Pastoral counseling is a form of psychological counseling which incorporates spirituality into therapeutic treatment. The goal of this type of psychotherapy is to address a variety of underlying psychological needs from a faith-based perspective. The United States has a very large and active pastoral counseling movement, and similar services are offered in many other regions of the world, usually in the context of Christian ministries, although pastoral counselors may be Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, or associated with any number of other faiths.
In regions where pastoral counselors are certified by professional or government organizations, they are usually fully ordained religious officiants who have also studied psychotherapy. This can require a number of years of education, with at least three years in a seminary and four to eight years obtaining professional certification as therapists. In other areas, pastoral counselor may lack specific certification and accreditation, in which case their fitness to practice as counselors may vary considerably, making it a good idea to seek out people who are licensed as counselors when looking for pastoral counselors.
The concept of pastoral counseling is a natural outgrowth of the idea that religious officiants should care for their flocks, providing support, counsel, and advice for people in all walks of life. It incorporates both deeply held religious beliefs and the latest advances in psychology so that people who seek access to counseling have the benefit of spirituality and psychotherapy in their treatment. Pastoral counselors can provide assistance to people struggling with a variety of psychological issues, including depression, stress, or crises of faith, and they can also offer services to couples and families.
Typically, people must pay for pastoral counseling services, although a sliding scale of fees may be used to ensure that counseling is accessible to everyone. Pastoral counselors may also opt to work as volunteers in locations like schools and at-risk communities to provide needed counseling services. In areas where pastoral counselors are also certified therapists, insurance companies may agree to pay for counseling, assuming that mental health services are included in a health insurance plan.
People need not necessarily belong to the church a pastoral counselor is affiliated with. Some people may opt to explore pastoral counseling because they are struggling with spiritual issues which they feel cannot be addressed by a regular counselor, whether or not they belong to a particular church or faith. Others may prefer to seek a counselor who shares their religious faith. Pastoral counselors will not generally turn clients away on the basis of faith or church attendance.