In the world of chaplaincy and clinical pastoral education (CPE), the person who trains other folks is called a supervisor. I'm in the process of working towards certification as one such supervisor. It's not like any other process I know.
When one starts training to become a doctor, for example, one knows that one has a long and difficult road ahead. But you _can_ feel pretty confident that if you work really hard and your health holds out that you will be able to finish the process. And you know how much time it will take you to finish. None of that is true of the CPE supervisor process.
Many people (including people I know) are never able to get their final approvals (from the committees we appear before, periodically) despite years of sacrifice and good work with their chaplain students. And the process can take from three to six (or even more) years.
In my view this process is profoundly broken. There is a wonderful report put out last summer by a task group from the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) that clearly spelled out the ways in which the process is broken and made concrete recommendations to fix it. I was so heartened when I first came across this report. The message it sent me is that this organization (the ACPE) was willing to confront its problems and work to fix them. [I first wrote about the report, here.]
So I was deeply shocked at the ACPE's annual conference last week to learn that the powers that be at the ACPE rejected the report at the beginning of the week. One senior CPE supervisor told me that the board did this because they had decided that the process was working. After all, this supervisor said, some 87% of people who appeared at a recent committee meeting were approved by their committees.
That statistic totally misses the point, in my view. The real question is not how many people pass on a particular day, but what the attrition rate from the whole process is -- ie, how many people start the process, but are never able to finish. I don't know what that stat is, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear it is as high as 50%.
And then there are all the people who are discouraged from entering the process at all when they find out how unpredictable it really is. Is it any wonder that there are currently only seven Jewish supervisors who have been fully approved? Is that tiny number alone not a sign of a process that is broken?
Of course the powers that be at the ACPE will maintain that they did listen to the report (and that they have appointed a new committee that will study reforms). One senior CPE supervisor told me that there were three areas the board will want reforms along the lines of what was in the report:
- position papers
- the training relationship
Another senior supervisor told me that what the board really recognized was that there is a great deal of inconsistency in how supervisors are trained in different programs. That needs reform, this supervisor said.
But I say that reforms are not enough. If the leadership does not recognize that the process is broken then no amount of tinkering with it will make any significant difference. The tragedy is that many areas of the country have a shortage of CPE supervisors. If more supervisors are not approved than students wanting to do CPE -- including people training to be pulpit clergy -- will have to be turned away. And that is a tragedy for their future congregants and other people they minster to with pastoral care. CPE is by far the most effective way to train people do pastoral care.
I would love to hear reaction from leaders in the ACPE to what I have said here . They (or anybody else who is concerned about this) can leave comments here by clicking the "comments" link, below.
I want to add one thing -- I do not think that I personally have been treated unfairly in any way during my own process. And I believe that I personally have the resources and skills to navigate this process despite the fact that it is broken. But I have never been a person to sit silently and let an injustice stand just because it doesn't affect me. I don't know who I would be if I was to be such a person. I certainly wouldn't be me.