community members. Regardless of the capacity or environment in which counselors work, they serve important roles in their communities, just like secular counseling professionals.
Christian Counseling vs. Pastoral Counseling
As mentioned above, some professionals with backgrounds and certifications in Christian counseling may work in secular settings, such as private practices and counseling centers, while others may work primarily in faith-based settings as pastors or rabbis. Professionals in the latter category are considered pastoral counselors. The difference between Christian counseling and pastoral counseling lies between these two different types of careers. Christian counselors often straddle the line between secular and Christian counseling, offering services in both areas, while pastoral counselors work specifically in faith-based roles.
Both Christian and pastoral counselors possess similar credentials and licensure to practice psychotherapy. Individuals might choose to see a Christian counselor over a pastoral counselor if they don't have a strong tie to a specific church or place of worship. They may also choose a Christian counselor over a pastoral counselor if they desire a broader approach to therapy, separate from their church.
How to Become a Christian Counselor
If you want to become a Christian counselor, you'll likely follow a similar educational path as secular counselors. Requirements might differ, however, based on your specific religious denomination. For example, those who wish to practice within the Methodist denomination may find the education requirements differ from those who want to practice within the Baptist denomination. Regardless of the specific denomination you belong to and wish to practice in, you must obtain certain state certifications and licensure outside of religious-based requirements. The path outlined below serves as a general, common education path for many Christian counselors, although you may not follow this exact path in your own studies.
Earn a Degree
When it comes to practicing counseling in a clinical capacity, the master's degree serves as the minimal degree required. The master's in Christian counseling provides the educational foundation you need to eventually meet specific state requirements and to pass the necessary exams required for licensure. Additionally, a master's provides the Christian-based education you need to serve specifically as a Christian counselor. However, some jobs exist for those without a master's degree. Earning a bachelor's provides a stepping stone to eventually earn a graduate degree and get your license to practice clinically.
Accreditation for Divinity and Theology Programs
When researching degrees and academic programs at any level, finding accredited programs should remain a top priority in your search. When an accrediting body grants a school accreditation, this means the school and its academic programs meet certain standards required by the accreditation agency. Schools can hold two types of accreditation: regional and national. Schools generally have regional accreditation, the more common and popular type. The difference between these two types exists mostly in the ability to transfer earned credits from a school with one type to a school with the other type.
Christian colleges and degrees may have additional, programmatic accreditation. Often this comes from the Association of Independent Christian Colleges and Seminaries (AICCS), which accredits more than 400 institutions. While attending an AICCS-accredited school may not remain necessary, it adds a layer of credibility to your earned degree and may impact the type of curriculum and instruction you encounter.
Clinical Experience Required to Become a Christian Counselor
With any counseling degree, both secular and Christian, you must complete a certain amount of supervised field experience. This field experience might serve as part of your actual program, or it may come following the completion of your coursework and before you sit for any exams. This depends on your program and career goals. For example, if you hope to practice counseling in a clinical capacity, you must complete some amount of supervised practice in order to gain licensure.
Some Christian counseling programs require you to complete this practice within faith-based settings. Others require you to complete different kinds of field work within your religious community, such as service learning within your church or other supervised educational experiences. All of these requirements vary based on your chosen program.
Salary and Employment for Christian Counselors
PayScale's salary information below serves as a general idea of what you can expect to earn throughout your career in Christian counseling. These numbers vary based on a range of factors. For example, someone practicing Christian marriage counseling may earn a different salary than someone practicing generalized Christian counseling. Where you practice, your education level, and how much experience you have also impact your salary. Use the numbers below as a guide rather than a definitive predictor.
How Do Christian Counselors Get Paid?
How you get paid as a Christian counselor varies depending on the type of environment or setting in which you work. For example, Christian counselors who work in affiliation with a church likely earn a salary agreed upon by a special standing committee within the church itself. Some of these counselors also work in other roles within their churches, serving as faith leaders such as pastors and rabbis, so their salary also covers those duties. Generally, the church establishes a contract to determine the annual salary, and this amount varies based on the congregation size and the amount of tithe given. Additionally, some churches provide other support, such as free housing, for counselors.
Of course, some Christian counselors work in secular settings, so their salaries remain based on other factors, such as the number of clients they have and their hourly rate. If they work within a larger mental health facility, the facility determines the counselor's salary.
Things to Consider Before Becoming a Christian Counselor
Before you decide to become a Christian counselor, you must consider the needed skills and qualities, and the kinds of situations you must navigate comfortably. Students cover these topics throughout any Christian counseling certification, developing their skills and best practices. However, consider your own personality before entering one of these programs. Counselors possess strong interpersonal relationship skills, which allow them to work well with other people. They also practice effective and attentive listening, and boast a genuine love for people and helping others.
Christian counselors enjoy theological studies, and generally possess a well-rounded knowledge of Scripture and how to apply it to mental health and therapy. They remain comfortable working with individuals and groups, and they can easily and comfortably discuss difficult and sensitive topics such as suicide, PTSD, death, and grief.
Professional Resources for Christian Counselors
- American Association of Pastoral Counselors AAPC provides a variety of services to members, including continuing education and professional development opportunities, plus access to a growing network of other pastoral counselors.
- Association for Clinical Pastoral Education ACPE stands out as the leading provider of accredited pastoral clinical education programs. Members include faculty members at accredited institutions and practicing clinicians.
- Commission for Counseling and Psychological Services CCAPS is intended specifically for graduate and professional students interested in practicing counseling clinically. The organization offers annual conventions and a scholarly publication.
- The Journal of Pastoral Care Publications One of the foremost scholarly publications in the field of pastoral counseling, JPCP provides a range of academic resources and articles. Graduate students benefit from using these publications throughout their academic career and beyond.
- American Psychological Association - Student Resources The APA provides multiple web-based resources for students studying in the psychological fields. Resources include advice on applying to graduate programs, publications in the field, and advocacy information.
Online Tools For Christian Counselors
This tool provides a way to store notes, websites, links, photos, and personal moments that sync across all digital platforms, making it ideal for students earning their Christian counseling degree online.
Students can access different services for church management, including volunteer sign-in and tracking; donation management; registration software; and tools for managing groups and group projects.
Students can explore a variety of tools for managing and optimizing productivity in group projects. They can manage multiple projects at once with to-do lists, priority lists, and the ability to add comments and collaborate with other members digitally.
Christian counseling students may find Bible Study Tools especially useful as they navigate their program's theological and biblical aspects. This website offers study plans, daily reading plans, and a newsletter.
All college students benefit from maintaining a budget, and this website offers great tools to keep them on track. YNAB allows students to sync their banking information and manage their finances in real-time across all of their devices.