Types of Spiritual Care Clinicians – Part 1: Clinical Chaplaincy vs. Transpersonal Counseling

Types of Spiritual Care Clinicians and Practitioners

Spiritual Care is a broad umbrella for a number of subfields that address the spiritual and existential needs of individuals. One of the questions I’m often asked by both clients seeking a care provider and students who want to become practitioners is, What’s the difference? What’s the difference between a clinical chaplain and a transpersonal counselor? A somatic psychologist and a spiritual director? A biblical counselor, pastoral counselor, or spiritual psychotherapist? Each of these fields has significant areas of overlap, but the can vary widely in terms of type of training as well as approach to practice. This article is the first in a series of comparative analyses between the different career fields that fall broadly under Spiritual Care. Because so many fields of practice have significant overlap, I believe the model of comparison and contrast can show the often subtle nuances.

Part 1: Clinical Chaplaincy vs. Transpersonal Counseling: Which One is Right For Me?

The fields of clinical chaplaincy and transpersonal counseling both address the spiritual and existential needs of individuals, yet they diverge significantly in terms of academic and certification requirements, as well as their approaches to pastoral care.


Academic Requirements

Requirement Clinical Chaplaincy Transpersonal Counseling
Master’s Degree Master of Divinity (MDiv) or equivalent Master’s in Transpersonal Psychology or Counseling
Credit Hours 72-90 credit hours 48-60 credit hours
Core Subjects Theology, ethics, pastoral care, counseling, sacred texts, liturgical practice (rites, ceremonies and ritual practices) Transpersonal psychology theories, meditation, mindfulness, altered states of consciousness, spiritual development, integrative approaches to mental health
Clinical Training/Residency 400 supervised clinical hours (internship) + 1200-1600 supervised clinical hours (residency) 600-1,000 supervised hours of practicum and internship
Additional Clinical Hours for Certification Varies by certification body, but typically 2,000 hours beyond clinical training/residence Varies by state and certifying body, but is 600-3000 hours including practicum and internship
Competency Demonstration Supervisor evaluations, written articulation of theory and demonstrated competency in 31 competency areas (typically 40-80 pages), in-person defense of competency before board certification panel [multiple certification bodies] or passing of standardized  national exam and clinical performance interviews [Spiritual Care Association], continuing education credits Licensure exams (written and oral), continuing education units (CEUs)
Additional Requirements Ecclesiastical endorsement from independent endorsing agent
Ordination by a faith body in most traditionsCommissioning in some cases


Approaches to Pastoral, Existential, and Spiritual Issues

Clinical Chaplaincy Transpersonal Counseling
Setting Clinical chaplains are often employed in healthcare settings such as hospitals, hospices, long-term care facilities, and mental health facilities. They address the spiritual and existential concerns of patients, families, and staff. Transpersonal counselors work in private practice, holistic health centers, and mental health facilities.
Holistic Care Integrates spiritual support with emotional and psychological care Incorporates body, mind, and spirit in therapy
Interfaith Ministry Provides care that respects diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds
Crisis Intervention Offers immediate support during critical situations (e.g., terminal illness, grief)
Spiritual Practices/Rites and Rituals Conducts religious rituals and sacraments pertinent to the patient’s faith tradition as well as other spiritual practices Utilizes meditation, mindfulness, and other spiritual practices
Transpersonal Experiences Helps clients explore and integrate profound spiritual experiences
Growth and Development Focus on spiritual pain and coping skills, spiritual concerns, and existential concerns such as purpose, meaning, forgiveness, hope, and death anxiety. Focuses on personal growth, self-actualization, and higher states of consciousness



Both clinical chaplaincy and transpersonal counseling offer valuable support to individuals navigating spiritual and existential challenges. While their academic and certification pathways differ—chaplaincy emphasizing theological education, solution-focused and crisis counseling, and extensive clinical training focusing on spiritual and existential concerns in pluralistic settings and transpersonal counseling focusing on integrative psychological practices and spiritual development—both fields share a commitment to holistic care and the nurturing of the human spirit. As the demand for spiritual and existential care continues to grow, these professions will remain crucial in fostering well-being and resilience in diverse populations.

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