Religious Counseling Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Class Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in Religious Counseling can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your religious counseling degree.
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Studying Religious Counseling: Degrees at a Glance

A graduate degree in religious counseling consists of studying counseling theory and techniques as well as theology. A graduate degree in this field will allow you to work in the mental health field in various capacities. You will be prepared to work in private practice, church based counseling, or as a counseling professor. A master's degree is required to practice in either a private or public practice, while a PhD is required to teach counseling at the university level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the counseling field is expected to grow 22% between 2010 and 2020. PhDs with applied specialties or school counseling credentials are more likely to find work than master's degree holders. Keep in mind that these degrees are normally acquired at a religious institution and have both theology and Bible classes as requirements. The degree you receive from these institutions can narrow your career possibilities.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working as private or public counselors or individuals interested in working in school counseling People who want to work in academia as professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - School and Career Counselors ($57,000)*
- Rehabilitation Counselors ($37,000)*
- University Professor ($75,000)*
- Clinical Psychologist ($73,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - 40 hours of Counseling Courses
- A year-long counseling internship
- 4 hours of electives
- Comprehensive exams
- Differing requirements of theology
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, plus:
- Roughly 4-6 more graduate level courses
- Field Training
- Dissertation
- Internship
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in any field Bachelor's or master's degree in any field
Online Availability Only some classes None at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Religious Counseling

Master's degree classes are smaller than undergraduate classes and are considerably more work. The expectation is that you are either full time or able to spend 2-3 hours per hour in class on reading and assignments. Class size is smaller, and professors usually more accessible, but more knowledge is assumed at this level. High quality writing and comprehension in reading are expected.

Counseling programs consist of the following: an introduction to classic and contemporary methodologies; specific classes in areas of concentration such as substance abuse, family systems, play therapy, and trauma and abuse; theology courses; and a practicum and/or internship, which is supervised by one or more licensed practitioners.

Many students go on from a master's degree in religious counseling to get a PhD but if that is not desired, lifelong learning through continued education is mandatory in most states and for best practice. In order to practice legally outside of a church within a given state, you must make sure that the program you choose to attend is a full-licensure program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You will be prepared for work in religious or secular capacities
  • You will have a variety of methodologies to choose from as you fine-tune your style
  • You will have knowledge of numerous personality assessments to use in therapy
  • You will have the ability to choose from many concentrations as a therapist
  • You will have a theological understanding in approaching mental health

Cons

  • The market can be flooded in many big cities unless you are willing to work in social services or rural areas
  • Specialization might be required for work locations, and you may not have taken enough credits in any one area
  • Tuition is expensive, and funding is usually hard to find
  • Dependent upon the chosen program, you may not be a licensed counselor upon graduation

Common Courses and Requirements

Course requirements for the master's degree are usually comprised of 48 credit hours, which are taken over the course of two years. You will spend 40 of these hours on both counseling and theology courses, four of these hours on counseling internships, and four of these hours on electives.

Examples of courses you might take at the master's degree level:

  • Theology
  • Interviewing
  • Group therapy
  • Statistics
  • Trauma and abuse
  • Marriage and family
  • Play therapy

In addition to the required coursework, you might also need to complete a research project or thesis and/or pass a comprehensive exam.

Online Options

There are no online options for religious counseling degrees at this time due to the nature of counseling as a profession and the need to be supervised by a professionally licensed therapist. Some courses might be available but it would be difficult to complete a degree remotely. Many counseling courses involve working in groups or with a partner, so that you will have the opportunity to practice your developing counseling skills. Without personal interactions and group discussions, a religious counseling degree would be difficult to complete.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

When starting a master's degree in religious counseling it is best to think ahead as to what sort of client you would like work with upon graduation. You will expedite your entry into the field by choosing classes, clients, and internships that align with your future goals.

For example, if you want to work with children, then take classes like play therapy or family systems. It is also a good idea to let your supervisor know that you would prefer to have as many children as clients as possible throughout the duration of your practicum. When seeking an internship, be sure to look in either a school or a practice that has a need you could potentially fill upon graduation.

PhD in Religious Counseling

A PhD in Religious Counseling aims to take you to new levels of practice in helping you assess more fully, use innovative practices with clients, and get published for the research you do as you become more specialized in your desired area of therapy.

A PhD in Religious Counseling prepares you to work as a counselor educator, supervisor, or an advanced practitioner in both academic and clinical settings. Depending on the environment that you would like to work in, you need to be aware of the accreditations offered at your school of choice. Most often, the choice is between becoming a licensed counselor in order to practice in either a religious or secular setting or focusing more on psycho-theology in order to work solely within a church.

You should expect a PhD in Religious Counseling program to take at least five years, which include a year of practicum, a year of assessment training, and a year of internship.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You will be prepared to both work and teach at the university level
  • You will have more experience as both a practitioner and theorist
  • You will potentially become a fully licensed practitioner (dependent upon the program)
  • You will be prepared to be a leader within your chosen field

Cons

  • Dependent upon the chosen program, you may not be a licensed practitioner
  • The theological positions of your program might hinder your job options after graduation
  • Very few programs are CACREP certified (Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs)
  • You may not choose to work within a church for the duration of your career, requiring further education or accreditation after time in practice

Common Courses and Requirements

Most PhD programs require that you have finished your master's degree; however, some programs have a joint masters and PhD program. These programs are typically five-six years in length. If you have finished your master's degree before applying to a PhD program, then you can typically finish in four years. You will take another 45 credits in both academic courses and clinical training. Outside of the core curriculum, you will also choose an advanced concentration of at least 12 credits. You will also have to complete a doctoral dissertation.

Examples of courses you might take at the PhD level:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Group leadership
  • Research methods
  • Psychospiritual issues in pastoral counseling
  • Teaching assistantships and mentorships

Online Options

Online PhD programs are very unusual. Any programs that you encounter online may not be accredited, so research any options you encounter carefully. If you are planning on working at the university level upon receiving your PhD, then it is beneficial to pursue your degree through a typical brick-and-mortar program. This will allow you to both access your program's resources and to network for potential placements upon graduation.

Stand Out with this Degree

Always make sure to plan ahead with your PhD. You need to know where you would like to both live and work, as well as what area of both practice and research you would like to specialize in. So much of what you do throughout your degree is preparing you for life upon graduation. When writing papers in class, make sure to choose topics that you would be interested in either researching further or submitting for publication. You will also want to be prepared for life after graduation by consistently reading psychological journals. This will allow you to remain on the cutting edge in your particular field.

Other Degrees to Consider

It is extremely important to consider what type of accreditation you will be receiving upon graduation. Accredited schools are accredited either through the American Psychological Association or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs. If you want to work outside of a church in any sort of professional-clinical capacity, then it is paramount that you graduate from an accredited school and pass your state's psychological accrediting exams.

For example, you might choose to pursue a PsyD in Clinical Psychology rather than a PhD in Religious Counseling. A PsyD would allow you to practice as a fully licensed psychologist. PsyD programs typically consist of 135 credits comprising both a core curriculum and clinical training. You will have to complete a dissertation, a clinical competency exam, an internship, and, in some programs, a departmental mentorship.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy - Child and Adolescent Family Therapy
      • Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy - LGBTQ Couple and Family Therapy
      • Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy with Military Families
      • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
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    2. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    4. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSEd - Mental Health Counseling
      • MBA Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    5. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master in Christian Counseling
      • Master in Christian Counseling of Substance Use & Addictive Disorders
      • MS in Professional Counseling
      • MS in Addiction Counseling
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Grief and Bereavement
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Prevention
  • Online Programs Available
    8. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Deerfield Beach, FL

    South Florida Bible College and Theological Seminary

  • Kansas City, MO

    Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy - Child and Adolescent Family Therapy

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • MS - Healthcare Management
  • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management

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University of the Southwest

  • MSEd - Mental Health Counseling
  • MBA Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin

Are you a US citizen?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • Master in Christian Counseling
  • Master in Christian Counseling of Substance Use & Addictive Disorders
  • MS in Professional Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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