MA in Existential and Humanist Pastoral Care

Course Description

NSPC is at the forefront of the exciting, emerging field of non-religious pastoral care. This is the first MA of its nature in the UK and provides a much-needed pathway towards professional work in pastoral care/chaplaincy from a non-religious perspective.  We work closely with Humanists UK to achieve this objective. Graduates can expect to work across a range of sectors including education, healthcare, the prison service and the armed forces. In addition, the MA provides probationary accreditation as a Humanist UK funeral, wedding and naming celebrant. Drawing on psychotherapeutic literature and on existential philosophy, we teach students to work in a holistic way, engaging with the unique world of each client.

The programme covers theory, skills training, placement and research. Prior learning can be granted for modules studied at level 7 covering the same learning outcomes as the NSPC equivalent – this can be discussed at interview stage.

Year one assumes no prior knowledge or experience, building your skills from the ground up. You will start with core competencies such as active listening, and build to a ceremonies training, as well as explicitly existential skills. Theoretical learning includes professional ethics, the psychology of worldviews, and a grounding in existential philosophy.

Year two provides an opportunity to start building experience in a placement with the support of supervision. You will also complete a research project, with the help of an experienced supervisor. This will be on a topic of your choice, and can take the form of a literature review or a qualitative piece. Students will build on the learning from year two, looking more deeply at ceremonies and ethical dilemmas.

The course leader is Elizabeth Young.

Useful Links:

Non-Religious Pastoral Support

Humanist Ceremonies

Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network

Programme of Study

Year 1

  • Philosophical Worldviews, Religion & Belief Systems (online)
    • This module will introduce the students to philosophical worldviews, religious practices, and belief systems that are relevant to their work. Students will be introduced to the way in which philosophical issues can be looked at from many different perspectives. 
  • Existential & Human Issues (online)
    • This module will provide students with an overview of the existential approach and the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of human values, meaning and creative responses to anxiety. 

  • Social, Cultural & Ethical Issues (online)
    • This module wil enable students to be able to make appropriate decisions about consent, confidentiality, discrimination, exploitation, fairness, duty of care, and other ethical and moral quandaries in professional practice.
  • Skills in Existential and Humanist Pastoral Care (3 terms face-to-face)
    • The module is run over 3 terms, lasting for one full academic year. This will include empathic listening, responding, identifying issues, values and beliefs, working with silence, reflecting back, paraphrasing, summarising, clarifying, and challenging. Some theoretical learning is included to ground your practitioner skills, examining different existential and humanist theoretical frameworks and key philosophers.

      Students will have the opportunity to give and receive feedback from both their fellow students and the tutors. These skills will be reviewed each term, with different emphasis, affording trainees the means to develop their proficiency.

      Students will be asked to work with their own material in the course of these exercises, and the depth and nature of these disclosures will be the responsibility of each individual.  Issues of confidentiality will be clarified at the initial class meeting.

      Term 3 will give students a practical and theoretical foundation in the skills essential to celebrant work. It will encompass best practice on techniques for listening, writing and speaking in relation to the delivery of humanist ceremonies and ground this within and existential perspective. Students will engage in assessed practical exercises so that they gain experience in applying communication techniques to the practice of celebrancy.

Year 2

  • Overview of Research Methods (online
    • This module will provide an understanding of the contribution of research to the growth of knowledge and the effectiveness of practice. It will give the student a grounding in research approaches, with particular attention to the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative and quantitative approaches.

  • Pastoral Care Settings Celebrancy & Ceremonies (face-to-face)
    • This module builds on the work carried out in the year one. All students will produce and deliver a ceremony for a naming, a wedding and a funeral. Students will learn about the process of preparing a ceremony and running and developing a celebrancy practice.

  • Ethical Dilemmas and Ethical Practice (face-to-face)
    • This module will cover both philosophical and practical aspects of ethical practice, and teach students how to deal with the various ethical dilemmas that might be encountered in their professions. On a philosophical level, students will refresh their knowledge about different approaches to ethics (e.g. utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics) that have been taught in the social, culture and ethics module.  and will explore these using thought experiments to evaluate their own philosophical position and understand their ethical boundaries.
  • Supervision of Practice (3 terms online)
    • During the second year of the programme all students are required to be in a placement appropriate to the requirements of their course. Students will be given support in establishing their placements and rigorous assessment of their placements and professional performance will be carried out. Supervision will be provided by the New School, where supervision groups will have no more than six students and will be staffed by experienced clinical supervisors. Supervision at the New School will provide existential input to the student's practical work.
  • Research Supervision and Final Project (15,000 words)
    • NSPC will provide supervision of the student’s independent research towards their final project. Student will research an aspect of pastoral care that is of personal and professional interest to them and to produce a well written final project of 15.000 words to Masters’ standards, which makes a contribution to the  literature.

Accreditation and Careers

This programme is quality assured by Middlesex University and you will receive a Middlesex award on successful completion.

Successful completion of this 2-year programme leads to a registration with the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network (which in turn leads to UKBHC registration) and as a Humanist Celebrant for weddings, funerals and naming ceremonies.

Our graduates go into a wide range of settings including the NHS.


Year of course

Modules to be completed in year

Fee payable per year

(if no modules have to be repeated)


6 modules over 3 terms



9 modules over 3 terms


*NB You should also expect to pay for books and professional registration.

Fees are charged per module as you take them, so costs are spread across each year rather than by an annual lump sum.

Entry Requirements

  • An undergraduate degree in any subject (equivalent experience may be acceptable)
  • Fluent English
  • Personal suitability to be determined at interview
  • Reliable internet connection

How You Study

The course is delivered via blended learning. This consists of online theory modules via Moodle, face-to-face skills modules in NW London, online research supervision and online supervision of practice. With 25% of attendance carried out face-to-face, this course is easy to fit around a busy life, and is accessible to those living far from London or with caring commitments.

Theory modules are asynchronous, except for a weekly chat to be decided between group members. Students work through weekly materials online, posting and discussing in the forum with the group and tutor. A weekly quiz ensures that you are absorbing the materials.

Face-to-face skills modules take place over 5 consecutive days. There are 5 skills modules in total over the two years.

Placement supervision is provided via group video chat on a weekly basis in year 2 of the programme.

Research supervision is provided from year 2, and can be done in a number of ways depending on what best suits both student and supervisor, but usually takes the form of email and video chat.

Students may take up to 4 years to complete should they need additional time.

It is possible to exit the programme early with either a PGCert or PGDip award, however, this may affect professional registration.

MIddlesex University