In 2014, as AHOS neared its 25th Anniversary, three new tutors were recruited to build a graduate program in pastoral counseling, with a specific focus on training clergy and lay volunteers to care for individuals, families, and communities in acute crisis from a uniquely Orthodox foundation. Primarily, its curriculum was developed from the theological and anthropological teachings of Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex, and although a number of ideas from the fields of psychology and social work are explored in the program, it remains essentially dedicated to theologically-founded pastoral care. Professor Renos Papadopoulos, Director of the Centre for Trauma, Asylum & Refugee Care at the University of Essex and a long- time spiritual child of Father Sophrony, serves as the program’s senior advisor.
The Master of Theology (MTh) in Pastoral Counseling program consists of three essential parts: (1) 42 credits of blended non-resident and intensive-resident coursework in applied Orthodox pastoral theology and the core pastoral counseling disciplines, as outlined in the program overview on the following pages, (2) a two- part, 6-credit, 400-hour supervised counseling practicum accomplished over two years, focused on locally-placed ministry experiences and culminating in the awarding of a Pastoral Care Specialist certification by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, and (3) a 6-credit research project culminating in a major thesis, focused on developing an integrated response to a current issue in local ministry, which will be made available to Orthodox parishes throughout the USA.
Two intensive, week-long residency courses at the Antiochian Village Learning Center in Bolivar, PA are required (one before the first Fall semester begins, and the other before the second Fall semester begins). These courses offer students the opportunity to strengthen their work through focused academic lectures, group process engagements, skills development training, and individual and dyadic supervision. Fr. David Alexander, Fr. Isaiah Gillette, and Mrs. Merri Wentworth provide primary mentoring throughout the program, and are available to students for consultation on both course materials and issues that arise in their local placement work in pastoral counseling. Four other program consultants (Professor Renos Papadopoulos, PhD; Subdeacon Ian Jones, PhD, JD; and Rebecca Safely, PhD, CNP) are also available for consultation and limited thesis supervision in the fields of refugee care, applied ethics, and community health, respectively.
As is the case in any educational program, the keys to each student deriving the maximum benefit from our courses are (1) self-discipline to pace steadily through the assignments and (2) a firm commitment to their peer group in the learning process. In order to become a candidate for the Master of Theology degree and to matriculate into the thesis portion of the program, each student must have completed the two-year reading curriculum in full, with no course failures.
The Master of Theology in Pastoral Counseling degree is granted in partnership with the University of Balamand in Lebanon, and is internationally accredited by the Commission for Higher Learning of the Republic of Lebanon. Our program is also in the late stages of accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS), and we are professionally accredited as an independent pastoral counseling training entity (the Antiochian Orthodox Institute for Pastoral Counseling) by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors.