Spiritual Counselor & Therapist
Counseling Schools Search
Spiritual counseling is a therapeutic approach that seeks to integrate the body, mind, and spirit to achieve inner peace and harmonious balance. This mode of counseling goes beyond traditional methods, focusing on the psychological aspect and delving deep into spiritual beliefs and values. It aids in fostering self-awareness and aligning life following spiritual convictions.
People may seek spiritual counseling for various reasons, including feeling disconnected, lost, or lacking purpose in life. Navigating life’s challenges can stir up spiritual questions or crises that traditional therapy may not fully address. Spiritual counselors, such as chaplains, pastoral counselors, or spiritual life coaches, are trained professionals who can guide individuals through these spiritual journeys.
Spiritual counselors aren’t confined to a single stereotype but rather from various backgrounds and follow various spiritual or religious paths. While some spiritual counselors align their practice to a single spiritual or religious tradition, such as Christianity or Buddhism, others adopt an interfaith approach, integrating elements from multiple spiritual traditions. At the core of their belief system, regardless of their particular path, is the conviction in a divine presence that binds us all together and connects us to the universe.
To provide therapeutic counseling, diagnose disorders, and write treatment plans, spiritual counselors must obtain at least a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, divinity, or theology from an accredited institution. After completing their education and training program, aspiring spiritual counselors must obtain state licensure to practice as licensed therapists, which typically includes passing an exam and completing supervised counseling hours. Some states even have a pastoral counseling license.
Spiritual life coaches, however, do not diagnose or treat mental health disorders, unlike licensed mental health counselors who incorporate spiritual aspects into their practice. Clients need to understand this distinction when seeking help for their spiritual journey. A spiritual life coach can be an ideal resource for deepening their spiritual awareness. In contrast, a licensed spiritual counselor can offer therapeutic help for those dealing with mental health issues in tandem with spiritual concerns.
Keep reading to discover the steps involved in becoming a spiritual counselor, starting from the required academic qualifications to the necessary licensure and certification processes
How to Become a Spiritual Counselor
The path to becoming a spiritual counselor varies based on the type of services they will ultimately provide. To provide therapeutic services, make a diagnosis, and craft treatment plans, a spiritual counselor needs to be licensed.
To obtain a license, they first need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology, counseling, or religious studies, followed by a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, divinity, or theology. Students should ensure the program is accredited and meets licensing requirements in their state. A master’s program will include an internship or practicum that provides hands-on counseling experience. Post-graduation, they must complete a set amount of supervised counseling hours and pass a state licensing exam to become a licensed spiritual counselor.
Meanwhile, spiritual life coaches often don’t need such comprehensive formal education or licensing. They provide guidance and advice to help clients establish and achieve personal and professional goals, incorporating spirituality as a tool for empowerment and transformation. They might take courses in spiritual traditions, meditation techniques, energy healing, and positive psychology or study specific spiritual modalities or traditions to specialize in, such as Buddhism, Kabbalah, Sufism, Christian mysticism, or Shamanic practices.
Education of a Spiritual Counselor
Spiritual counselors who are licensed mental health counselors must complete extensive edcuation before starting their career. It begins with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, or religious studies. Next, they must complete a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, divinity, or theology from an accredited institution. These programs delve into human development, ethics, counseling techniques, spirituality, and more.
While students can complete a general counseling degree, there are programs that offer a spiritual emphasis, such as the master’s of arts in mental health counseling and spiritual integration from Fordham University. Students in this program will take typical counseling classes and courses in pastoral care and spiritual counseling.
Master’s degree programs will also require practical experience through internships or practicums that serve as stepping stones into professional counseling. Post-graduation, individuals must complete a specific number of supervised counseling hours, typically ranging from 2,000 to 4,000. This practical experience is mandatory for gaining licensure and typically takes two to three years to complete.
Students should ensure the program they complete is accredited and approved for licensure in their state. The most common accrediting bodies are the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
Some spiritual counselors may choose to pursue further education in the form of a doctorate in psychology (PsyD) or a PhD in psychology or counseling. These programs provide further in-depth study into specific areas of psychology and counseling and can open doors to additional career opportunities, such as teaching, research, or advanced practice.
Supervised Hour Requirements for a Spiritual Counselor
After completing their education, prospective spiritual counselors who are pursuing licenses are required to accumulate a certain number of supervised clinical hours. The required hours will vary by state but typically between 2,000 to 4,000. While working under supervision, spiritual counselors will gain real-world experience under the guidance of a licensed professional, honing their counseling skills and applying theoretical knowledge in practice. Most supervised work hours are completed within two to three years.
Licensure of a Spiritual Counselor
Spiritual counselors who diagnose, write treatment plans, provide psychotherapy services, or discharge patients must be licensed to practice as licensed mental health counselors in all 50 states. Spiritual counselors who coach or offer life advice and don’t provide any of the previously listed services may not need to be licensed. However, they should contact their local counseling board to ensure they are practicing within their state’s laws and regulations.
Licensing requirements vary by state, but applicants generally must hold a master’s degree or higher in counseling or a related field. The program must be accredited or approved and include a practicum and internship.
Prospective counselors must also pass a standardized exam such as the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) or Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC). All states also required supervised clinical hours after completing a master’s degree. Other requirements for licensure may include passing a background check, providing proof of right to work in the US, and completing continuing education on specific topics like ethics, HIV, or suicide.
Licensing for counselors in most states is a stair-stepped process. Graduates will first earn an associate, intern, or initial license they will hold while completing their supervised work hours. Then, after completing their hours and any other requirements, they may apply for an unrestricted license and practice independently.
Spiritual Counselor Licensure Renewal Requirements
Maintaining licensure as a spiritual counselor necessitates ongoing professional development and adherence to renewal requirements, which differ by state. Typically, renewal is required every one to two years and involves completing a certain number of continuing education units (CEUs) to ensure counselors stay updated with the latest practices and research in their field. These may involve attending workshops, seminars, or courses, publishing articles, or delivering presentations at professional conferences. For example, in Maryland, licensed counselors must complete 40 hours of CEUs every two years.
What Do Spiritual Counselors Do?
Spiritual counselors work in diverse settings, including private practice, healthcare institutions, rehabilitation centers, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, faith-based entities, and community outreach programs. The day-to-day duties will vary based on the type of spiritual counseling provided and the place of employment but can typically include:
- Offering guidance to individuals, helping them explore their spirituality and its impact on their lives.
- Supporting clients in dealing with emotional and mental health issues from a spiritual perspective.
- Assisting clients in defining and achieving their spiritual goals, including developing mindfulness, cultivating inner peace, or strengthening a connection with a higher power.
- Using therapeutic techniques incorporating spiritual beliefs and practices, such as meditation, prayer, or mindfulness exercises.
- Listening empathetically to clients’ concerns and challenges, providing a safe and non-judgmental space for expression.
- Helping clients identify and overcome spiritual blocks or issues that may contribute to their difficulties.
- Working with clients going through life transitions, grief, or existential crises, providing spiritual support and insight.
- Providing clients with resources and tools to foster personal growth and spiritual development.
- Facilitating group sessions or workshops on spiritual topics or practices.
- Maintaining confidentiality and following ethical guidelines in their practice, respecting clients’ diverse beliefs and experiences.
How Much Do Spiritual Counselors Make?
Earnings for spiritual counselors can vary extensively based on factors such as their employment setting and the presence or absence of a license. The following is the income data for roles encompassing spiritual counselors, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2022—the latest data available as of December 2023.
- Number employed in the U.S.: 2,313,620
- Average annual salary (mean): $55,760
- 10th percentile: $32,360
- 25th percentile: $38,840
- 50th percentile (median): $49,380
- 75th percentile: $64,750
- 90th percentile: $83,600
- Number employed in the U.S.: 344,970
- Average annual salary (mean): $56,230
- 10th percentile: $34,580
- 25th percentile: $39,810
- 50th percentile (median): $49,710
- 75th percentile: $64,400
- 90th percentile: $82,710
Spiritual Counselor Professional Associations & Resources
- Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE)
- Association for Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC)
- The International Center for Reiki Training (ICRT)
- The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM)
- The Association for Transpersonal Psychology (ATP)
- International Association of Christian Counselors
- Association of Biblical Counselors