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What is Clinical Pastoral Education? (CPE)

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is a multi-faith, interfaith graduate level education program in spiritual care. Using the action/reflection/action model, CPE is nationally recognized as the highest standard for spiritual care education in a clinical setting.

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) began in 1925 as a form of theological education that takes place not exclusively in academic classrooms, but also in clinical settings where ministry is being practiced. CPE was conceived by Dr. Richard C. Cabot as a method of learning pastoral practice in a clinical setting under supervision. The Rev. Anton Boisen enlarged the concept to include a case study method of theological inquiry—a study of the “living human document.” As CPE developed, other CPE leaders expanded CPE to integrate into pastoral practice knowledge of medicine, psychology, and other behavioral sciences. Today many educators emphasize the importance of pastoral relationships being formed through an integration of personal history, behavioral theory and method, spiritual development, and theology.

CPE is theological and professional education for ministry. Theological students, ordained clergy, members of religious orders, and qualified lay people minister to persons in crisis situations while being supervised. CPE students are challenged to improve the effectiveness of the pastoral relationships and ministry out of intense involvement with people in crisis, educators, other students, and other professionals.

Education includes pastoral practice, written case studies and verbatim reports, individual and group supervision, seminar participation, relevant reading, and theological reflection. Students are able to gain new insights and understanding about the human condition through viewing complicated life situations from different viewpoints. Theological reflection is important as pastoral people seek ways to integrate theology with human experience.

Essential elements in ACPE accredited CPE include an ACPE accredited center ready to receive students, ACPE certified educator(s) to provide pastoral supervision, a group (minimum of 3) of peers engaged in a common learning

experience, an environment enabling the practice of ministry, detailed reporting of pastoral practice, a specific time period, and an individual learning contract.

ACPE-certified CPE is offered in many kinds of settings: in hospitals and health care including university, children's, and veterans' facilities; in hospices; in psychiatric and community care facilities; in educational institutions; in workplace settings; in geriatric and rehabilitation centers; and in congregational and parish-based settings. The textbooks for CPE include in-depth study of "the living human documents." By "living human documents," we mean both the people who receive care as well as a study of ourselves, the givers of care. Through the practice of ministry and in reflecting on that ministry with supervisor and peers, the experiential learning that is CPE takes place.

ACPE’s web site provides further information about CPE and contains a directory of sites that offer accredited program. You are encouraged to visit and explore the web site.