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Frequently Asked Questions About Pastoral Counseling

What is a pastoral counselor?

Certified pastoral counselors are ordained ministers who have graduated from an accredited seminary and have three or more additional years of clinical training in crisis intervention, psychological studies, and behavioral health skills. Most pastoral counselors also receive an additional master’s degree during their three or more years of clinical training. In the CareNet system, pastoral counseling remains our dominant discipline. We have added other specialists such as clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage and family therapists, substance abuse counselors, adolescent and children’s counselors, and certified clinical social workers to our professional staff. This ensures an interdisciplinary approach to treating the whole person—mind, body, and spirit.

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 does “pastoral counseling” differ from “counseling”?

Pastoral counseling is very much like the counseling that you would receive from any other counseling professional (psychotherapist, licensed social worker, psychologist), except that pastoral counselors also have been trained in issues of spirituality and faith. When counselees seek to integrate their faith and religious understanding into how they address their problems, a pastoral counselor can competently facilitate this process.

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.

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.

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 ensure that client and pastoral counselor are comfortable with each other's perspective.

What type of person becomes a pastoral counselor?

Just like in other counseling professions, there isn’t a stereotype of a pastoral counselor. All pastoral counselors believe that by integrating psychology and spirituality into the counseling experience you offer a more holistic approach to healing.

Do pastoral counselors preach to their clients?

No. Pastoral counselors respect the religious beliefs of their counselees and do not impart their religious convictions to them. Pastoral counselors help counselees use the resources of personal faith to respond to their presenting situation.

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