Pastoral counselors are ordained clergy who provide spiritual guidance and support for people dealing with emotional turmoil or trauma. Members of the clergy involved in pastoral counseling can seek professional certification in the field. Typically, the certification is voluntary, though some churches and other employers of pastoral counselors may prefer applicants who hold a credential. Certification is available through four major organizations in the United States.
American Association of Pastoral Counselors
The American Association of Pastoral Counselors awards the certified pastoral counselor credential to qualified clergy. Candidates must have a minimum of Bachelor of Arts and either a master's or doctoral degree in divinity or pastoral counseling to qualify. Candidates must have received their academic training from a school accredited through an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The AAPC also requires candidates to have at least three years of experience in ministry and a minimum of 375 hours of pastoral counseling experience. At least 125 hours of this experience must have been performed while supervised by an affiliate of the AAPC.
National Christian Counselors Association
The National Christian Counselors Association offers the Christian Pastoral Counseling credential. To qualify for the certification, candidates need only a high school diploma or GED. Prospective counselors then complete a three-year training program through the NCCA. The program is geared toward distance education, with candidates learning through workbooks and textbooks. An internship is included in the requirements for the program. Upon completing the training, candidates pass an examination to receive their certification through the NCCA.
National Board for Certified Pastoral Counselors
The National Board for Certified Pastoral Counselors offers three levels of certification for pastoral counselors. Each level of certification involves passing an examination. The National Certified Pastoral Counselor I credentials is for candidates with an associate or bachelor's degrees and 100 hours of counseling experience. For the NCPC II level, counselors need a minimum of a master's degree in pastoral counseling, divinity, social work or a related field as well as 500 hours of work experience. The NCPC III credential involves a doctorate degree in the fields acceptable for the Level II certification as well as 1,000 hours of work experience.
American Association of Christian Therapists
The American Association of Christian Therapists offers three levels of certification for pastoral counselors. The entry-level certification is for candidates with a bachelor's degree or those who complete a training program offered by the AACT. Master's and doctoral-level certifications are also offered for candidates who hold degrees at those respective levels. The AACT does not require pastoral counselors to meet experience requirements or pass any examinations to gain certification. Payment of a certification fee and continued membership in the AACT are mandatory.