Monday, December 03, 2007

Submission in CPE -- the power and the authority

I had a teacher in rabbinical school who insisted that if you wanted to truly become a rabbi you had to find somebody to be your rabbi and you had to submit yourself to that person.

I rejected that at the time (as a dangerous and perhaps even idolatrous practice), and I still reject it, today. But my experience as a person who supervises chaplain students and directs them in their learning has given me a different perspective on the issues of authority and submission to it.

There is one kind of submission to authority that is surely necessary for the learning process to work-- you have to accept the authority of that learning process. That is, you have to accept the potential of that learning process to teach you something and you have to buy into the method that underlies that learning process.

But getting people to buy into the potential of the process to teach them something is especially problematic in clinical pastoral education (CPE). That's because learning in CPE is unlike most kinds of learning that people have been exposed to in their lives. First of all, learning in CPE is mostly _not_ about the usual educational tasks of acquiring information or learning established techniques -- learning in CPE is about self-transformation. That is, it is about change. And change hurts. People resist it like crazy even when it's in their best interest. Kurt Lewin's force field theory is one of the many ways we have of understanding resistance to change.

And, because the change CPE offers the potential of is such a personal kind of change it can involve people revisiting some of the most personal and painful parts of their lives. For example, a person with a history of sexual abuse will have to revisit those experiences if he or she is going to be able to get to the point where he or she can minster to other abuse survivors without either closing his or herself off from the patient or, alternatively, becoming overwhelmed by feelings while talking with the patient. And who would want to revist such horrible experiences? No wonder people resist the authority of the CPE learning model!

The question, then, becomes how do you help students accept the authority of the learning model? My old rabbinical school teacher seemed to suggest that what's needed is kavod harav/כבוד הרב -- honor of the master or teacher. That is, she suggested that students must be more respectful of their teachers and submit to their authority.

But I think she had it all backwards. What's needed is not kavod harav, but kavod hatalmid/כבוד התלמיד -- honor of the student. That is, the teacher needs to honor the student. I don't mean giving the student everything he or she wants. I mean treating the student with an attitude of respect and service. I mean learning to love and accept the student as being made in the image of God and being able to feel compassion for them.

What kavod hatalmid does is create room for the student to find his or her way of accepting the authority of the process and the authority of the teacher/supervisor. That's when the learning can begin.


rbarenblat said...

This is powerful stuff. Thank you.

Submission is a fraught subject for me as a woman. On the one hand, I understand and accept the theological reality of needing to submit to the possibility of change. (It's something like accepting the yoke of heaven, in the Jewish parlance.) And yet on the proverbial other hand I instinctively brace myself against submission, especially toward male authority figures, because of the pervasive ways that women's submission to men has been the default setting through so much of western culture and history.

That said, my unit of CPE taught me more than I ever could have imagined, precisely because I was able to submit myself to it (or to the extent that I was able to do so.) But there's a strong difference for me between submitting to the Kadosh Baruch Hu (or Kedusha Brucha Hee) and submitting to people. God, I trust implicitly; people, nu, it varies. :-)

abayye said...

I think the distinction you draw between submitting to God and submitting to a human is a very important one. Submitting to a human can very quickly lead to idolatry (and sexual abuse and totalitarianism and "drinking the kool aid" and all sorts of other evil stuff). I am much more comfortable with the idea of submitting to the authority of a process or to the possibility of learning/change than I am talking about submission to an individual.