Clinical Pastoral Education

What Is CPE?

Clinical Pastoral Education is interfaith professional education for ministry. It brings theological students and ministers of all faiths (pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and others) into supervised encounters with persons in crisis.

Out of an intense involvement with persons in need, and the feedback from peers and teachers, students develop new awareness of themselves as persons and of the needs of those to whom they minister. By theologically reflecting on specific human situations within a small group setting, students gain a new understanding of their ministry practice and develop skills in interpersonal and inter-professional relationships. Students engage in a self-directed, action-reflection-action method of learning that invokes their self-evaluation of their pastoral practice and which invites feedback and critique from their peers and supervisor.

CPE utilizes verbatim cases (in the form of Pastoral Care Reports), critical incidents, weekly journal writing, group discussions, theological reflections, the behavioral sciences, personal history self-studies, seminars, and weekly one-on-one supervisory consultation around one’s ministry practice with a certified ACPE supervisor.

What do the essential elements of CPE include?

  • The actual practice of ministry to persons.
  • Detailed reporting and evaluation of that practice.
  • Pastoral Supervision.
  • A process conception of learning.
  • A theoretical perspective on all elements of the program.
  • A small group of peers in a common learning experience.
  • A specific time period.
  • An individual learning contract consistent with the objectives of CPE.
  • A CPE program conducted under the auspices of a certified APCE Supervisor (faculty) attached to an ACPE accredited CPE center.

What kind of things might be included in the Individual Learning Contract?

Pastoral Reflection – reflection on one’s self as person and pastor in relationship to persons in crisis, the supervisor, peer group members, curriculum and institutional setting.

Pastoral Formation – focus on personal and pastoral identity issues in learning and ministry.

Pastoral Competence – deepening and unfolding of competence in pastoral function, pastoral skills and knowledge of theology and the behavioral sciences. Advanced students may focus on the student’s desire to become competent and knowledgeable in a particular area of ministry, e.g., oncology, urban ministry, parish ministry, hospice ministry, etc.

Where will I be ministering?

CPE is offered in a number of different kinds of settings. In many of the settings, such as parishes, general hospitals, mental health facilities, correctional institutions, children’s hospitals, and nursing homes, you will minister to individuals, families, and small groups of people as a chaplain. CPE may, however, be done in any setting where ministry happens.

What does a typical day of CPE look like?

CPE units may be either full time or part time. Either schedule will include an equivalent number of ministry and education hours. Some extended CPE units meet one day per week for structured educational sessions with ministry performed at other times. A more common day (e.g., Full Unit 10-12 week intensive), however, is one in which time is provided for ministry and for several education events.

Since the heart of CPE is ministering and learning from the experience, a day’s schedule frequently includes a clinical seminar in which a student presents a pastoral encounter to other students and the supervisor for discussion and feedback.

Other typical sessions are: didactic seminars in which discussion follows a lecture; discussion of a book or article; exploration of theological concerns; peer group meetings or interpersonal group sessions where mutual sharing, caring, support and relationship concerns are explored; and worship or sharing occasions that provide opportunities for spiritual nurture. Field trips, workshops, and clinical observations may be periodically included.

Evaluation experiences with the other students and your supervisor are also part of a CPE program and may be scheduled at the end of a unit to sum up the experience, midway to assess your learning objectives, and, at other times, such as with the other care providers in your ministry area. You will discover that a CPE schedule asks for active investment but also provides time for sharing, reflection, preparation, and relaxation.

What is the CPE Learning Environment?

If you have never participated in a dynamic, interpersonal, process educational experience, you may be concerned about what it will be like. A foundational task will be for the other students, your supervisor and you to share with each other in such a way that all are cared for, supported, and challenged without being belittled. Furthermore, since an individual best knows his or her own limits, everyone will need to respect other’s boundaries and work to negotiate appropriate learning relationships. Developing a learning environment that is supportive, stimulating, and safe will make the risks of interpersonal learning and growth worth taking.

What are the different types of CPE?

UIC currently offers single intensive CPE units (10-12 weeks), and Extended Units (16-18 weeks). Sometimes UIC offers a Super Extended CPE unit over the course of 8-10 months. Please inquire at the center whether an upcoming Super Extended unit is being offered. The schedule for CPE units offered by the UIC program is decided yearly and depends on the availability of resources, supervisors, etc.

What does CPE prepare a person to do?

  • CPE serves as a part of one’s preparation for parish ministry, chaplaincy, lay ministry, teaching, and counseling. A student’s learning contract may be focused toward integration of theological, psychological, and pastoral insights into pastoral functioning for parish work. Or the contract may be designed with a career goal of chaplaincy or pastoral counseling.
  • Some students, after completing several units of CPE, choose to enroll in Supervisory CPE working toward certification as a CPE supervisor. In Supervisory CPE students learn the theory and practice of supervision and have an experience of supervising CPE students under the guidance and with the consultation of a CPE supervisor. UIC does not provide Supervisory CPE training. Please contact directory for availability for Supervisory Education opportunities.
  • CPE develops the capacity for the pastoral and spiritual care of individuals, families, and systems.
  • Many theological schools require one unit of CPE as a part of a theological degree program.
  • Other schools accept a year of CPE as the required intern year of ministry. Theological schools which are members of the ACPE have graduate degree programs which combine academic student and CPE Supervisory CPE.

I want to be a chaplain or a pastoral counselor. Do I need CPE?

The Association of Professional Chaplains (, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains ( and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains ( and other organizations certify chaplains. The American Association of Pastoral Counselors ( trains and certifies pastoral counselors. Some CPE is required as a pre-requisite. You should contact these organizations directly about their requirements.

Areas of Service Training Recommended or Required Contact
Pastoral Care Pastor, Church Staff, Social Services Clinical Pastoral Education (minimum of one unit) Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc. (ACPE) or CAPPE
Professional Chaplaincy Hospital, hospice, military, or other institutional chaplaincy Clinical Pastoral Education(4 units required for Board certification) ACPE for training and Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) or NACC or NAJC for certification
Pastoral Educator (CPE Supervisor) Supervisor of CPE programs in a variety of settings CPE (Level I, Level II and Supervisory) Successful completion of certification process Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc. (ACPE)
Pastoral Counselor Counselor on church staff, counseling center or agency CPE (at least 1 unit) PLUS pastoral counseling training program ACPE for introductory unit and American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC) For pastoral counseling training
Licensed Professional Counselor Varies from state to state. Can often be done in conjunction with pastoral counseling training AAPC or state credentialing agency

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