Doctor Theology in Pastoral Counseling

Overview of the Program

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.

Emory University also offers a PhD program through its Graduate Division of Religion in the Person, Community, and Religious Life program. Through the PhD, students may pursue advanced studies in pastoral theology as preparation for a primarily academic career of research and teaching. The ThD, by contrast, offers doctoral-level preparation for the full-time professional practice of pastoral counseling.

The ThD helps students gain advanced understanding of appropriate theological and theoretical concepts. Students also learn, under qualified supervision, the application of these concepts in pastoral counseling and how to promote professional integration of theory and skills in both pastoral care and counseling. In addition, each student designs and executes a research project appropriate to the student’s professional practice and gives evidence of creative ability to contribute to the aspect of pastoral counseling that is the focus of the research project.


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 Curriculum and Policy Committee of Candler School of Theology oversees Candler’s participation in the program.

Degree Requirements

The program requires 50 semester hours of academic and clinical practicum courses (21 core hours, 17 practicum hours, and 12 elective courses). Students must be continuously enrolled. Failure to maintain continuous registration will result in automatic termination from the ThD program. Students must complete the program within nine years. Extensions may be granted by the ThD committee only under unusual circumstances. The program comprises the following:

The core seminars deal with personality theory and theological anthropology, historical and social dimensions of pastoral counseling, pastoral theology, theories and practices of psychotherapy and pastoral counseling, ethics, and the development of professional and multicultural competence.

Elective courses (12 semester hours), selected in consultation with a faculty adviser, are required during the first six semesters of study.

Pastoral counseling practicum (17 semester hours) is required over the first four semesters of study. The clinical setting for the practicum normally is the pastoral counseling service of the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia, located at 1814 Clairmont Road in Decatur, Georgia.

Examinations are undertaken following completion of all academic and practicum courses totaling 50 credits, and having earned a least a B average. The student will take a clinical performance exam (normally in May of the second year), showing competency in counseling. Following the performance exam, students will prepare for five qualifying exams, covering therapeutic relationship and personality theory, marriage and family theory, pastoral theology, sociocultural dimensions of pastoral counseling, and ecclesiological and ethical dimensions of pastoral counseling. The five written exams are followed by a comprehensive oral examination. Students must enroll in ATA 497: ThD Exams Process each semester until successful completion of qualifying exams.

The research project and dissertation are undertaken at the end of the program of study. The student executes an approved research project that demonstrates ability to utilize theological and theoretical knowledge in relation to some problem of professional pastoral care and counseling. The project should contribute useful findings and insights in the student’s area of theological investigation. The student then writes a dissertation, reporting on, analyzing, evaluating, and interpreting the project. Following the successful completion of qualifying examinations, students must enroll in ATA499: ThD Dissertation Research until successful completion of the dissertation.

Application for the Degree

Early in the graduating semester, the candidate must submit a formal application for the ThD degree before the deadline stated in the academic calendar. The Application for Degree is available in OPUS during a window of time set by the university registrar each semester. A separate application is required for each degree received. Students are required to be enrolled during the semester of graduation.


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.

Grading System

Grading of student work is based on the following scale: A=4.0, B=3.0, C=2.0, and F=0. Students must maintain a grade average of 3.0 or better to remain in doctoral programs. A grade of B– or lower in a core course or practicum is cause for review of the student’s progress. A course grade of F normally results in termination of the student’s program.

Work extending over two or more semesters, such as practicums or project/ dissertation supervision, receives an IP (in progress) at the end of each semester until the work is completed. All Candler students, including ThD students, are subject to Candler’s policy on incomplete coursework, which can be found in the Procedures and Regulations section.

Transfer of Credits

In planning the student’s program with her/ his adviser or ThD program director, a student may request credit for work done prior to entry under the following guidelines:

  • Credit for prior academic and/or clinical training must be approved by the ThD Committee, in conversation office of academic affairs at Columbia. All transfer credit must have been done at a PhD or ThD level and a grade of B or better must have been given for the prior coursework. The student must be able to show that the work is relevant to the ThD program. The coursework normally can be no older than five years old. No more than 12 credit hours may be transferred from either an earned degree or from other coursework. All classroom work transferred in will be counted as elective credit. In the case of clinical practicum work, a student may receive advanced standing with credit for practicum work that was done in conjunction with licensure, clinical work for another degree, or prior enrollment at the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia’s practicum program. No more than 8 credit hours will be awarded for this work and will be credited toward the basic practicum requirement. The student would be enrolled for the remaining 9 hours of practicum work at the advanced residency level.

  • Credit for work done after entry into the program at schools and agencies not related to the ATA may be transferred to fulfill requirements for the ThD degree under the following guidelines:

    • Prior to registration for a course for which credit is to be transferred, the student must have written permission of his/her adviser or the ThD program director and the office of academic affairs at the student’s school of enrollment.
    • The student pays his/her own fees to the school where such work is done at institutions not related to the ATA. The number of credits to be allowed within this limitation is, in each instance, subject to the approval of the respective ATA school.
  • A limit of 12 semester hours is placed upon any work done at institutions not related to the ATA whether earned prior to enrollment or during enrollment in the program. All work transferred in will be credited as elective courses.

Directed Study

ThD students may register for directed studies with members of the ATA faculty for a maximum of 9 hours. Prior to registering for directed study work, students must complete a Request for Directed Study form (available from the Candler Registrar website) and obtain the instructor’s signature.

Withdrawal/Leave of Absence

A ThD student who chooses to withdraw or to take a leave of absence must notify in writing the director of the ATA ThD program and the Candler registrar. In order to be acted upon by the ThD committee, requests for a leave of absence or withdrawal for an upcoming semester must be received by both directors by April 1 for the fall semester or November 1 for the spring semester. In addition, the student must complete an exit interview with the Candler registrar. If the student withdraws during the semester and does not complete an exit interview, an F will be recorded for all courses, and the student will be responsible for any charges incurred.


Readmission may be granted by the ThD committee upon written request of the student, the recommendation of the primary adviser, and the approval of the director of advanced studies. The request must be received by the director of advanced studies by April 1 for the fall semester or November 1 for the spring semester. Written notification of a readmission decision will be sent to the student by the director of advanced studies. Students with unpaid balances or incomplete coursework will not be considered for readmission.

Procedures and Regulations

Candler procedures and regulations are listed on pages 89–117. For a more thorough description of ThD program procedures, consult the Doctor of Theology in Pastoral Counseling Student Handbook, available from the registrar.

Professional Certification

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 AAPC and the AAMFT.


Note: The ThD program is no longer accepting new applications.