Tips on Integrating Your Faith with Counseling

You’re in Good Company – Surveys indicate that 75% of people think it is important to see a counselor who integrates their values and beliefs into the counseling process, and 81% say they want their spirituality values respected and integrated into it.  

Few Are Trained – Although some counselors advertise themselves as providing spiritual or Christian counseling, there is only one credential that certifies a professional counselor is adequately trained to do so. Some counselors who offer it are not aware that further training is even necessary. Many see practicing their own faith the only credential needed to provide this specialized form of counseling.

 Professional Certification – The American Association of Pastor Counselors, a recognized national organization, certifies counselors who have a minimum of a master’s degree in both mental health and theology/spirituality. These are licensed mental health providers who go through a rigorous process of documenting personal spiritual practices and growth, as well as passing rigorous written and oral examinations. Like any mental health credential, this certification is meant to protect the public from harm by untrained or unethical providers. 

Respecting Differences – Practicing their own faith does not qualify people to do professional counseling. In fact, respecting and valuing someone of a different faith tradition or religious background may be harder, not easier. Certified Pastoral Counselors are trained to value and respect differences in religious practices and beliefs, and to assist people in growing in their own faith and spirituality. After all, even people of the same faith or denomination can have different views on many spiritual, religious and theological issues.

Conversion vs. Facilitation – Some who offer Christian or spiritual counseling see their job as converting others. The problem is this – most people do not want that approach or attitude. Certified Pastoral Counselors are trained to help people live their values and faith more fully, rather than change them to suit the counselor.

What About Clergy? – Pastors and clergy are usually trained in theology and/or are ordained in a specific faith tradition. Many people assume they are trained in counseling, but that’s rarely the case. Pastors are not mental health professionals or marriage/family therapists, unless they have specific training, credentials, and a state license in one of the mental health professions: marriage and family therapy, social work, psychology, psychiatry, psychiatric nursing, and alcohol and drug counseling.

Please Understand - Nothing here is meant to discourage you from talking about important life issues with your pastor, rabbi, spiritual leader, or other people you trust and respect. You may gain valuable support and input from any and all. The content on this page is intended to help you understand the differences in training and qualifications between various people, professions and disciplines. 

 Always Ask – It is important to ask whoever you go to what their education, training, qualifications, licenses and certifications are. Ask what professional organizations they belong to and participate in. These are legitimate questions that no professional person should object to or dismiss. If they do, go to someone else. 


Duane Nelson

Born and raised in the Minneapolis, Duane is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has made his home in Rochester for the last 25 years. Duane has been married for 33 years to his wife, Cathy. The two met while doing music at the same church in Minneapolis. Duane and Cathy have two adult daughters, and the family love to travel and play cribbage together. Duane plays guitar and percussion, and the couple still make music together. Duane enjoys gardening, cookouts, hiking, reading, downhill skiing, and hanging out with friends. Duane holds three graduate degrees, two mental health licenses, and two major counseling certifications. He has worked professionally for 37 years in addiction treatment, mental health, clinical social work, pastoral counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Duane is widely regarded as an expert in marriage and family therapy. Following his retirement from Mayo Clinic, Duane founded Healthy Relationships Rochester. This innovative organization is based on developing the concept of Relationship Intelligence through teaching and disseminating best-practice relationship education and skill training programs in a variety of non-clinical settings.