Frequently Asked Questions About Clinical Training

What is Clinical Pastoral Training?

A better question might be, “How can we know that what we see is Clinical Pastoral Training?"

“Clinical Pastoral Training provides formative experience through learning pastoral practice in a clinical setting under supervision (Standards, §200).”

“What is…?” invites a statement or list of elements or activities that are said to constitute the training experience – measuring inputs.

As an alternative, a description of the results (or impact) of training – measures of outputs – better captures what CPSP training is about.  (See Benefits of Clinical Pastoral Training for more detailed discussion.)

Until recently, CPSP has referred to its principal activity as Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), then (for a time) Clinical Pastoral Education/Training (CPE/T). Why the change?

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) reflected the ordinary usage within the clinical pastoral movement, including significant elements of the groups that constituted the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) in 1967. This nomenclature reflects the organization’s self-understanding as an innovation within theological education. 

The usage of both terms in apposition was intended to increase familiarity with the term, Clinical Pastoral Training (CPT) and to encourage exploration of the distinction that it implies, by re-introducing the use of "training" (lost in the 1967 merger with the extinction of the Council for the Clinical Training of Theological Students). Training was the language preferred by Anton Boisen.

Training highlights the traditioning in the practice of basic research, exploring the intersection between theology, dynamic psychology, and the social sciences – an orientation to the process of discovery, rather than transmission of content – that occurs between a clinical supervisor and a trainee.

What is the central element in this research process?

The case study method is central to the clinical method of learning.

Adapted by Anton Boisen from Dr. Richard Cabot’s innovative use of the case study at Harvard Medical School, the case study developed into a way of exhaustively exploring and documenting the client’s life experience, with the goal of identifying general principles of religious and psychological life. Boisen developed and taught from cases he had encountered to illustrate such principles.

Newer understanding of the psychodynamic process at work in the case study (in the training environment) has shown that the case study reveals more about the chaplain/trainee than about the client. Accordingly, the case study is invaluable in capturing the trainee’s countertransference and other evidence for personal and pastoral functioning.

How does Clinical Pastoral Training (in CPSP) differ from Clinical Pastoral Education offered by cognate organizations?

There is – understandably – great diversity in the approaches and emphases in the programs offered by other organizations. Some publish their training standards and indicate clearly the educational theory that underlies their work, while others reveal their perspective only obliquely, through their application process.

Some organizations identify expressly with a faith tradition, or with institutions of a particular tradition, or advocate for religiosity in general.

Some focus on their students’ formation in a ministerial role, or on their functioning in a healthcare environment, others on skill development and proficiency with specific interventions.

Methodologically, the recurrence of the term, didactics (from the Greek, διδαχὴ, “teaching”), evidences a teacher-centered learning environment.

While the elements of the education process are mostly universal, the theories underlying their use (and anticipated applications in ministry) are not generally agreed.

What should I consider when exploring my options for Clinical Pastoral Training?

Consider the first impressions you receive from the clinical supervisor as you inquire into the training program’s organization and policies. Are responses timely? Professional?

Review the Directory of Training Programs to determine the program’s current accreditation status and any indication of concerns. Check the program’s publicity to see whether the supervisors listed appear in the directory listing, and supervisors-in-training (SITs) in the SIT Registry.

Evaluate whether the program’s expectations for trainees are agreeable to your life situation; the time commitment required for a program to fulfill CPSP standards for training is set in the Standards.