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What is Pastoral Counseling?

Pastoral counselors may help people struggling with psychological issues.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 April 2014
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Pastoral counseling is a form of psychological counseling which incorporates spirituality into therapeutic treatment. The goal of this type of psychotherapy is to address a variety of underlying psychological needs from a faith-based perspective. The United States has a very large and active pastoral counseling movement, and similar services are offered in many other regions of the world, usually in the context of Christian ministries, although pastoral counselors may be Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, or associated with any number of other faiths.

In regions where pastoral counselors are certified by professional or government organizations, they are usually fully ordained religious officiants who have also studied psychotherapy. This can require a number of years of education, with at least three years in a seminary and four to eight years obtaining professional certification as therapists. In other areas, pastoral counselor may lack specific certification and accreditation, in which case their fitness to practice as counselors may vary considerably, making it a good idea to seek out people who are licensed as counselors when looking for pastoral counselors.

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The concept of pastoral counseling is a natural outgrowth of the idea that religious officiants should care for their flocks, providing support, counsel, and advice for people in all walks of life. It incorporates both deeply held religious beliefs and the latest advances in psychology so that people who seek access to counseling have the benefit of spirituality and psychotherapy in their treatment. Pastoral counselors can provide assistance to people struggling with a variety of psychological issues, including depression, stress, or crises of faith, and they can also offer services to couples and families.

Typically, people must pay for pastoral counseling services, although a sliding scale of fees may be used to ensure that counseling is accessible to everyone. Pastoral counselors may also opt to work as volunteers in locations like schools and at-risk communities to provide needed counseling services. In areas where pastoral counselors are also certified therapists, insurance companies may agree to pay for counseling, assuming that mental health services are included in a health insurance plan.

People need not necessarily belong to the church a pastoral counselor is affiliated with. Some people may opt to explore pastoral counseling because they are struggling with spiritual issues which they feel cannot be addressed by a regular counselor, whether or not they belong to a particular church or faith. Others may prefer to seek a counselor who shares their religious faith. Pastoral counselors will not generally turn clients away on the basis of faith or church attendance.

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Discuss this Article

healthy4life
Post 4

@shell4life – I really believe that marriage counseling is a good idea. My dad went through counseling with his fiance, and they realized it would never work. So, he ended up with my mom, and I am here because of this!

My sister, brother, parents, and I went through Christian family counseling when we were all having trouble getting along. The kids were all teenagers, so we were all old enough to benefit from it. We had a few breakthroughs in our sessions, and it has brought us all closer together.

kylee07drg
Post 3

I'm glad that pastoral counseling training is required of anyone who wants to serve as a counselor in the field of their faith. This lets people know that they are getting help from a licensed counselor and not just someone who understands religion very well.

I have gone to pastors in the past who were not certified counselors, and I believe that they hurt me rather than helped me. They filled me with fear and told me of consequences, rather than helping me work through my spiritual issues.

Last year, I went to an actual pastoral counselor, and he had a much more open mind than the other guys. He seemed to have a deeper understanding of both the human mind and our faith.

shell4life
Post 2

Some churches require that a couple go through pastoral marriage counseling before they will be allowed to wed in the church. I think this is a good idea, but it sometimes opens up issues that result in a breakup.

My friend and my brother were going to get married in the big Baptist church down the street. They had both been raised as Baptists, and they were more than willing to undergo counseling with the pastor.

However, he brought up questions about how the two felt regarding children. My friend said that she never wanted kids, and if she did get pregnant, she would terminate the pregnancy. Apparently, they had never discussed this, because my brother could not believe his ears.

He was very anti-abortion, and this was a breaking point for the two of them. She would not bend, and neither would he. I guess it's good that the counselor brought this up.

DylanB
Post 1

My friend had been to a counselor who shared our religious beliefs, and she recommended him to me. I had been struggling with issues that only a pastor could assist me with, because a nonbelieving therapist might not have the knowledge that I needed.

This Christian counseling was the best thing that could have happened to me. My counselor got me to see God in a whole new light, and this was the first step in a long journey in which I moved away from fear and into love.

I think that pastoral counseling is the best kind that a believer can seek. If you have deep spiritual beliefs, then those are tied in with the way you view everything, and if you meet with a therapist who doesn't feel the same way, you could be doing yourself more harm than good. The therapist would create confusion in your mind.

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