A Career in Christian Counseling: Pros and Cons
Christian counselors are professional counselors who may provide counseling services inside or outside the church. Clergy members may also work as counselors, but they provide spiritual guidance rather than clinical services. Continue reading to get some pros and cons if you are considering a career as a Christian counselor.
|Pros of Being a Christian Counselor|
|Excellent job prospects for clergy (6% increase in employment expected from 2014-2024)*|
|Clergy members may provide spiritual counseling without a state license**|
|Share your spiritual beliefs while helping others overcome difficult problems*|
|Self-employment is possible*|
|Cons of Being a Christian Counselor|
|Counselors outside of the clergy must hold a master's degree*|
|A state license is required*|
|Relatively low pay ($43,950 mean wage in 2014)*|
|Evening and weekend work may be required*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Multiple state regulations.
Job Descriptions and Skills
A Christian counselor is a spiritual counselor who can recommend ways to face issues and handle emotions that come from marital and family issues, bad habits, poor decision making, depression, addiction and loss. The job duties you may perform as a Christian counselor will be dependent on whether you solely provide professional counseling services or work as a minister, pastor or other member of the clergy. In addition to conducting Sunday services and organizing activities at a church, members of the clergy also meet with members of their congregation and offer spiritual advice while helping them work through problems. Counselors who exclusively provide mental health counseling services utilize scientific research and psychological techniques to find appropriate treatment methods while being guided by the teachings of Christianity.
In order to provide effective Christian counseling, you must possess a high degree of compassion, demonstrate strong listening skills, control your emotions and exude confidence in your counseling knowledge and Christian beliefs.
Salary and Employment Outlook
In 2014, licensed professional mental health counselors earned a mean salary of around $43,990, while the mean wage for members of the clergy was estimated to be $43,950, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While jobs for members of the clergy were expected to increase 6% from 2014-2024, jobs for mental health counselors were expected to increase 20% during the same time period.
Education requirements for members of the clergy who perform counseling services will vary by religious institution and employer. Some employers prefer to hire ministers and pastors with a religious degree from a seminary or divinity school, while other churches may not require a degree. To be licensed and hired as a professional Christian counselor, you will need to earn a master's degree from an accredited counseling or family therapy program. Master's degree programs in Christian counseling will not only prepare you to take licensing examinations, but also provide studies in biblical and theological topics, in addition to psychology and counseling practices. You'll be required to complete supervised clinical training while enrolled in the program.
To work as a mental health counselor, you'll be required to obtain a license from the state where you plan to work. Members of the clergy are usually exempt from these requirements. In addition to earning a master's degree, you'll need to complete several thousand hours of clinical work and pass a state exam. Clinical requirements can often be fulfilled through a master's degree program; however, requirements vary by state. You'll also need to take continuing education courses to keep the license current.
What Are Employers Looking for?
Churches who advertise postings for Christian counselors or spiritual counselors require varying degrees of education and experience. A master's degree in counseling is usually required, but some church positions may only require education from a school granting religious degrees. Read the following job postings, posted in May of 2012, to discover what actual employers are looking for.
- A hospice in Kentucky is hiring a spiritual counselor with knowledge of current bereavement care and counseling theories. Candidates must hold a degree from a seminary or divinity school. A master's degree is preferred.
- A church in Ohio is looking for a Christian counselor to provide counseling services to individuals seeking treatment for parental, marital and teen issues; grief; and addiction. Applicants need a state license, a master's degree and two or more years of related experience.
- A counseling center in Indiana is searching for a pastoral counselor to treat clients from a spiritual perspective. State licensure is required, and unordained applicants are encouraged to apply.
How to Get an Edge in the Field
Professional mental health counselors who desire to implement Christian theology into their treatment methods will need to strengthen their knowledge of the Bible and other religious texts. Taking religious education courses could be beneficial. Members of the clergy who want to gain a better understanding of psychological issues might gain some insight from enrolling in psychology and therapeutic technique classes.
By joining the American Association of Christian Counselors or a professional Christian counseling organization, you'll have the opportunity to network with other counselors, receive news and valuable information about developments in the field and locate resources to help you provide more effective care for your clients. You also have the option of pursuing a certificate in Christian counseling from a college or university. Courses generally focus on the use of scripture in therapy, basic counseling techniques and the study of human behavior. These programs usually require the completion of undergraduate prerequisites before admittance.
Other Fields to Consider
Social and Human Service Assistant
If you have a strong desire to help others but are intimidated by the education and licensing required to work as a professional counselor, you could consider becoming a social or human service assistant. You would assist individuals of varying needs by providing them with information about social programs, legal resources and health care. Social and human service assistants work alongside professional counselors and psychologists and help implement client care plans.
You may need a certificate or an associate degree in a behavioral or social science, human services or gerontology; however, a high school diploma might be sufficient for some positions. The BLS predicted a 28% increase in jobs this field from 2010-2020, and the mean pay was around $31,000 in 2011.
Although some job duties may be similar to those of counselors, psychologists can implement more complex treatment plans and often use scientific methods to diagnose mental health issues. To become a psychologist, you typically would need a doctorate in psychology and a state license.
The BLS reports that jobs for psychologists were expected to grow 22% from 2010-2020. In 2011, clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned a mean salary of over $73,000.