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CPE...What's the Big Deal?

April 8, 2024


From time to time, a Chaplain will have a case that is complex. This is one reason why I am adamant that a hospice Chaplain have a minimum of 3 and hopefully 4 units of Clinical Pastoral Education.

CPE prepares a Chaplain for the rigors of hospice chaplaincy. For many hospices one unit of CPE will suffice. In my opinion, that does an injustice to the patients and families.

What, then, is CPE? CPE is a hands-on experience that incorporates such matters as pastoral formation and pastoral reflection in order that the Student develops a methodology of ministry that will provide spiritual care to persons of all faiths or no faith. The issue of religious countertransference is often an issue that requires hard work for the Student. CPE is a process. For this reason, I argue four units of CPE should be required as a minimum for a Student to seek Board Certification. Each unit is comprised of 400 hours of supervised study and clinical practice under the guidance of the CPE Training Supervisor/Educator. The end result of CPE is a Chaplain who knows him/herself and has the means to identify those issues of his or her that could jeopardize the pastoral encounters with patients and families.

Further, the CPE trained Chaplain possesses the ability to read what Anton Boisen, the founder of CPE, called the "living human document." One of the key reasons I endeavored to attain Board Certification, even though hospices do not require Board Certification or even more than 3 units of CPE, was to develop the skills necessary to benefit the patients and families I would serve. My Board Certification was earned through the Association of Professional Chaplains.

At this point, I find it valuable to state in a more detailed fashion what pastoral formation and pastoral reflection include. Pastoral Formation enables the Student to articulate an understanding of the pastoral role that is congruent with their pastoral values, basic assumptions, and personhood (312.1); demonstrate competent use of self in ministry and administrative function which includes: emotional availability, cultural humility, appropriate self-disclosure, positive use of power and authority, a non-anxious and non-judgmental presence, and clear and responsible boundaries (312.6) Pastoral reflection enable the Student to establish collaboration and dialogue with peers, authorities and other professionals (312.7; demonstrate awareness of the Spiritual Care Collaborative Common Standards for Professional Chaplaincy (312.8); and demonstrate self-supervision through realistic self-evaluation of pastoral functioning (312.9). Over the course of 1,600 hours of clinical work and classroom supervision, a Chaplain's theory and theology of pastoral care is very well developed. Therefore, based upon the preparation a Board Certified Chaplain has undergone he or she becomes able to work with the complex cases with other members of the care team as a fully participating partner all for the patient's good. In posts to come will be examples of my understanding of pastoral formation and pastoral reflection.

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