Frequently Asked Questions About Pastoral Counselors
PCC FAQ Print

Frequently Asked Questions About Pastoral Counselors and Pastoral Counseling...

When should I seek help from a pastoral counselor?

A pastoral counselor is trained in both psychology and theology and thus can address psychological and spiritual issues. You should consider meeting with a pastoral counselor if you are experiencing emotional difficulties and wish to address these matters in the context of religion and spirituality.

How can I find a certified pastoral counselor?

Your community may be one served by the more than 100 AAPC-accredited or affiliated pastoral counseling centers. These centers offer a number of certified pastoral counselors with whom you can meet, and are dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of the community they serve. In other cases, you can call the American Association of Pastoral Counselors at (703) 385-6967 to find the name of a certified pastoral counselor near you.

Do pastoral counselors work only with individuals or do they also work with families?

Pastoral counselors are trained mental health professionals and, as such, work with individuals, families and groups. The nature of the therapy is agreed upon by the client and pastoral counselor

Are fees of pastoral counselors comparable to those charged by other health care professionals?

In general, the fees of pastoral counselors are lower than those of other health care professionals. This is due to the not-for-profit orientation of pastoral counseling centers and the willingness of pastoral counselors to work for modest salaries. It is the prevailing ethic of pastoral counseling that every effort is made to treat everyone, regardless of ability to pay.

What is AAPC's stance on confidentiality?

The confidentiality of the pastoral counselor/client relationship is underscored
by the AAPC. However, it is important to note that state laws regarding record-reporting vary. For example, in some states, counselors are required to report incidences of child abuse. We recommend that you discuss confidentiality and misunderstandings.

Are pastoral counselors viewed as 'providers' and covered by health plans?

Counseling by a certified pastoral counselor is generally covered by health care plans if the pastoral counselor is licensed by the state. The answer also depends upon the health care plan and the state in which you file your claims. Call your health care plan administrator to learn if your pastoral counselor is covered by the plan and the amount of billing and time period covered.

How do pastoral counselors differ from other mental health professionals?

There are three key distinctions between pastoral counselors and other mental
health professionals.

First, pastoral counselors are trained in two disciplines, psychology and theology.

Second, in some cases, pastoral counselors have more education. For example, pastoral counselors at the Fellow level in AAPC have completed a three-year Master of Divinity program, plus an additional degree or equivalent of four years of graduate academic work. In comparison, licensed clinical social workers have completed a two year Master of Social Work degree beyond undergraduate coursework.

Third, pastoral counselors are not medical doctors and may not prescribe medication. In situations where a pastoral counselor believes medication can be helpful, the client will be referred to a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in treating
mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. In most cases, therapy will continue with the pastoral counselor and the psychiatrist will supervise the client's medication.

What is the curricula for pastoral counselors?

In additional to their theological and pastoral studies, pastoral counselors study human development and personality; interpersonal, marriage, family and group/community dynamics; cultural systems; research methods; and supervised field experience.
An AAPC Fellow is required to have a total of 1,625 hours of supervised experience, including 250 hours of direct supervision.

How do pastoral counselors work with other health care professionals to provide therapy?

Pastoral counselors may refer clients to other health care professionals, such as a psychiatrist, for evaluation and medication. In turn, health care professionals may refer clients, who prefer to receive therapy that integrates psychology with theology,
to pastoral counselors. In many cases, pastoral counselors work as a team with other health care providers. For example, research demonstrates that most people who suffer from clinical depression respond best to a treatment regime combining psychotherapy and medication. In these cases, a pastoral counselor will work with a psychiatrist to assure that medications are being monitored and discuss the client's progress and needs.

When should a pastor refer a congregant to a pastoral counselor?

Counseling and support are considered an integral part of any pastor's ministry. However, there are times when the needs of a congregant go beyond offering support and encouragement to encompass longer-term counseling and psychotherapy. This is especially important, for instance, when a pastor suspects the problem may be clinical depression - a debilitating medical illness. Only a physician or mental health professional is able to diagnose clinical depression and other mental illnesses.

A pastor should refer a congregant to a pastoral counselor when the congregant desires an integrated religious and psychological approach to treatment, and the pastor is unable to provide the most effective therapy needed by the individual. A list of certified pastoral counselors is available from the AAPC at (703) 385-6367. Or, a pastor may call the pastoral counseling center in his or her community.

Do pastoral counselors counsel people of faiths different from theirs?

Pastoral counselors are found in every major Protestant denomination, as well as the Roman Catholic church and Jewish faith, and they do work with people of faiths different from their own. However, in practice, clients often prefer to work with a pastoral counselor who shares their faith and beliefs. In initial meetings, the subject of faith should be raised to assure that client and pastoral counselor are comfortable with each other's perspective.

Must pastoral counselors be licensed by the state in which they practice?

Licensure is not required by AAPC. While many pastoral counselors are licensed by the state, most states do not require it due to their clergy exemption clause. However, laws vary significantly from state to state in this matter.

How do I become a certified pastoral counselor?

The American Association of Pastoral Counselors, an international interfaith organization, is the body that sets professional standards and accredits pastoral counselors. There are several levels of certification, including Member Associate, Member, Fellow and Diplomate.

The entry level requires an individual to have bachelor's and Master of Divinity degrees from accredited schools; the endorsement as a minister, priest or rabbi in good standing in a recognized religious community; three years as a practicing member of the clergy; one unit of clinical pastoral education in an accredited center; 375 hours of pastoral counseling, with an additional 125 hours of concurrent supervision.

For complete information on requirements and how to apply for certification, write to the AAPC at 9504 Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA 22031 or call (703) 385-6967.