History of Pastoral Counseling


Religious communities have traditionally sought to provide spiritually-based solutions for those in trouble. Clergy have listened intently to personal problems for centuries, and have cultivated a spiritual counseling response to those who suffer from mental and emotional illness. Traditional spiritual counseling continues to help many of these people. It was recognized long ago, however, that in many cases specialized professional care was necessary for effective treatment.

The intimate link between spiritual and emotional well-being began to receive serious attention more than 50 years ago when the Reverend Anton Boisen, father of the Clinical Pastoral Education movement, placed theological students in supervised contact with patients in mental hospitals. His innovative educational program brought disciplined training to the historical connection between faith and mental health.

The integration of religion and psychology for psychotherapeutic purposes began in the 1930’s with the collaboration of Norman Vincent Peale, a renowned minister, and Smiley Blanton, M.D., a psychiatrist, to form the American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry, now the Blanton-Peale Institute.

Over the years, the role of pastoral counseling has evolved from religious or spiritual counseling to pastoral psychotherapy which integrates theology and the behavioral sciences.

In this awareness of the spiritual dimension in human wholeness, Pastoral Counselors stand in good company. One of Carl Jung’s chief contributions as a psychoanalyst and writer was to bring spirituality into psychology. Another influential writer, Abraham Maslow, brought spiritual aspects to therapy. William James, America’s most influential early psychologist, studied religious experience as an expression of levels of growth. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger was a pioneer in the integration of the psychological and the theological disciplines because he believed in the "inseparable nature of psychological and spiritual health." M. Scott Peck, best selling author and psychiatrist, effectively expresses that belief in our own day.

The American Association of Pastoral Counselors was founded in 1963 as an organization which certifies Pastoral Counselors, accredits pastoral counseling centers, and approves training programs. It is an interfaith organization representing in pastoral counseling work more than 80 faith groups including the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths. It is non-sectarian and respects the spiritual commitments and religious traditions of those who seek assistance without imposing counselor beliefs onto the client.

"It only makes sense that religion and psychology - each of which is concerned with the fullness of the human experience - should be recognized as partners, because they function as partners within the human psyche," said Dr. Arthur Caliandro.

Today, pastoral counseling accounts for three million hours of treatment annually in institutional and private settings. In addition, the number of AAPC-certified pastoral counselors has tripled in the last 20 years.

We are a welcoming community of therapists and other professionals grounded in diverse spiritual traditions and communities of faith. Informed by research and science, we offer education, connection, and support for those engaged in vocations of compassion, transformation, and healing.

We invite all healing practitioners – pastoral counselors, psychotherapists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, ministers, coaches, physicians, nurses, public health workers, students in training in these professions, and others – to join us in this good work. ​ ~Adopted 2016

© 2016 by AAPC SE REGION