Top 5 Best Online Doctor of Pastoral Counseling Degrees

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Updated: March 13, 2024, Reading time: 12 minutes

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Many people today are having trouble dealing with their mental and spiritual health, and often, simple therapy or mental health counseling is not enough. As a result, clinical pastoral counseling has become valuable in the mental health field. Pastoral counselors have received specialized training in holistic patient care, which acknowledges the interdependence of the body, mind, and spirit.

Some pastoral counseling programs have adopted the online educational model in response to demand. Because most students obtaining a doctoral degree are in practice, plenty of theological schools have shifted to online, if not a hybrid, learning format. Numerous programs allow individuals to receive their pastoral counselor education while avoiding the need to attend a traditional university.

Quick audio summary:


An online pastoral counseling program links psychology with religious beliefs and prepares students for the profession in the church or private practice. Graduates of pastoral counseling programs assist people with behavioral health difficulties, but many have chosen to focus on family counseling or community care. 


A Doctor of Pastoral Counseling online program is ideal for people who desire to utilize faith to better other’s lives and support people along their life’s path. With this training, graduates can advance in various fascinating pastoral care and counseling to singles, couples, families, and groups and become key players in creating a wonderful community of faith.

Each recommended online doctoral degree in Pastoral Counseling on our list offers these features:

Please read our Methodology page for an in-depth look into our doctoral program and university ranking process.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

The Top 5 Online Doctor of Pastoral Counseling Programs

Liberty University

Liberty University - Online
Doctor of Ministry Program in Pastoral Counseling

Liberty University offers a fully online Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Counseling. Students are required to complete 30 credit hours of coursework, including core courses and final thesis projects, that will improve a student’s academic research and writing skills. The online pastoral counseling courses will give students a broad education that will enable them to address various contemporary issues.

Prospective doctoral students must hold a master’s degree in pastoral counseling or any closely related degree with a 3.0 GPA. Prerequisites include at least 18 graduate hours of Bible/Theology or ministry-related courses.

In addition to helping you develop vital counseling skills for your particular ministry, this program is intended to build on your previous ministry experience in support of Christian counseling and pastoral care. The career-specific training and biblical counseling methods in this pastoral counseling doctoral degree can help you arm yourself with valuable tools for various ministry settings if you wish to expand into a Christian counseling role.

Regent University

Regent University
Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies – Pastoral Counseling

Regent University offers a fully online Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies – Pastoral Counseling degree program. Students should complete 51 credit hours, including lectures about several relevant areas, including marriage and family, substance abuse, and crisis counseling. While courses are taught via online learning, students are advised to participate in 150 hours of on-site experience to help them apply what they’ve learned throughout the degree program.

Applicants should hold a master’s degree in pastoral counseling or any mental health-related field, such as psychology, counseling, or social work, with a 3.5 GPA. Applicants with at least one year of mental health practice will likely be admitted to the program.

Regent’s online pastoral counseling program offers nine concentrations: Addictions Counseling, Biblical Counseling, Grief Counseling, Human Services Counseling, Human Services for Student Affairs, International, Life Coaching, Marriage & Family Ministry, and Trauma & Crisis Counseling. Students can choose up to three concentrations to fully customize their pastoral counseling degrees.

Atlantic Coast Theological Seminary

Atlantic Coast Theological Seminary
Online Doctor of Pastoral Counseling

The Atlantic Coast Theological Seminary offers a Doctor of Pastoral Counseling that is available in a hybrid learning format. Students should complete four core courses and four elective courses, which are highly customizable to meet student academic and career goals. Because this degree is designed for practicing counselors, students can create their own course sequences and participate in asynchronous online lectures.

Applicants must hold a master’s degree in a theological or ministry-related discipline, such as Christian Leadership and Christian Ministry. Students without prior education related to theology can also apply to the program under one condition. They must complete the Graduate Study Preparation Module, a thorough review and analytical study of the Old and New Testaments.

In addition to online lectures, students are encouraged to participate in a hands-on learning experience and work alongside certified pastoral counselors with years of experience. This opportunity will help students gain more expertise and the field and become more confident in their practice.

Neumann University

Neumann University
Online Ph.D. in Pastoral Counseling

Neumann University offers a Ph.D. in Pastoral Counseling in a hybrid learning format. Students must complete 72 semester credits that combine their clinical expertise, counseling abilities, and mental health research skills. Students use web-assisted programs and practical and research applications to complete tasks between classes.

Neumann has one of the most diverse student bodies, admitting students of any national or ethnic origin. Applicants must hold a master’s degree in a counseling-related field. Additionally, the program has established a seven-year time frame for accepting transfer credit from a regionally accredited and degree-granting institution with a minimum grade of “B.”

Courses that concentrate on the development of the human person from Franciscan ideals and their consequences on the pastoral identity and clinical competence of the counselor are combined with distinctive Franciscan virtues, traditions, and theology.

Washington University of Virginia

Washington University of Virginia
Online Doctor Of Clinical Pastoral Counseling

Washington University of Virginia offers a Doctor of Clinical Pastoral Counseling best suited for students seeking an on-campus degree. Students must complete 42 credit hours on top of a quantitative or qualitative dissertation, a candidacy exam, and 8 semester credits of internship credit. While classes are held on campus, working students can choose to customize their course schedules to avoid conflicts with their obligations.

Applicants must hold a Master’s in Counseling or other religious degrees. While the program does not discriminate against race or ethnicity, students who are not fluent in Korean should not enroll in classes wherein the Korean language is used.

Because classes are held on campus, students can meet and work with pastoral counselors who have been in practice for quite some time. This opportunity gives students valuable work experience to help them succeed as pastoral counseling candidates.

Online Doctor of Pastoral Counseling Common Courses

Integration of Theology and Psychology

Because these courses offer a systematic overview of Christian doctrines, a discussion of various theological perspectives regarding those doctrines, and an investigation of the relationships between psychological and theological concepts, the integration of theology and psychology is crucial to the degree. The same subject may be covered in a course with a different name, such as Religious and Psychological Research.

Applied Research Methods (Qualitative and Quantitative)

Applied Research Methods covers a variety of clinical research techniques. This course will be found in the majority of pastoral counseling programs due to the field’s requirement for research and analysis on particular subjects. This is crucial for organizing the upcoming dissertation.

Cognitive Theory/Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

Students will gain knowledge of various methods used in cognitive treatment through cognitive theory and cognitive-behavioral therapy. These courses put forth the idea that our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and conduct are all intertwined and that our actions and beliefs impact our emotions. Mental health counselors are required to have a thorough understanding of this subject.

Essential Skills in Pastoral Counseling

Genuine Interest in Others

To become a successful pastoral counselor, one must have a genuine interest in helping other people heal their minds, spirit, and body. You must be committed to creating a deep human connection regardless of the other person’s problems. 


A good pastoral counselor understands that examining oneself is just as crucial as paying close attention to others. Regardless of their knowledge and faith, pastoral counselors are powerless over their own thoughts and feelings, which may control their behavior toward the client, if they cannot recognize these thoughts and feelings or the impact of their attitudes in each scenario.

Pastoral counselors need to be able to think critically and conceptualize the client in theoretical and religious terms and display strong academic abilities. 


A pastoral counselor must pay attention to the client’s specific context and what is being said, how it is being expressed, and why it is being said. Consider the delivery, substance, and context. In other words, a pastoral counselor must be able to listen “between the lines” for what isn’t being spoken. 

Most significantly, a pastoral counselor should be able to listen without passing judgment or making any conclusions. Clients will come to you with challenging and complex concerns and need to feel comfortable speaking openly and without fear of embarrassment or feeling as though their counselor has made assumptions.

Approachable and Empathetic

The foundation for counselor-client relationship success and the key to progressing in the therapeutic process is forging an emotional connection with each client. To earn the trust of their clients, pastoral counselors must be approachable, but maybe even more crucially, they must be sincere and sympathetic in their interactions with clients and their professional conduct.

Doctor of Pastoral Counseling Licenses and Certifications

Pastoral counselors are not required to hold a license; instead, they must pass a certification process (also known as a credentialing process) by the ecclesiastical body they are affiliated with and receive additional certification from a national body like the ACPE Psychotherapy Commission.

It’s false to anticipate that professionals joining the sector would avoid the state’s rigorous education, experience, and training requirements on comparable occupations in counseling, therapy, and psychology, given that no licensure is required for pastoral counselors.

In addition to fulfilling the criteria of their church, many pastoral counselors pursue licensure as clinical counselors, marriage and family therapists, social workers, or clinical psychologists to give their patients the best care available.

Online Doctor of Pastoral Counseling - fact

Common Career Paths for Pastoral Counseling Graduates


You offer spiritual guidance to churchgoers as a pastor. You’re responsible for planning sermons, preaching, and leading weekly worship. You must explain the meaning of the Bible to the assembly. Additionally, you support church members in times of need by offering care and counseling.

Spiritual Director

An individual, whether ordained or lay, who has determined for themselves—or been persuaded to accept by godly friends—that they have a ministry of holy listening and empathy is referred to as a spiritual director. To help someone else recognize God at work in their lives and to hear His call and direction is the delight and purpose of a spiritual director. 

Church Administrator

A church administrator oversees daily operations, manages the church’s financial affairs, and ensures that everything runs smoothly and effectively. A church administrator participates actively in the church and serves as an example to the congregation’s members through their actions.

Social Services Work

Social workers support communities and individuals in addressing both basic and complex needs to enhance overall well-being. With a focus on the weak, oppressed, and disadvantaged, social workers work with diverse groups and types of people.

What are the professional organizations for Pastoral Counseling?

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the professional organizations for Pastoral Counseling?

The American Association for Christian Counselors (AACC) is one typical professional association for pastoral counselors that offers tools for Christian counselors and the people in their churches. The National Association of Christian Counselors is another well-known group (NACC) that provides counseling services for spiritual individuals and training for church leaders. The National Christian Counseling Association (NCCA) is the most famous professional association for pastoral counseling students, which helps students expand their knowledge and provide specialized training.

Do we need a Pastoral Counselor?

Pastoral counselors are important. These professionals offer advice following the conviction that when a person learns how to investigate their soul and spirit, they can begin to heal and grow in an all-encompassing, morally upright way. Pastoral counselors also frequently incorporate prayer and Bible study into counseling sessions.

What are the admission requirements for a doctoral degree in Pastoral Counseling?

A doctoral program in pastoral counseling does not have many admission requirements. Obtaining a Master’s in Counseling or a closely related topic from an approved university is necessary before being admitted to the doctoral program.

Other admission requirements include pastoral and professional recommendations, personal testimony and statement of purpose, a CV, and an admissions interview. Some universities, such as Regent University, require a year of clinical training.

What is the timeline of a Pastoral Counseling doctorate program?

Depending on the university attended, a doctorate in pastoral counseling program often requires 36 to 40 credits and usually takes three to four academic years.

What are the most common concentrations for a Pastoral Counseling doctoral degree?

Pastoral Theology, Personality and Culture, Theological and Ethical Studies, and Liturgical Studies are the most common concentrations for a pastoral counseling degree.

Key Takeaways

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