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Pastoral counseling is a branch of counseling in which ordained ministers, rabbis, priests and other non-ordained, lay persons provide therapy services. The therapists integrate modern psychological thought and method with traditional religious training and are able to address psychospiritual issues in addition to traditional spectrum of counseling services. "Pastoral Counseling" is differentiated from "Pastoral Care", "Christian Counseling", or "Biblical Counseling". And while Pastoral Counseling is not synonymous with pastoral care, the roots of pastoral counseling can be traced back to a type of pastoral theological education generally recognized as Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). CPE was developed by Dr. William A. Bryan and the Rev. Anton T. Boison at the Worcester State Hospital in Worcester, MA, in the 1920's.
Legitimate pastoral counseling affirms the client's own spiritual journey and faith community even though these may be different from the counselors, thus it precludes proselytizing and "evangelical" efforts to induce the client to change faith communities.
Pastoral counseling has enjoyed a long and important history (e.g., Collins, 1988;. Estadt, Blanschette, & Compton, 1983; W.R. Miller & Jackson, 1985; Wicks, Parson, & Capps, 1985). Historically, clergy have found success in integrating psychological knowledge within their role and repertoire (Richards & Bergin, 1997). According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors "an overwhelming number of Americans recognize the close link between spiritual faith, religious values and mental health, and would prefer to seek assistance from a mental health professional who recognizes and can integrate spiritual values into the course of treatment." Thus, it is important to have mental health counselors that are able to integrate the spiritual health and mental health in the course of counseling.
Only six American states license the title "Pastoral Counselor": Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Tennessee; however graduates of counselor education programs may qualify for state licensure as marriage and family therapists or as professional counselors. Currently all 50 states and the District of Columbia license professional counselors. Many pastoral counseling programs that prepare students for state licensure gain accreditation through the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP accredits master's degree programs in career counseling, college counseling, community counseling, gerontological counseling, marital,couple, and family counseling, mental health counseling, school counseling, and counselor education and supervision.
Many pastoral counselors will find their professional identity with the American Counseling Association (ACA) and/or in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC). To hold membership in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, the counselor must have post-graduate studies in both the theology of their own faith community and a second degree at a masters or doctoral level in psychotherapy, as well as 1500 hours of supervised practice. AAPC membership includes Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and many other faith communities. "Under the auspices of AAPC, pastoral counseling adheres to rigorous standards of excellence, including education and clinical training, professional certification and licensure. Typical education for the AAPC-certified pastoral counselor consists of study that leads to:
* a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university * a three-year professional degree from a seminary * a specialized masters or doctoral degree in the mental health field (American Association of Pastoral Counselors, www.aapc.org)
Thus pastoral counselors possess extensive education and training to be able to integrate spiritual and religious aspects of healing and wholeness into therapy. Pastoral counseling prepares its students for licensure in counseling and equips them to meet the religious and/or spiritual needs of the client as it relates to the therapeutic process.
In the United States pastoral counselors typically have one or more of the following degrees or credentials: a M.S or M.A. in Pastoral or Professional Counseling, D.Min, D.Th., Th.D., D.D., M.Div, MTS, S.T.D., Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor (LCPC.), Licensed Pastoral or Professional Counselor (LPC), Certified Pastoral Counselor (C.P.C.), National Certified Counselor (NCC), Master of Arts Clinical Christian Counseling (M.A.C.C.C.), Th.M. The pastoral counselor should have clinical training as part of their educational experience.
Distinctiveness of Pastoral Counseling
“What distinguishes pastoral counseling from other forms of counseling and psychotherapy is the role and accountability of the counselor and his or her understanding and expression of the pastoral relationship. Pastoral counselors are representatives of the central images of life and its meaning affirmed by their religious communities. Thus pastoral counseling offers a relationship to that understanding of life and faith. Pastoral counseling uses both psychological and theological resources to deepen its understanding of the pastoral relationship.” (Hunter, 2005)
-  American Association of Pastoral Counselors
-  American Counseling Association
-  The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs
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