Distance Learning Degree Programs in Pastoral Community Counseling

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

There are few online master's degree programs in pastoral community counseling, but students can often find courses in pastoral counseling in master's degree programs in psychology, counseling or pastoral care. The courses can often be completed entirely online, with students watching videos and downloading course materials at any time that suits their schedules, within certain deadlines. Although courses are often online, most programs also require field experiences that must be executed in person.

These programs take a little more than two years of full-time study to complete. Students need a bachelor's degree. While these courses are aimed at members of the clergy, others may enroll as well. The courses vary, depending on the program, but most include foundational courses, such as family dynamics, aging, and human sexuality. Students interested in pastoral counseling might take courses in family and marriage counseling, psychology and religion and the psychology of death and dying. A thesis is generally required.

Master's Degree in Pastoral Community Counseling

Online pastoral community counseling degree programs are primarily designed for clergy who want additional skills in assisting members of their congregations, but other types of counselors who want to integrate spirituality into their treatment processes may also benefit from such programs. Distance learning programs in pastoral counseling are limited, but Master of Science in Psychology programs with specializations in pastoral counseling are also available online. Online Master of Arts programs in pastoral care or counseling may also be considered. Applicants must usually hold bachelor's degrees before entrance into a program is granted.


Online pastoral counseling programs could take around 2.5 years to complete. Students access assignments, video presentations, tests and lessons through an online platform and communicate with instructors and other students through discussion boards and email. An up-to-date computer with high-speed internet access and word processing software is usually necessary to complete the curriculum requirements. Though all courses can be completed online, some programs offer internships or externships that need to be arranged by the student and completed in person.

Common Coursework

If a student is pursuing a master's degree in psychology with an emphasis in pastoral counseling, they'll be required to take core counseling and psychology classes, such as human sexuality, psychology of aging and family systems. Courses in pastoral counseling focus on pastoral counseling theory, theology and pastoral counseling ethics.

Psychology of Religion

Students explore the role of religion in the practice of therapy. Coursework covers healing models, spiritual assessment and therapeutic interventions.

Marriage and Family

The structure and function of family units are discussed. Students learn how to identify normal and dysfunctional patterns within couple and family relationships, as well as appropriate ways to intervene when there is a problem. Also explored are emotional, behavioral and communication issues within relationships.

Aging Issues

In this course, students study the psychological and biological changes that arise as a person grows older. Class assignments may include interacting with and interviewing senior citizens. Issues related to long-term care are also discussed.

Career Information

Most states say counselors must be licensed, but requirements vary. Typical requirements include a master's degree and a certain number of hours of clinical experience. Applicants must pass an exam and complete continuing education courses for renewal, in general.

Many people who are interested in pursuing pastoral counseling degrees may already work as practicing clergy or desire to. May 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that clergy members receiving pay in the U.S. at the time earned an average annual salary of $55,190 (

Depending on state licensure requirements, graduates of pastoral counseling degree programs might also be eligible for counseling careers. The employment rate in mental health counselors was predicted by the BLS to increase by 25% during the 2019-2029 decade. In 2019, the BLS found a total of 25,420 unclassified counselors working in the U.S. In May 2019, the BLS reported that mental health counselors had a mean salary of $49,950.

Continuing Education Information

Clergy who want to work as pastoral counselors will most likely need to obtain counseling licensure from their states. According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, some states offer specific pastoral counselor licenses, while others grant marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling or professional counseling licenses ( Although requirements vary by state, the BLS states that applicants generally need to complete a master's degree program in psychology or a related field, obtain supervised clinical experience, pass an exam and complete continuing education coursework annually.

Graduates of master's degree programs in pastoral counseling can gain additional skills by pursuing pastoral counseling or pastoral care post-master's certificates. These programs are usually on-campus programs.

Students can earn a master's degree in pastoral community counseling completely online, but there may be some programs that may require experiences in the field as well. Graduates of this program will have to obtain their license in their practicing state once they meet the requirements.

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