Pastoral Care: Learning to Care for the Spirit through Hospice

Clinical Pastoral Education

What Is Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)?

Clinical Pastoral Education is interfaith professional education in the field of pastoral care. It is intended for theological students and ministers of all faiths who want to learn pastoral care skills and work within a pluralistic and clinical setting. CPE has been described as an "in-depth study of living human documents;" inevitably, while we seek to understand others, we learn about ourselves. CPE offers a rich environment for learning pastoral care skills while understanding end-of-life care issues and the overall duties of a hospice chaplain.

CPE also is described as an opportunity for spiritual and educational renewal—although it can be emotionally and intellectually demanding.

CPE is offered in three levels (Level I, Level II and Supervisory), each with distinct objectives and outcomes. A single unit of CPE requires a minimum of 400 hours of training (300 clinical and 100 educational).

Many faith bodies require a minimum of one unit of ACPE-accredited CPE to be considered for ordination. VITAS requires its hospice chaplains to complete one unit of CPE, with encouragement to do more. A minimum of 4 units of CPE are required to qualify for board certification as a professional chaplain.

Clinical Pastoral Education Categories

  • Interns are students enrolled in a single unit of CPE; they pay tuition to the CPE site for this educational experience and often apply this training toward their seminary degrees.
  • Residents make an even more substantial commitment to their studies—typically full time—and often receive a modest stipend to cover living expenses in consideration for the hours of commitment and spiritual care they provide. This entails 40 hours per week for either 9 or 12 months. Upon completion, residents earn 3 or 4 units of training.
  • Those who have completed four or more CPE units and aspire to become a certified CPE supervisor may wish to apply for a supervisory training position. This process takes a minimum of 4 years and requires writing a number of papers on relevant topics, which are reviewed by both regional and national committees at varying stages of the process.

“Credit for successfully completing a unit of CPE is granted under standards established by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE),” notes Martha Rutland, D.Min., VITAS’ national CPE director.

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