What is Clinical Pastoral Education?
Clinical Pastoral Education is a method of reflecting on actual ministry in which a supervisor together with a group of students formally agree together to reflect critically on the student’s ministry as a means of growing in self-awareness, professional competence, theological understanding and Christian commitment.
CPE provides a learning situation in continuing education for all those who wish to minister or are ministering to people in need so that as ministers they may develop an awareness of the psychological, theological and spiritual concerns of people. In addition it also helps students to become more aware of the dignity and potential of those to whom they are ministering.
CPE confronts the students with the human predicament. It supplies the milieu for the students to know themselves better as persons, to better understand themselves in the role of minister and to integrate their theology more meaningfully into their life and ministry.
CPE provides for supervision of this experience by a supervisor trained in the CPE model of learning. The supervisor brings to the learning situation his/her own unique experience, insight and competencies which stimulate individual initiative and growth. His/her supervision seeks to encourage the students to express their own natural abilities, talents and insights, which they can then channel into more meaningful pastoral relationships.
Short History of CPE
Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) began in the Protestant Churches in the United States of America more than 70 years ago. It was founded in an effort to influence a rigidly academic theological education of students for Church Ministry, by engaging them in experiential learning under supervision. The most prominent pioneer of the movement was Rev. Anton T. Boisen: his words at this time of change in theological education were ‘this is an attempt to begin with study of the living human documents rather than with books and to focus attention upon those who are struggling with the issues of spiritual life and death’.
CPE was carried out in hospitals from its inception. Although a hospital is not the only place where human needs abound, it is one setting where the training of the student in Church Ministry can be readily facilitated. Many of the most basic learning experiences for a student of pastoral ministry cannot be taught inside a classroom but they may be learned as the student comes into direct relationship with sick and troubled people. The hospital setting provides for a basic training in ministry to people in need. CPE can be adapted for work in other locations such as parishes, hospices, homes for the elderly, mental hospitals, prisons, etc.
CPE grew and developed over the years and in 1967 the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) was formed – this is an Inter-Faith Organisation. ACPE has many training programmes in hospitals and mental institutions throughout the United States.
The Catholic Church in the United States became interested in CPE. In time a branch was formed within the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) and their CPE programmes were made responsible to the ecclesiastical structures of the Church. Catholic CPE training centres are now in many hospitals and mental institutions throughout the United States.
The Canadian Association of Pastoral Practice and Education (CAPPE) became a separate entity from ACPE in 1970. The United States and Canadian Associations grant reciprocal recognition to each other’s standards. CAPPE is now known as CASC (Canadian Association for Spiritual Care). ACPE(Ireland) is currently creating overseas links with other CPE Bodies.