Pastoral Counselor Training Has Evolved
First, according to a task force established by AAPC in the 1990s, the most distinguishing feature of pastoral counselors is how we are formed and trained with its emphasis on theological, spiritual, and religious education (Marshall, 2015).
When AAPC was first formed in 1964 to provide training, accountability, ethical standards and camaraderie in the emerging field of pastoral counseling, membership standards were established. At that time, not only were most pastoral counselors Christian, but they were either ordained or endorsed by their religious body.
As the discipline and its practitioners evolved, membership standards changed. Today, some pastoral counselors are priests, pastors, rabbis, or imams, practicing as representatives of their specific tradition or denomination, while others are members of religious tradition and others still are “nones,” or the “spiritual but not religious.” Mental health professionals who are trained as social workers, marriage and family therapists, counselors, and psychologists alike are engaging in spiritually-integrated practice. AAPC welcomes these professionals to the association, and simultaneously endorses the distinctive training that many pastoral counselors possess given their education in theology, spirituality and religion as well as psychology and the behavioral sciences.
Utilizing Evidence-Based Therapeutic Methods
Second, there is a growing body of research demonstrating the efficacy of spiritually-integrated mental health care, a practice that has existed for millennia as religious communities sought to provide support and healing to individuals, families, and communities. Religious leaders have listened intently to personal problems and developed counseling responses, grounded in the wisdom of their particular religious tradition, to assist those who suffer from mental and emotional illness and relational difficulties. Pastoral counseling as we know it today is truly a 20th century phenomenon that is “anchored in ancient Hebrew and Christian understandings of care” (Townsend, 2015, p. 17).
In the early 1900s, a specialized practice of soul care emerged due in large part to the influence of psychology. Although psychology had historically been antagonistic toward religion (i.e., Sigmund Freud; John Watson; and Albert Ellis), by the end of the 20th century, the study and practice of spiritually-integrated counseling and psychotherapy gained grater prevalence and acceptance.
Today, rigorous research methods are used to demonstrate the effectiveness of pastoral counseling and spiritually-integrated mental health care. Pastoral counselors are urged to ground their counseling theories and practices in evidence-based methods and to contribute to the growing body of research.
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For more information on the history, the practice, and the future of pastoral counseling, references and suggested resources are listed below.
References and Suggested Resources