Doctor of Theology in Pastoral Counseling (ThD)

Dr. Greg Ellison

Doctor of Theology in Pastoral Counseling (ThD)

The doctor of theology in pastoral counseling (ThD) prepares persons for the ministry of pastoral counseling at the doctoral level by combining rigorous academic and theological work with supervised clinical practice. The degree is an equivalent of the PhD and is designed for those whose interest in pastoral counseling is primarily professional.

At the end of the ThD program, students will have:

  • Advanced understanding of appropriate theological and theoretical concepts.
  • The ability to apply these concepts in pastoral counseling, under qualified supervision, and how to promote professional integration of theory and skills in both pastoral counseling and pastoral guidance.
  • A research project appropriate to the student's professional practice, providing evidence of creative ability to contribute to the aspect of pastoral counseling that is the focus of the research project.

Learn more about the ThD program.

The doctoral program is under the immediate direction of the ThD committee of the Atlanta Theological Association. This arrangement enables students to enroll through Candler for courses at Columbia Theological Seminary and the Interdenominational Theological Center. The co-directors of the Atlanta Theological Association’s ThD program are Drs. Pamela Cooper-White and Bill Harkins. The Curriculum and Policy Committee of Candler School of Theology oversees Candler’s participation in the program.

ThD students initially are assigned a temporary course adviser. Later, the student works with a dissertation adviser, who chairs an advisory committee selected by the student and approved by the dissertation adviser. The committee consists of at least three persons, ordinarily two Candler faculty members and a member of another ATA school faculty. The committee is responsible for preparing examinations for the student and functions in an advisory capacity throughout the writing of the doctoral dissertation.

Credit Hours
The 50-credit hour degree must be completed within nine years.

3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

Students are required to complete the following:

  • Core seminar sequence focusing on personality theory, psychotherapy theory and pastoral theology.
  • Research methods seminars.
  • Pastoral counseling practicum.
  • Elective courses.

Students must successfully complete of a series of exams, including a clinical performance exam, five qualifying written exams and a comprehensive oral exam. 

Research Project and Dissertation
Students must complete an approved research project demonstrating the ability to utilize theological and theoretical knowledge in relation to some problem of professional pastoral care and counseling. Students then must write a dissertation, reporting on, analyzing, evaluating and interpreting the project.

Read more about the ThD degree requirements.

The supervision in pastoral counseling, an integral part of the ThD degree program, is provided according to the standards of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. The supervision may be used, therefore, to meet the requirements for counseling supervision of both the American Association of Pastoral Counselors and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.  

Who makes up the faculty of the ThD program?
The faculty consists of academic faculty from Candler, Columbia Theological Seminary, and The Interdenominational Theological Center and clinical faculty from the Care and Counseling Centers of Georgia (CCCG). CCCG is located at the intersection of Clairemont Road and Mason Mill Road in Atlanta, not far from the Emory campus.

What is the difference between Candler's ThD program in pastoral counseling and the PhD program in Person, Community and Religious Life (PCRL) offered by Emory's Gradate Division of Religion?
The ThD is comparable in rigor and workload to the PhD, but it is designed for those whose vocation is primarily clinical and theological. The program includes 21 months of supervised clinical training and does not require students to serve as graduate teaching assistants (TA). You can, however, apply for TA positions after your first year of coursework. The ThD program is conducted jointly by the ThD committee of the ATA and comprised of faculty from the three participating schools and the CCCG.

The PCRL program prepares teachers and scholars in religious education, homiletics, liturgy, pastoral theology, and practical theology. Students in the PCRL program do not receive clinical training in pastoral counseling and are required to serve as TAs. Emory’s PhD programs are administered through the Graduate Division of Religion at The Laney Graduate School and taught by Emory faculty.

Will the ThD program prepare me for licensure as a pastoral counselor?
Yes, in part. The clinical training, which occurs during the first two years, including the summer between the first and second year, provides basic proficiency in clinical skills. The academic courses meet many of the requirements for licensure as a Marriage and Family counselor in the state of Georgia. However, students generally need to complete additional advanced clinical training and accrue the necessary number of clinical and supervisor hours for licensure. Since each state has its own licensing requirements, you need to be familiar with the requirements of the state in which you intend to practice.

Can I get an academic teaching job with a ThD?
Yes, recognizing that the current job market is limited and competitive. A number of our graduates are teaching, largely in freestanding seminaries, and most often in programs that include some kind of clinical training for master degree students. 

Can I work full time or be a full-time parish pastor while in the program?
We discourage students from working full time during the first two years of coursework because of the intensity of the program. Some students work part time and/or decrease their course load to balance economic realities.

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