Social Work and Christian Counseling

Although clinical and counseling psychologists provide psychotherapy to individuals, families and groups, counseling is also done in a number of settings by persons whose post-graduate training is not psychology. Four of the most typical educational routes to these positions are described below:

1. Clinical Social Work

In general, a social worker is a professional whose job it is to provide social services through a public or private agency to individuals, groups or communities. The services provided by social workers vary greatly, including counseling, vocational guidance, financial aid, medical services, and recreational leadership. A subspecialty of social work, clinical social work, is particularly designed to prepare practitioners for careers in which they will work directly with persons (and the families and systems of which they are a part) who are dealing with emotional distress.

Clinical social workers who primarily provide service usually have obtained a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. They are employed in a wide variety of settings, including both medical and psychiatric hospitals, child guidance clinics, public schools, residential facilities for psychiatric and correctional populations, family service agencies, community mental health centers, nursing homes and drug and alcohol treatment centers. Increasing numbers of clinical social workers are also entering private practice, although they are able to receive reimbursement from third parties only in a limited number of states with provisions for psychiatric supervision.

MSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, which publishes an annual directory of these programs (available for $2.00 from CSWE, 1744 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20009). Information about career opportunities is available from the National Association of Social Workers (7981 Eastern Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910). NASW also manages a voluntary program for certification for social workers, and can provide information on the licensing/registration laws currently in effect for social workers in 33 states.

While many clinical social workers have undergraduate degrees in social work, psychology is also a very appropriate background. Students planning this career should take a broad program of liberal arts within the psychology major, they might wish to emphasize courses pertaining to psychological functioning considered from a number of vantage points: biological bases, personality theory, group processes, social psychology and counseling are probably most important. Cognate areas should include social work and sociology, relevant courses in history and political science, and courses in organizational analysis and communication provided by the School of Business and the Department of Communication.

Clinical social workers interested in higher administrative positions or academic employment typically go on to receive a Doctor of Social work degree of Ph.D. in a related area. The MSW is also a potential preparatory degree for the Ph.D. or Psy.D. in clinical psychology, although the student is advised to consult with individual programs to determine their stance toward the degree and the amount of transfer credit that they might allow.

2. Pastoral Counseling

The accredited means of preparation for a career in pastoral counseling is the system of course work and clinical experiences organized as Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). This specialization may be entered during or after seminary training, or in exceptional cases, may be undertaken by laypersons with other but relevant backgrounds.

CPE training is administered through the American Association of Clinical Pastoral Educators, which is represented at every internship or residency site of the program. With a typical minimal involvement of five years, the CPE candidate first takes a basic CPE course as part of his/her seminary education. Seminary graduation is a prerequisite for the next step of training, the internship. Following the internship, CPE candidates may enter progressively higher levels of training, which include residency and certification for supervisory status. Each year in the program, the candidate is required, in addition to supervised clinical experiences, to write theological and professional position papers. Supervisory status also requires individual therapy experience; at all levels, students engage in interpersonal relationship groups.

Ministers with CPE certification are employed as chaplains in settings that include medical and psychiatric hospitals, prisons, Veterans' Administration facilities, regional pastoral care centers (e.g., Samaritan Counseling Center), some industry settings, and staff positions in large churches. Some seminary-based programs encourage the student to simultaneously pursue a Master of Arts in Pastoral Psychology; a Doctor of Pastoral Education is also available at a limited number of seminaries.

Psychology is a good undergraduate degree in preparation for seminary (see below); the student who is interested in eventually becoming a chaplain or pastoral counselor will especially wish to take courses in personality theory, counseling, social psychology, abnormal behavior, group processes and psychology of religion. The student should take special care to choose a seminary which provides a strong pastoral care program, and the coordinator of pre-seminary education, Dr. David Slover of the Department of Religion, is available for consultation on this issue. Other members of the Religion Department and many pastoral counselors in the local area have received CPE training and might also be consulted for additional information.

3. Licensed Professional Counseling

A relatively new professional option is the LPC, which recognizes non-psychological training in counseling, guidance, and related areas. LPC status typically requires masters' level education, often obtained through a department or school of education.

The LPC certification is parallel to that provided the MSW, and LPC's in this region are employed in a number of private and public settings, including drug and alcohol treatment programs, public mental health facilities, and inpatient psychiatry services. Some LPC's are also entering private practice, although they are not entitled to third party reimbursement for their services.

4. "Christian Counseling"

Although neither the State of Texas nor the APA recognizes the designation "Christian Psychology" or "Christian Counseling", many psychology majors express an interest in this area as a career choice.

Let us assume that you are planning on becoming a minister, a representative of God functioning within a body of believers hoping to enrich the lives to your parishioners and to assure that each has the opportunity to learn and to accept the good news of eternal life.

Psychology would be a major for you. However, if you do choose psychology as a major, you should be aware that you have to take several courses that you will feel give you nothing of what you hope or expect. In psychology you would learn (perhaps more appropriately than in any other major) some of what you will need to know about human personality development (PSY 4327), broader approaches to development (PSY 3350), abnormal psychology (PSY 3330), concepts of human relating (PSY 3310) and problem solving in a counseling context (PSY 3308). Completing the full major will place you in a good position to be accepted into a graduate school or seminary, although you should be careful to research the religion courses needed for seminary admission. You might even consider a double major in religion and psychology with other courses taken from sociology and gerontology (marriage and family, Soc. 3354, criminology, Soc. 4352, Soc. 4395, aging and mental health, and Soc. 3311, race and ethnic relations).

Let us suppose that you are committed to helping others within a Christian format and you think of your ministry as sitting down with persons who have brought their confusions of whatever dimension to you. You think of yourself as a person who will earn your living this way - you are interested in counseling at the professional level. You are also interested in and feel a commitment to extol values and principles based on the teachings of Christ which you are convinced would enhance the lives of those you counsel.

If you are planning to become a counselor working either in church settings on in any of the myriad of clinics now in operation under religious labels, you would benefit greatly from taking a major in psychology. Such a major would be an appropriate entree into graduate work in a number of schools which offer specific work in counseling wherein spiritual tools of prayer, scriptural admonition, and an evangelical emphasis are major considerations. These courses are available in the evangelical Bible colleges as well as the seminaries.

If you want to take less than a major, you should avail yourself of PSY 3308 Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling, PSY 3330 Psychopathology, and PSY 4327 Theories of Personality, and PSY 3310 Social Psychology. Look also at the list of courses suggested above for ministers for appropriate related courses in other fields. Certainly you may serve yourself well by either majoring in religion or by taking a number of courses in religion.

Let us suppose that you are a Christian who sees counseling with others as a part of your Christian commitment, although you do not plan to earn your living this way. You will volunteer your services to telephone ministries, to youth camp sponsorship, or as a witness-counselor in order to fulfill both yourself and your identity as a Christian layperson.

If you are planning on being involved either in part-time counseling work in a religious setting or if you aspire to volunteer positions in evangelical work, the major in psychology would still be as serviceable as would be other majors with the exception of religion. If you do not choose to major in psychology, you should consider taking PSY 3308, Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling. You should certainly consider abnormal psychology, human development, and personality theory as well as social psychology.

Finally, we recommend that the student seek as much formal training in counseling skills and theories as possible. Ideally, students should try to satisfy the licensing requirements for either the MSW, the CPE, or the LPC as outlined above, or pursue masters or doctoral level work in psychology. You might also consider programs, such as Fuller Theological Seminary and Biola University, where APA approved doctoral degrees are combined with explicit theological training.