So You Want to Become a Christian Counselor!

Over the years I have received numerous e-mails asking the same question:  What must I do to become a Christian counselor?  I thought it would be well to provide my response for others who might have the same question.

As in any pursuit, here are two very important steps:

  1. Bathe it in prayer.  What is God’s desire for you? – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).
  2. As you are praying, learn as much as you can about it.  Sometimes the more you know, the more that passion grows.  But, sometimes the opposite happens.

You also need to determine where you want to go with it, how you want to use it.  Do you want to become a professional counselor or do you want to do lay or peer counseling, perhaps as a ministry in your church?

This should become clearer as you invest prayer into it and gain a greater understanding of counseling.

The answer to that question will point you toward your next steps:

If lay counseling, a certificate program could be sufficient.  A good starting point could be the site of the AACC, the American  Association of Christian Counselors.   They have some courses that could be of great benefit to you.

If professional counseling, you will undoubtedly need to have a degree, probably even a Master’s Degree, to get licensed in your state.  Each state varies in their requirements and procedures so you should check with your state government with questions you have about state requirements.  It could be helpful to network with a Christian counselor or two in your area to learn from them what procedures they followed.

An example:  As of the writing of this post, Pennsylvania requires you have both a  bachelor’s and master’s degree to get licensed.  The Master’s degree must be 60 credits. You also have to do 3600 hours of supervised counseling and take and pass the National Counselor’s Exam. — Where you are located could be different.

If you do not get licensed, then you should be careful in calling yourself a counselor as with that can come liabilities.   People who are professional counselors usually purchase liability insurance.  Those who live in the United States can  get some ideas on that at the American Professional Agency.

 Some use the term “Biblical Life Coach.”

Some put it under the umbrella of discipleship.

At minimum, you should refer to your counseling as “lay counseling” and not just “counseling” so as to denote that you are not doing this as a professional.

Here are some additional helps on the site:

Counseling Ministry Training – This is primarily for lay counseling, not professional counseling.

Counseling Ministry Resources – Most of these links will take you to other sites.

17 Replies to “So You Want to Become a Christian Counselor!”

  1. Your comments form a great beginning for the subject of becoming a pastoral counselor. It is a complex subject with many solutions.
    Every day I speak with people involved in the conflict created by being a Christian and trying to function under the requirements of a state issued “counseling license.”

    Typically, these people have invested tens of thousands of dollars and years of their lives obtaining a license that severely restricts their ability to actually help people, which is what they started out to do in the first place.

    Most do not become aware that there is an entirely different path they could have taken that would provide them a solution consistent with their goals and their beliefs.

    By becoming an ordained minister and practicing “Chrisitian Counseling” their practices become ministries and fall under the laws governing the practice of religion. In this arena it becomes not only acceptable, but rather, appropriate to pray with clients, suggest Biblical solutions, and have the power of God involved in the healing process.

    This is not some end run around the law. It is simply following the correct path. A Licensed Clinical Christian Counselor will typically have earned hundreds of hours of educational credits, hold a Masters or Doctoral degree, and invested themselves in an internship to learn the process of employing what they have learned to help others. They will have insurance for their practice, understand how to create an invoice for a client’s insurance company, and become a supportive part of their community. They typically also a earn a respectable salary.

    Consider this Catch-22: The most reliable way of helping a substance abuser achieve freedom from their addiction is to get them involved in a 12 step program. Twelve step programs are about finding a “Higher Power” and availing yourself of that power. However, a state licensed counselor cannot recommend “a Higher Power”, pray about anything, talk about God in a meaningful way, or hint that God may be a part of their solution. Like trying to be a surgeon with hand-cuffs secured around the wrists.

    When considering becoming a counselor, the first decision one should make is whether they are going to serve the state or people. What they do next then becomes much clearer.

    • The state licensing referenced in the post does not mean you are working for the state. You are merely getting credentials from them, similar to how a lawyer and other professions get credentials. Being licensed by one’s state does not necessarily limit a Christian in bringing the Lord and His Word into the counseling session, praying with the counselee, using a 12 step program, or Christian resources.

      To be sure, if you worked in a government funded agency or perhaps in a secular counseling center, you would have some limitations. I know of many Christians in private practices or working within Christian organizations who are licensed by their states and make it a regular practice to pray with their counselees, use Scripture, etc.

      Is a license always necessary? Absolutely not. That is why you need to begin with the first two steps in the post … to pray and to learn as much as you can. I appreciate Roger Young’s comment as it gives one more perspective to consider. There are definitely a number of different views among Christians about counseling.

      The bottom line is that you are responsible for how God wants you to use it. Different kinds of counselors will reach different peoples. Some people who would never step into a church for counseling, might go to a Christian counselor in a private practice.

  2. Personally, I would not trust anyone “licensed” (by the state?) to give me spiritual advice. W.W.J.D.? Was He “licensed”? No. As a Christian I am a little Christ (anointed one), and therefore I avoid any entangling alliances with Caesar (the state). No offense to you “licensed” practitioners out there. Heck, we all have to make a living, but don’t think for one minute that you are better or more qualified to consult than a true believer is. Wisdom is the principle thing, not licenses and degrees. What a joke!

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts. I respect where you are coming from. The purpose of this post is not to take a stand for or against licensing. Having people like yourself respond helps us look at all sides of the issue. In moderating the comments like this, I see my task as helping people look at all sides. Ultimately each person is responsible to God for what they do. So, let me just make a few comments for those reading the posts to consider in coming to a decision on this issue.

      1) “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10), not degrees or licenses. Any counsel we give or receive should be filtered through God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We should look first and foremost to God for wisdom (James 1:5). The question that needs to be asked is if having a license deprives a Christian from having and exercising godly wisdom.

      Keep in mind that the license merely certifies that you have met the criteria to be a professional counselor based on courses taken from an accredited institution and hours put in. The training itself can be from a Bible college and Christian Graduate School, meaning that you can receive training from a Biblical perspective.

      2) Jesus certainly should be considered the master counselor after whom we follow (Isa. 9:6). No, He did not have a license. But, neither was He ordained. Does that mean we should not attend churches with ordained pastors? There are so many things in our modern world Jesus did not have so can we use that criteria of “WWJD” in specifics or do we need to look at principles? For example, in Jesus’ day they didn’t have cars. Does that mean we should not drive because we would have to get a license from the state? Jesus was never married, so does that make all married people un-Christ-like? If He was married, would He have gone the route of getting a marriage license from the state?

      3) God’s Word certainly does warn against being entangled with or yoked with the world (2 Cor. 6:14). At the same time, Jesus Himself said, “Render (give) therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” He even miraculously provided the coin to pay the tax (Matt. 22:17-21). Keep in mind that having a counseling license does not necessarily mean a person is beholden to the “state” unless in a state-run/funded agency or perhaps in other secular organizations.

      The question becomes, how do we live in the world without being of the world (Jn. 17:14-15)? What does that look like practically? Based on “WWJD,” at minimum, we would pay taxes. Consider these questions in making a personal decision about becoming a licensed counselor or going to a licensed counselor: At what point do we cross over into loving the world and its ways (1 Jn. 2:15)? How can we best be lights in the world (Matt. 5:14-16)? Is it possible for a licensed counselor to be a light in the world, to not love the world, and to be in the world but not of the world?

  3. This is an exceptional guide for those who want to review their options for Kingdom work and feel called to exhortation – related work.

    Another option for those who think counseling would be “too heavy” is Christian Coaching. Rather than dwell on the past and deal with healing issues, Christian coaching works to help others find and fulfill their God-given vision and purpose.

    May God bless you richly as you seek to fulfill your divine calling!

  4. I just believe God has called me to christian counseloring. I hear Gods voice speak to me about His people. Than I feel a strong need to help them, A ear to listen to what they are in need of.

    • Thanks, Gail. Our confidence and strength comes in knowing God is directing us. He gives the needed wisdom as we look to Him and follow His heart for people.

  5. Thanks for all the comments. I have a question. I have a bachelors degree in education and a masters degree in divinity. I’m also an ordained minister. I’m currently a teacher looking to change my vocation to christian counseling. Would I have to be licensed by the state?

    • You are welcome, Patricia. I do not believe being licensed by the state would be a requirement to become a Christian counselor, particularly if you are going to counsel through the church. Some Christian Counseling Centers might require it to lend credibility to its staff. If you do counseling on your own without a license, I would repeat the caution in the post about not calling yourself a counselor.

      If you pursue a license from your state, it is possible that some of the credits from the education you already have could be carried over. If you are missing courses your state requires for licensing, you would be looking at taking more courses and then passing the state licensing test, possibly even an internship.

  6. Your describe post is very nice and statements are true and this topic is very helpful.

  7. I have worked as a licensed social worker for sixteen years. I feel called by God to leave my job and begin a Christian counseling practice. I am just starting to research what I need to do and what questions I need to be asking. I appreciate the comments. I would say the past year has been the beginning of a more intense search for Biblical truths for my own life. I am wondering what training I need in Biblical literacy and application in order to minister to clients.

    • Praise God for His leading in your life, Linda.

      Fundamental is an understanding of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ answers the most basic and most complicated issues in life. Without the cross … His grace, we would be most helpless and hopeless. You need a grasp of the depravity of man and recognition of how God’s intent is transformation into a new life, not merely dressing up the sinful nature.

      You need to be well acquainted with the character of God … the fullness of who He is, not just parts. This is critical to help lead people into that reverential fear of the Lord which leads to wisdom (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; 15:33). We will not always understand why things happen as they do. We will not have all the answers to people’s questions and that is not what is most important. What is essential is that we can point people to a God who is great enough, sovereign enough, loving enough, etc. to trust in to have our best interests at heart.

      And, to be sure you will need to be able to help people integrate a Biblical worldview into their processing of issues. This is a view that is Christ-centered and keeps Truth as presented in God’s Word at the base of all decisions. Courses through organizations like AACC – American Association of Christian Counselors and CCEF – Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation seek to show how God’s Word addresses our emotional, mental, relational beings. While we can acquire good insights from studies in psychology, it is ever so important to filter all psychological theory through the Word of God. His Word should be the ultimate guide in the counseling session, not humanistic theory.

      If you do not have formal Bible training, perhaps some courses from a Bible college would be a way to speed up the process. But, again, integration or application of that Truth into the counseling process is critical.

  8. Thank you for your insight. I appreciate the suggestions for Biblical training. I will certainly look into that as part of my preparation. I am very glad I found this website and your blog. God bless you.

  9. Hi, and God bless
    Question, what does a Lay counselor do and what is required to become a Lay counselor?

    • Hello, Eve. When referring to church laity, we think of people who are not clergy (not on the pastoral staff) or professionals. A lay counselor serves in the church by coming along side of people who are hurting or struggling with encouragement, comfort, and support, helping them process issues. Generally a lay counselor would not get heavily involved in counseling people with clinical diagnosis as their training usually does not include sufficient understanding to provide the kind of help people with mental health disorders need. Lay counseling usually takes a discipleship or coaching approach to help people deal with the stresses of their lives. In a sense, we are all to fulfill this role with one another to a degree as we live out the one another passages but some will do it more than others, perhaps in a defined ministry position, and will usually seek out training to enable them to better serve in this way.

      • Thank you so much for you reply. One more question. Do people receive pay for this? if so what are the ranges? Is it depending on the level of experience? Can this be a career?

        • You are welcome. Normally “lay” ministry in the church is done by volunteers rather than paid staff. Of course, a church could opt to pay lay counselors, the amount being dependent on the church’s budget. Generally you would probably find this mainly in larger churches. Or, people could be charged a fee. Normally when this kind of counseling is done in the church, any kind of charge would be minimal. In many churches lay counseling would not incur a charge as the church provides it as a service to people. A lay counseling ministry in the church should be under the supervision of a professional or pastoral counselor and lay counselors should be required to undergo adequate training. Churches do need to be concerned with liabilities, especially if using the term “counseling.” If you are looking for a career as a counselor, you would probably need to look into becoming a professional or pastoral counselor rather than a lay counselor. If you sift through the above post and comments, you can learn some of what might be required.