Dear Pater, how much psychology does a parish Priest study? And why do you think that a psychologist/psychiatrist needs to deal with diagnosing people whereas a Priest/Deacon doesn't have too?
Sorry for asking such atypical questions...I am atypical!

Studying some form of Psychology is usually part of the normal formation process. All seminarians take a "Pastoral Counseling" class or two. Some seminaries and dioceses on top of that require seminarians to take a unit of CPE. CPE stands for "Clinical Pastoral Education."  This program is geared towards teaching seminarians about health care ministry and ministry in a health care setting. Ministry in health care is very different from ministry in a parish setting.  This is why if a hospital has a pastoral care office one of the qualifications for working in pastoral care is Board Certification from either the National Association of Catholic Chaplains or the Association of Professional Chaplains.  I was formerly certified through the NACC prior to becoming a priest.  I did not renew it unfortunately because I did not have the time for the continuing education. If I got back into full time health care ministry I would also pursue certification through the APC.  I think it useful to have dual certification.  

Unfortunately CPE has gotten a bad rap as a "Liberal waste of time" in some quarters given the propensity of CPE to focus on and explore "feelings." Many programs are supervised by former nuns who want to be priests or former priests with an ax to grind against the Church. Some programs show an open hostility to any Conservative values at all and will emotionally destroy anyone in the program with Conservative values or traditional religious values.  While this is true in some programs, not all programs are like this. If one can find a good program (as I did) and opens themselves to the process one will find that one will learn a great deal about how to integrate theology and pastoral practice not only in a health care setting but any pastoral setting.     

Thus there is at least a survey of how to provide basic pastoral counseling.   Seminaries also have a program of study whereby students will be given "Apostolates" whereby they work in an institutional or parish setting performing ministry.

Priests or Deacons do not diagnose because there is a HUGE difference between having a cursory knowledge of basic pastoral counseling concepts and being a Medical Doctor or licensed therapist or psychologist.  Priests or Deacons are not trained to solve problems or even give advice, but to provide a listening ear to those who come to them. Through their listening skills they help the person process their feelings and thoughts so that the person can find the answer to their problems themselves.  I know as a priest how to recognize certain psychological disorders which if I do, I will send the person to a doctor, etc.  When people come to me I simply listen to them and help them process what is going one inside of them so they can make the best decisions about how to proceed with their problems.  I help the person find the solution, I don't tell them what to do or give them advice.  If I discern that there is more to it than someone just going through a rough time I will recommend that the person see a professional if they are not already doing so.  

A Psychiatrist treats psychological disorders such as depression or schizophrenia through the use of medication.  A Psychologist treats behavior problems that can be treated without medication, though they can work along side of a Psychiatrist. The main difference between the two is that the Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can prescribe medication where as a psychologist is not a medical doctor and does not prescribe medication.  A priest, pastor, or clergy member gives people spiritual guidance and generally helps the person find God in their life situation.  


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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