A Guide To Becoming a Christian Counselor

Female Christian counselor speaking with male client in office

Do you feel called to make it your life’s work to help other people, but aren’t quite sure how to go about it? If you’re adept at connecting to people on a genuine level and have a knack for asking insightful, open-ended questions, you might consider pursuing a career as a Christian counselor. What is a Christian counselor and what’s the process for how to become a Christian counselor? This career guide explains.

What Is a Christian Counselor?

Christians turn to their faith for solace and hope during dark times. Their faith can be a source of strength, but that doesn’t mean that Christians can’t also suffer from mental health disorders. In fact, according to Anthem of Hope, about 23% of pastors surveyed acknowledge that they themselves have experienced a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety disorders.1

Christians who are suffering from mental illness have options for reaching out for help. Secular therapy is widely available, and welcomes people of all faiths as well as those of no faith. Yet, for some Christians, it may sometimes be more helpful to find a counselor who shares their own biblical beliefs and principles.

A Christian counselor is a professional counselor who is scientifically trained to use evidence-based counseling techniques that are infused with God’s Word. Christian counseling strives not only to help the individual overcome their mental health challenges, but also to help them heal spiritually. Through Christian counseling, clients may feel empowered to strengthen their relationship and communication with God, and to address their challenges through a biblical lens.

Christian counselors tend to focus primarily on Christian clients, although they may sometimes serve clients of different faiths, as well as atheists. When working with non-Christian clients, it’s advisable for Christian counselors to reserve religious judgment and focus on secular therapeutic techniques. Aside from the biblical lens of therapy, a Christian counselor can generally expect to perform the same tasks as a secular counselor, such as the following:

  • Build a professional rapport with new clients
  • Evaluate the mental health and behavioral patterns of new clients, and discuss therapeutic approaches and techniques while developing a treatment plan
  • Implement therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to help clients overcome challenges and turn negative behavioral patterns into positive ones
  • Work with clients’ family members, including spouses, parents or siblings to help them understand their loved one’s difficulties and how best to be supportive
  • Refer clients to outside resources when necessary, such as inpatient addiction treatment programs, if appropriate

In everything that a Christian counselor does, they must keep in mind the best interests and needs of their clients. Therapeutic approaches and techniques must be adapted to meet the client’s needs.

Some clients, for example, respond well to reading Bible verses together with their Christian counselor and discussing how they might be applied to the client’s situation. Christian counselors might also pray together with their clients and lead their clients in spiritual meditation techniques.

How To Become a Christian Counselor

If the answer to the question, “What is a Christian counselor?” appeals to you, it’s time to start planning your career pathway. If you’re still in high school, talk to your guidance counselor about adding any available classes that would be relevant for your career goals. These might include communications, human health/development and psychology.

This is also a good time to reaffirm your faith and grow closer to God. Look for ways of becoming more active in your church and nurturing your knowledge of the Bible. Sign up for a Bible study class, for example.

After high school, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in counseling. You’ll also need to complete a master’s degree in order to qualify for licensure. You may be able to choose a master’s degree that has a Christian counseling concentration, depending on the school you choose.

You’ll also need to complete supervised clinical experience hours in one or more internship positions. This will be followed by a state-issued licensing exam. Your state may have additional requirements that you’ll need to meet before you can become licensed as a professional counselor.

Earn Your Undergraduate Counseling Degree

After high school, the first step in the process of how to become a Christian counselor is to earn a bachelor’s degree in counseling. A psychology degree would also be acceptable, but it’s best to earn a counseling degree if you’re already certain that you’ll pursue this career path. Expect four years of full-time study before earning your degree, although you may be able to accelerate that timeline if you have Advanced Placement (AP) credits that are transferrable and if you opt to take summer classes, if available. 

Look for a counseling degree offered by an accredited school. Note that different states may have different requirements for counseling licensure. It’s a smart idea to research the requirements for the state where you plan to practice, and double-check that your chosen degree program will enable you to meet those criteria.

At this point in your education, you might not necessarily have the option of choosing a degree that is specifically focused on Christian counseling. However, you may have the option of choosing a mental health specialization, such as a concentration in substance abuse and addiction counseling. Now would be a good time to think about whether you’d like to specialize in a particular area of counseling, such as addiction counseling, couples therapy or adolescent counseling.

Each program will differ slightly, but in general, you can expect to study topics such as the following:

  • Fundamental principles in the theoretical approaches of counseling, including therapeutic models such as psychodynamic, Gestalt, person-centered, family systems and cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Multicultural counseling and cultural competencies for diverse populations, with a look at issues such as how social injustice affects mental wellness
  • Practical skills in case management and care coordination, such as recordkeeping, report writing, treatment planning, client assessments and crisis interventions
  • Advanced counseling theories and applications, including postmodern theories, family systems theory and rational emotive behavioral therapy

If you choose a degree with a concentration, such as addiction counseling, you can also expect to take a deep dive into topics pertaining to your specialization. If you choose to attend a private Christian university, you can expect spirituality and biblical principles to be integrated into the coursework, even if there is no Christian-specific degree available at the undergraduate level.

During your time as an undergraduate, it’s a good idea to explore part-time jobs and internship opportunities in relevant healthcare settings. Although you won’t be able to counsel clients just yet, an internship would enable you to get an inside look at the goings-on of a mental health practice. You’ll also develop a sense of professionalism that will prove valuable in any work setting, and that will certainly benefit you later on when you’re ready for your graduate-level internship.

Earn Your Graduate Christian Counseling Degree

The next step in your journey to become a Christian counselor is to earn your master’s degree. At this stage in your academic career, it’s more likely that you’ll have the option of choosing a degree that is focused specifically on Christian counseling. You may even be able to choose a Christian counseling degree with another specialization, such as a Master of Science in Christian Counseling of Substance Use and Addictive Disorders.

Although it depends on your specific program and your enrollment schedule, you can generally expect to need two years of full-time study to complete a graduate Christian counseling degree. During that time, you’ll develop advanced competencies in client assessment, treatment planning and faith-centered therapeutic interventions. Some of the specific topics you may study can include the following:

  • Counseling processes and influencing factors, and counseling skills such as rapport development, behavioral assessment, rehabilitative plan implementation and the termination of the client-counselor relationship
  • Group counseling theories, dynamics, ethical standards and group leadership styles
  • Couples and family counseling theories, approaches and applications, with a look at the structures and dynamics of families
  • Theories and strategies of trauma counseling and crisis intervention implementation through the lens of various types of abuse and neglect, including spousal and child abuse
  • Theories and applications of biblical principles applied to the practices of the Christian counselor

While working toward a Christian counseling degree, you may also study spiritual formation with an eye toward promoting your own wellness as a professional counselor. You may explore the integration of Scripture with counseling theories and practices, and you could study relational health in light of God’s Word.

Complete Supervised Clinical Hours

As part of your master’s degree in Christian counseling, you’ll be required to complete a set number of supervised clinical experience hours. You may be placed in one or two internship positions, where you’ll work at a clinical site under the close supervision of a licensed counselor. Your internships are not only a requirement for licensure, but also an excellent opportunity to put what you’ve learned into practice.

You’ll document your clinical practice hours, which will include some direct client contact. This may include both one-on-one and group counseling sessions. Be sure to listen carefully and take notes when your supervisor offers feedback and guidance on your work.

The length of your internships will depend on your degree program and state requirements. Depending on where you want to practice, you may need to arrange for additional supervised clinical hours in order to meet your state’s requirements.

Pass a Licensing Exam

After completing all of the supervised clinical hours required by your state, you can expect to take a state-issued licensing exam. It’s best to take the exam fairly soon after graduating with your degree, because, as you’ll want your knowledge to be fresh in your mind. However, you may also wish to delay taking the exam for a month or two, if possible, to give yourself time to prepare.

Complete Continuing Education Hours Every Year

Different states often have a two-tiered approach when being licensed as counselor. The first level having an associate degree and the second being in the professional level of counseling. Once you earn your state counseling license, you should be qualified to pursue a job as a Christian counselor, pending any other requirements established by your state board. Many states have different requirements for professional or independent licensure. If you want to be in a private practice, professional level of counseling is often required. However, make a note of when your license will be up for renewal. You will likely be required to successfully complete approved continuing education hours in order to renew your license.

Essential Skills and Characteristics of a Christian Counselor

There are many skills and characteristics that are essential for the Christian counseling profession. These include the following:

  • A strong faith and a desire to help others of your faith
  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Cultural competencies
  • Empathy, compassion and patience

It’s also essential for Christian counselors to establish and maintain a safe, judgment-free environment, because clients need to feel comfortable sharing their innermost feelings with their counselors.

Is There a Demand for Christian Counselors?

In the U.S., the agency charged with tracking employment data and predicting future trends based on current statistics is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS does not track employment data for Christian counselors, but it does offer statistics for other types of counselors. These include all types of mental health counselors, including substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77,500 new jobs are estimated to open for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors from 2021 to 2031.2

Another option for Christian counseling professionals is to become a Christian career counselor or a school counselor at a private Christian school. Although the BLS doesn’t offer data for Christian-specific school counseling careers, the BLS states that job growth for school and career counselors, in general, is expected to be about 8% from 2019 to 2029, accounting for the addition of an estimated 26,800 jobs in the field.3

If you feel called to become a Christian counselor, you’ll find a home away from home at Grand Canyon University. In addition to our multiple undergraduate counseling degrees, GCU is pleased to offer the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an Emphasis in Christian Counseling degree for aspiring mental health professionals who wish to integrate a Christ-centered philosophy within their practice. 


Retrieved from Anthem of Hope, Christian Mental Health Statistics in September 2022

2 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 and 2021 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2022, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, retrieved on Oct. 25, 2022.

COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019-2029, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors.

Approved by Program Manager for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Nov. 21, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.