The Difference Between Pastoral Care and Counseling

Date Published

April 12, 2023

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Published by Calvin Seminary

While pastoral care and counseling are often used interchangeably, there are important distinctions between the two. Both can be impactful in the lives of people within and outside the church.

Pastoral Care Definition

Pastoral care is bringing someone into an awareness of the presence of God in the midst of that person’s circumstances and offering a vision of the future that is hopeful. This is a practice that can be done by pastors, elders, deacons, and other members of a church.

Types of Pastoral Care Practices

There are various ways to practice pastoral care, including:

  • Premarital counseling: Premarital counseling helps to prepare couples for unity in marriage. Pastors may recommend Bible verses, books, articles, and discussion topics for couples to review and pray about as they plan their life together.
  • Weddings: Pastors performing weddings play the special role of celebrating and instituting a covenant relationship.
  • Hospital visits: Visits to hospitals and care facilities can help those who are sick or injured to feel supported and remembered by their church family.
  • Funerals: By facilitating funerals and caring for individuals and families in the grieving process, church leaders share the burdens of those experiencing the loss of human life.
  • Serving the community: Church leaders can lead their congregation in providing food, clothing, and other material needs—as well as community services and gatherings—for local neighbors. In meeting with and listening to the community, churches can better connect, share the gospel, and partner with their neighbors.
  • Birth and adoption celebrations: Meeting new parents with practical assistance like meals, diapers, financial resources, and childcare can help families care well for their children. Sustained support along the journey of parenting is another way that pastoral care can support families for long-term thriving.
  • Spiritual direction: This pastoral care practice involves prayerful companionship and discipleship that points a person to scripture and fosters spiritual growth.

What Is Counseling?

Clinical mental health counseling is a licensed practice of supporting one’s mental health and wellbeing. Only licensed counselors may practice clinical mental health counseling. Learn more about clinical mental health counseling by exploring our Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program.

Types of Pastoral Counseling

These are just some scenarios that may bring individuals or couples to a pastor who is also a licensed mental health counselor, or to another licensed clinical mental health counselor:

  • Grief counseling: Dealing with loss and/or death
  • Marital counseling: Managing conflict and communication within the marriage covenant
  • Mental health counseling: Working through challenges, coping, and more through life and its transitions; seeking optimal wellness and mental health

Who Is Pastoral Counseling for?

Seeing a pastor who is a licensed mental health counselor, or another licensed clinical mental health counselor, can be a healthy practice for anyone who desires optimal wellness. It can be especially helpful for those experiencing transition, loss, depression, anxiety, and other challenges. Choosing to see a Christian mental health counselor allows the seamless integration of faith into your counseling sessions.

Main Difference Between Pastoral Care and Counseling

The main difference between pastoral care and counseling is that clinical mental health counseling requires licensure. This type of counseling, when a pastor is a licensed provider, can be an important piece in effective pastoral care.

Pastoral Care Training at Calvin

Calvin Theological Seminary offers a variety of ways to learn about pastoral care and counseling, including:

Learn More About Pastoral Care & Counseling at Calvin

Request more information about our pastoral care and/or clinical mental health counseling programs today.

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