Spiritual counselors help people along their path to spiritual growth. The objective can include finding a life purpose, overcoming obstacles, and putting pain and grief into perspective. The path doesn’t look the same for everyone, so it’s no surprise that there are spiritual counselors representing different concepts of spirituality, including Christianity and New Age belief systems. Like other counselors, spiritual counselors do a lot of listening. They may also employ other modalities. One thing that traditional counselors don't do as part of the job: pray.
Spiritual counseling is one of several career options that integrate religion or spirituality with psychosocial care and guidance. The term 'pastoral counselor' is often reserved for individuals who have been ordained as ministers and have also pursued graduate level education in counseling. This entails a lot of education -- and typically a doctoral degree. Several states license the pastoral counseling profession. This licensing is for ministers who receive payment for counseling services. Individuals who go this route are prepared to provide a full range of counseling services to individuals at all stages of life; they may even be qualified to treat serious mental illness.
The term spiritual counselor is sometimes used more broadly. Spiritual counselors may or may not have a graduate level education. Their scope of duty is general more limited. It may be more focused, however – focused on particular aspects of spiritual development.
Spiritual counseling and mental health counseling is not necessarily an either-or proposition. Some licensed counselors do seek additional training to incorporate spirituality and religion into their work, for example, teaching clients to use meditation as a strategy for rising to challenges.
It's important to note that counselors are subject to the laws of their own state. If an individual is licensed, methodologies employed must be within the allowable scope of duty. And if one isn’t licensed? All states regulate the counseling profession. However, they may allow individuals from many backgrounds to perform some counseling-related duties provided they don't overstep their scope of duty use a job title that would mislead the public.
It is helpful to have formal education in a related field, be it health care, human services, or religion. Being on a personal spiritual path is of course also important. There are many courses in spiritual counseling -- some online -- but it's important to be a cautious consumer.
Capella University offers three online CACREP - accredited Master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy and School Counseling. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.
Voluntary certifications are one way of documenting to the public that you have a high level of training and accountability. Spiritual counselors can seek certification through the American Institute of Health Care Professionals. You do have to have some prerequisites in place before you can seek certification, but there are multiple eligibility paths. Being an RN qualifies you; the same goes for a number of other health professions. Certification as an addiction counselor or stress management consultant is another pathway. Still another is having a bachelor's in psychology. If you work in a chaplain ministry under someone else's direction and guidance, you may also be eligible.
Once you have demonstrated eligibility, you can enroll in a series of continuing education courses. There is one track for spiritual counseling and another for spiritual counseling within a Christian framework. The Christian track includes concepts like providing spiritual mentoring and offering pastoral care to the dying. The general track includes chakras and energy.
Your initial certification is good for three years.
The salary that a spiritual counselor can command will depend in part on primary credentialing. The average salary for a master’s level mental health counselor was $38,150 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.