Pastoral Counseling: Spirituality and Psychotherapy

You may be…

  • Grieving a loss
  • Trying to cope with an illness
  • Having problems with your teenager
  • Tired from caring for an aging parent
  • Going through a crisis or major life change

Life is full of worries and problems. They affect our emotions and faith. We may not know how to cope or where to get help.

Some people seek help from therapists. Examples are psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Others look for spiritual help. What about those who want spiritual help and psychotherapy? The answer may be pastoral counseling.

What Is Pastoral Counseling?

Pastoral counseling is a special type of counseling. It addresses a patient's healing and growth. But it uses spiritual and psychological methods. Problems are addressed in terms of faith, meaning and purpose. Psychotherapy is also used.

Religion and psychotherapy were first linked in the 1930s. Two men helped this to happen. One was the famous minister, Norman Vincent Peale. The other was Smiley Blanton, a psychiatrist. Over the years, it evolved to pastoral counseling.

Who Are Pastoral Counselors?

Pastoral counselors are certified mental health professionals. They have training in psychology and theology or religion. Those who are ACPE certified have master's or doctoral degrees.

Pastoral counselors go through a lot of clinical training. They also have supervised clinical experience.

Pastoral counselors are like other mental health counselors. They work with many problems. It depends on their training. For example, some may offer marriage and family therapy. Others work with addiction, grief, and serious mental illnesses. They provide short- and long-term counseling. They may also offer programs such as:

  • Preparing for marriage
  • Adjusting to divorce
  • Coping with loss and grief

Pastoral counselors may work in:

  • Health clinics
  • State hospitals
  • Private and group practices
  • Faith-based centers
  • Church or synagogue offices
  • Pastoral counseling centers

How Do You Find a Pastoral Counselor?

Pastoral counselors are from many faith groups. But people from any faith (or no faith) can see one.

To find a pastoral counselor:

  • Ask someone you trust—such as a friend, faith leader, or doctor
  • Interview the counselor—find one you are comfortable with
  • Check online resources

What About Fees and Insurance?

Some pastoral counselors are covered by insurance. Others are not. It depends on the state and state licensing. Others may offer sliding scale or reduced fees. Some work from churches and faith centers. These sometimes cost less.

Should You Try Pastoral Counseling?

Pastoral counseling has added benefits as a mental health option. Some feel that it offers more depth and meaning. However, many people do not try it. Some fear they would be pushed on a certain spiritual path. They worry that the counselor has a different faith. However, most pastoral counselors do not force their religious views. Instead, they help people explore and make their own decisions. Those who do use a certain faith will usually tell you. Ask about the counselor's views up front. If there is a poor match, find a different counselor.


The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education

National Board for Certified Pastoral Counselors


Canadian Association for Spiritual Care

Canadian Psychological Association


Mode of therapy: pastoral counseling. Careers in Psychology.Org website. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2021

Pastoral counseling. Good Therapy website. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2021.

Spiritual care: providing to children and their families. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2021

What is clinical pastoral education? The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education website. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2021.

Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 6/24/2021