2023 Best Online Masters in Pastoral Counseling Degrees

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Pastoral counseling degrees can be a great option for people who have an interest in both psychology and Christian theology.

Best Online Masters in Pastoral Counseling Degrees

A master’s degree program in pastoral counseling focuses on biblical truths and psychological principles to help students form a well-rounded approach to counseling others. Those who pursue a master’s degree in pastoral counseling are generally people who are interested in both psychology and the human mind. These people typically pursue this curriculum because of how it merges psychology and biblical truths.

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Graduates from a pastoral counseling master’s program may go on to become Christian counselors for churches and non-licensure agencies. Many work to treat behavioral health issues, but many others choose to pursue family therapy or community outreach.

Online Pastoral Counseling Degrees

Woman pursuing an Online Pastoral Counseling Degree

Online pastoral counseling degree programs teach ministerial counseling to students. This degree is a subcategory of a psychology degree that approaches psychology from a religious perspective. These programs focus on clinical and biblical methods of understanding human nature, responding to life’s challenges, and providing guidance that tackles the core of the issue.

Online pastoral counseling degree programs merge pastoral care and counseling, creating numerous opportunities for graduates. The available fields tend to be either religious or communal, but that does not mean that graduates are limited in their career opportunities. Graduates that go into this field may pursue careers as:

  • Associate pastors
  • Church counselors
  • Non-licensed counselors
  • Ministry directors

The careers listed above are very common for ministerial counseling graduates, but they are not the only available opportunities.

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Online pastoral counseling degree programs have a variety of core courses that can help provide a solid foundation that graduates can use to pursue many types of counseling roles. Your degree may be designed to fit your pastoral needs, but you will likely take some general courses on topics such as:

  • Christian ethics
  • Couples therapy
  • Prayer
  • Psychopathology
  • Personhood
  • Suffering

The topics you study will vary depending on both your school and program, but the ones listed above should give you a general idea of the types of subjects you may encounter.

Pastoral Counseling Careers & Salaries

Pastoral Counseling Careers & Salaries

A master’s degree in pastoral counseling can lead to a variety of careers, primarily in religious or communal fields.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are numerous popular fields that graduates may go into. These are some careers that you may be able to pursue with a master’s degree in pastoral counseling:

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Psychologists $81,040
School Psychologists $78,780
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
School and Career Counselors and Advisors $60,510
Social Workers $50,390
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,880
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $48,520
Community Health Workers $46,590
Rehabilitation Counselors $38,560
Social and Human Service Assistants $37,610

While the careers listed above may be available to you should you decide to pursue a master’s degree in pastoral counseling, getting this degree does not guarantee any of the above careers. Some employers may require further education or work experience.

Master in Pastoral Counseling Curriculum & Courses

People taking MA in Pastoral Counseling, studying together

The courses you’ll take in an online pastoral counseling degree program will vary from school to school, but these are some possible courses that you may take:

  • Theology and Spirituality in Counseling: This class examines the content, comprehensiveness, and validity of several counseling theories that were developed by prominent Christian counselors.
  • Healthy Sexuality: This course aims to introduce you to the biblical paradigm for healthy sexuality and increase your awareness, knowledge, and skills regarding healthy sexuality.
  • Gerontology and Counseling: This course explores the unique issues that the elderly face in America.
  • Counseling Women: This class examines the most common issues that women discuss in counseling, including developmental and situational crises.
  • Pastoral Care, Counseling, and Conflict: This course teaches strategies for effective emotional and spiritual healing through the perspective of the Church.
  • Field Experience: Many programs will allow you to gain field experiences and reflect on and analyze your experiences within a Christian context.
  • Survey of Christianity: This course is designed to provide you with a graduate-level understanding of the Bible, Christian theology, and Christian history.
  • Addictive Behavior and Substance Abuse: This class aims to give you a basic understanding of the skills needed to work with people struggling with substance abuse.
  • Marriage and Relationship Counseling: This course examines theories and problems related to marriage counseling.
  • Community and Crisis Counseling: This class discusses grief, loss, forgiveness, crisis counseling, community trauma, and compassion fatigue issues.

As mentioned, your specific courses in this Christian counseling degree program will depend on the program you choose, but the courses listed above will likely be similar to the classes in your own pastoral counseling program. 

How to Become a Pastoral Counselor

Pastoral Counselor discussing with an elderly

Earning a master’s degree in pastoral counseling is a large step on the way to becoming a pastoral counselor, but it is not the final step. Listed below are the steps that are commonly taken to become a pastoral counselor.

  • Acquire a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral, social science, psychology, or similar field. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, or a similar field will lay the groundwork for a master’s degree in pastoral counseling.
  • Obtain a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Following a bachelor’s degree, the next step would be to earn a master’s degree in pastoral counseling, marriage and family therapy, or a similar field.
  • Gain graduate and postgraduate internship experience. Gaining experience in the field under a licensed professional counselor allows students to gain essential experience before entering their field and is required for many licenses and certifications.
  • Pass required counseling exams and apply for licensure. Certain states may require individuals to pass a counselor examination to graduate or obtain licensure.
  • Earn additional pastoral counseling certifications. Once you become a licensed counselor, you will likely want to obtain certification from the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC).
  • Stay up to date on pastoral counseling trends and changes. Education doesn’t stop after obtaining licensure. You’ll need to stay up to date on changes in the field that could affect your licensure.

The additional certifications and licensures you are required to have will vary depending on the state you live in, so it’s always a good idea to do research before taking any additional steps. 

Admissions Requirements

Man preparing requirements for Masters in Pastoral Counseling

The admissions requirements for online pastoral counseling degree programs vary from school to school. While specific requirements may be different, there are some requirements that are generally found at most schools. These include:

  • Admission application
  • Application fee
  • College transcripts
  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university

Before deciding whether an online pastoral counseling degree program is right for you, it’s always a good idea to do your research and see if you can meet the requirements.  

MA in Pastoral Counseling Programs Accreditation

University offering MA in Pastoral Counseling

Online pastoral counseling degree programs are offered by many accredited universities across the country. Regional accreditation is a process by which schools are officially recognized as having achieved a high standard of education.

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Achieving this higher standard of education requires a university to pass a series of exams, which attest to the university’s standard of education across the university as a whole. Attending an accredited university can help ensure you’ll receive a quality education. Diplomas from accredited universities are typically more well-received by employers as well.  

Pastoral Counseling Licensure and Certifications

Pastoral counseling session with a couple

Many states require pastoral counselors to be licensed. There are many avenues that graduates of a ministerial counseling program may take.

For instance, some counselors gain licensure as marriage and family therapists or clinical counselors. Other counselors obtain certification as pastoral counselors or clinical pastoral therapists from the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC).

Earning AAPC certification has a series of requirements, including:

  • A master’s degree from an accredited university
  • At least 3 years in ministry and a relationship with the local religious community
  • Minimum of 375 hours of pastoral counseling experience
  • 125 hours of supervision within an AAPC-approved training program

Not every graduate pursues licensure but knowing these requirements could be beneficial should you choose to pursue licensure.  

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Masters in Pastoral Counseling Financial Aid

Many students pursue financial aid to help them fund their education. The primary resource for students is usually the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is often a student’s first resource because the information compiled on the FAFSA can be used for other applications.

If the funds received from completing the FAFSA are insufficient, students may also apply for scholarships or grants. Scholarships and grants can be a viable option for many people, especially because they give money that doesn’t have to be paid back.

Scholarships and grants are often offered on either a semester or yearly basis. They’re also offered at state and national levels, as well as through specific schools. Students who require help do have numerous options to pursue, so long as they do their research.  

What Is a Pastoral Counseling Degree?

Psychologist in a session with a patient

A pastoral counseling degree is a degree that merges psychology and Christian theology. Programs for this degree are designed to prepare students for careers in the church or their own private practices. The primary difference between a counselor and a pastoral counselor is that a pastoral counselor facilitates therapy within a religious framework. Clinical counselors only approach therapy from psychological principles.

Graduates of an online pastoral counseling degree program often go on to help people with behavioral health issues or pursue family therapy and community outreach. Their goal is to help people in pain using both psychology and biblical truths. 

What Can You Do with a Pastoral Counseling Master’s Degree?

Marriage & Family Therapist discussing with a couple

People with a pastoral counseling degree often pursue careers in religious or community health fields. Their passion tends to be healing people who are suffering through a combination of pastoral care and counseling.

Some of the fields that graduates may join include:

  • Pastoral care
  • Family service
  • Christian schooling
  • Church counseling
  • Coaching

While a master’s degree in pastoral counseling may allow you to pursue these fields, specific careers in these fields may require further education or work experience to obtain.  

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Pastoral Counseling Degree Online?

Man pursuing his Masters in Pastoral Counseling online

Much like it is with online Christian psychology degrees, the time it takes to complete a master’s degree in pastoral counseling program online can vary according to a few factors. Different programs require a different amount of credits, but it is common for pastoral counseling master’s programs to require approximately 60 credit hours.

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Completing 60 credit hours often takes at least 3 years. This doesn’t have to be the case though. Many online programs offer accelerated classes that can be completed in less time if you attend full-time. Alternatively, if you attend part-time, it will take longer to complete your program.  

What’s the Difference between a Pastoral Counseling vs. Professional Counseling Masters Degree?

Pastoral counseling and professional counseling master’s degree programs have numerous similarities, but they do have differences as well.

To help separate the two, here are some primary differences:

Pastoral Counseling Professional Counseling
  • Biblical and psychological approach to counseling
  • Interaction with clients may exist outside of the office
  • May discuss personal values with your clients
  • Purely psychological approach to counseling
  • Relationships with clients exist only in the office
  • Required to administer guidance solely through counseling theory

Both programs will teach you about psychological principles, but only a pastoral counseling program will allow you to practice biblical truths with your clients. 

Is a Masters in Pastoral Counseling Degree Worth it?

Social Worker at an elderly health facility

Yes, a master’s degree in pastoral counseling is worth it for many students. Students who pursue a master’s degree in pastoral counseling may appreciate the fusion between Christian theology and psychological principles.

A ministerial counseling degree allows graduates to relate their own experiences to their clients’ experiences in a way that clinical counseling cannot. Many graduates feel that this factor allows them to provide a well-rounded form of therapy for their clients.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for mental health counselors are expected to expand by 22% over the next ten years. This growth rate attests to the necessity of mental health professionals and the potential stability of these fields in the future. 

Universities Offering Online Masters in Pastoral Counseling Degree Program

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Biola University

Biola University campus

Biola is a Christian university. Its Talbot School of Theology offers an MA in Christian Ministry and Leadership (Pastoral Care and Counseling). The program is offered in a hybrid format, so students will need to plan to spend about half of their time on campus. It’s often a good option for those who want to enter vocational ministry, counseling, or similar career fields.

Biola University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Dallas Baptist University

Dallas Baptist University campus

Dallas Baptist University offers an MA in Christian Counseling. The non-licensure program requires the completion of 36 credit hours. It can be taken fully online, on campus, or in a hybrid format. The course aims to teach students a blend of counseling and ministry to prepare them to work in churches or other organizations affiliated with ministry.

Dallas Baptist University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Dallas Theological Seminary

Dallas Theological Seminary campus

Dallas Theological Seminary offers an MA in Counseling. The program requires the completion of 90 credit hours. Classes are online but are synchronous. The program typically takes 3 years to complete. The curriculum teaches counseling best practices along with Christian philosophy. Students may pursue Professional Counselor or Marriage and Family Therapist licensure.

Dallas Theological Seminary is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Denver Seminary

Denver Seminary campus

Denver Seminary offers an MDiv in Pastoral Care and Counseling. The program doesn’t qualify students for licensure but does seek to prepare them for helping those in their congregation. The program can be taken fully online. Students are required to complete 79 credit hours. Students who attend full-time can typically complete the program in 3 years.

Denver Seminary is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Fordham University

Fordham University campus

Students at Fordham University can earn an MA in Pastoral Care. The program is completely online. Students must complete 36 semester hours to earn the degree. The curriculum blends Christian ministry with theories in psychology and sociology to prepare students for careers in helping others. Graduates often pursue work as chaplains, in parishes, with youth, and with the elderly.

Fordham University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the Middle States Association.

Freed-Hardeman University

Freed Hardeman University campus

Freed-Hardeman University is a Christian-based school that focuses on helping students grow in faith, academics, and service. FHU offers an MA in Pastoral Care and Counseling. The curriculum focuses on a mix of research-based topics and practical applications. To graduate, students must complete a total of 48 credit hours, 6 of which are from an internship.

Freed-Hardeman University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Gardner-Webb University

Gardner-Webb University campus

Gardner-Webb University seeks to provide its online students with a high-quality education taught by top professors. GWU’s teachings are rooted in the Christian faith. Online students can pursue a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Pastoral Care and Counseling. To graduate, students must complete 51 hours for the core requirements and an additional 27 hours for their concentration.

Gardner-Webb University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Grace Theological Seminary

Grace Theological Seminary campus

Grace Theological Seminary seeks to prepare students to spread the word of Christ. The school offers an MDiv with a concentration in Pastoral Counseling. The program requires the completion of 75 credit hours and can usually be finished in 3 years. The curriculum offers a Christ-centered education blended with counseling best practices to teach students how to serve others in need.

Grace Theological Seminary is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Holy Apostles College & Seminary

Holy Apostles College and Seminary campus

Holy Apostles College & Seminary is a Catholic college offering an online program for an MA in Pastoral Studies with a concentration in Pastoral Counseling. While the program seeks to teach students how to offer counseling in church positions, it doesn’t qualify them for counseling licensure. The concentration requires an additional 18 credits. Students must also complete two co-requisite courses.

Holy Apostles College and Seminary is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

Huntington University

Huntington University campus

Huntington University’s MA in Pastoral Leadership program seeks to prepare students for a variety of roles in the church, including pastoral counseling. This is a 2 year program that starts every other year. Each course is 7 weeks long, and classes are available online in live and recorded formats.

Huntington University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University offers an online program for an MA in Pastoral Counseling. The program can be attended fully online, and each course is 8 weeks long. Frequent start dates are offered to work with busy schedules. The program requires the completion of 36 credit hours, which can typically be done in 1.5 years. Students may transfer in up to half their credits from qualifying accredited institutions.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Loyola University – Chicago

Loyola University Chicago campus

Loyola University—Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies offers an MA in Pastoral Counseling. The curriculum teaches a mix of psychology and theology to help teach students how to best treat those in need. When taken full-time, the program can typically be completed in 3 years. Part-time students can usually complete the program in 4 to 5 years. Students may pursue licensure in participating states.

Loyola University Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Luther Rice College & Seminary

Luther Rice College and Seminary campus

Luther Rice College & Seminary provides students with a Gospel-focused education. The school’s MA in Biblical Counseling program is not designed for licensure but is intended to help students prepare for Christian-based counseling. The program can be taken fully online or as a hybrid program. It requires the completion of 36 credit hours and can often be finished in 18 to 24 months.

Luther Rice College and Seminary is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Maranatha Baptist Seminary

Maranatha Baptist University

Maranatha Baptist Seminary offers a Master in Biblical Counseling. The program seeks to teach students how to use theology in their counseling of others. The program can be taken fully online or in a hybrid format with courses that are each 8 weeks long. Most courses are asynchronous, but students must attend at least two courses virtually. Students must also complete a practicum.

MBU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

New Brunswick Theological Seminary

New Brunswick Theological Seminary campus

New Brunswick Theological Seminary offers an MA in Pastoral Care and Counseling. The program requires the completion of 48 credit hours and can potentially be completed in just 2 years when taken full-time. The program can be taken completely online or in a hybrid format. The hybrid program requires students to attend some courses at either the NY or NJ campuses.

NBTS is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Ohio Christian University

Ohio Christian University campus

Ohio Christian University aims to help students develop the skills they need to enter their chosen career field while also strengthening their relationships with Christ. The school offers an MA in Ministry with a concentration in Pastoral Care and Counseling. The online program requires the completion of 24 credit hours for the MA and an additional 12 hours for the concentration. The program does not make students eligible for licensure.

Ohio Christian University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University was ranked the best online Christian College in America by Bible College Online. Regent offers an MA in Pastoral Counseling program that is offered entirely online. To graduate, students must complete 30 credit hours. While the program does focus on some clinical instruction, students who wish to pursue licensure must take further courses.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Richmont Graduate University

Richmont Graduate University campus

Richmont Graduate University offers an MS in Pastoral Care and Integration. The program requires the completion of 32 credit hours and can be taken entirely online. The program does not prepare students for licensure but instead helps students prepare for work in the church or other church-affiliated organizations. The curriculum consists of courses like Theodicy and Trauma Counseling.

Richmont Graduate University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Southeastern University

Southeastern University campus

Southeastern University seeks to prepares students for their future careers and help them become servants for Christ. The school offers an MA in Pastoral Care and Counseling. The courses can be taken entirely online. While the program does not prepare students for state licensure, it can help students become counselors in church settings.

Southeastern University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Southwestern Assemblies of God University

Southwestern Assemblies of God University campus

Southwestern Assemblies of God University strives to give students a strong faith-based foundation before they enter the church or another career. The Pastoral Counseling degree program seeks to prepare students for positions in Christian ministry and counseling those in need. The program is offered entirely online. It’s often a good option before seeking a master’s in Christian ministry.

SAGU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Getting Your Master’s Degree in Pastoral Counseling Online

Woman getting her Masters in Pastoral Counseling Degree online

Master’s degrees in pastoral counseling are a viable option for many people who are passionate about both psychology and theology. This program is unique in that it combines both of these subjects to give students a well-rounded approach to counseling.

People generally pursue this program because they’re passionate about helping others and believe they can use their faith to make a difference in their clients’ lives. Graduates often take positions in their local religious communities.

Does this degree sound right for you? If it does, you can begin your educational journey by researching accredited universities that offer masters degree in pastoral counseling programs online.

Ready to start your journey?
David Garcia
WRITTEN BY
David Garcia
David has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Film from Syracuse University. While in school, much of his time was dedicated to Syracuse’s literary magazine, both as a writer and editor. David’s current interests include literary and film studies as well as social justice.