Thursday, May 29, 2008

Trusting in the process, trusting in CPE -- a new summer begins

Trust is an issue very much on my mind these days. In the news, we have a former presidential press spokesman accusing his former colleagues of lying to him (and, in turn, they are accusing him of breaking his bond of trust with them). And, in the world of chaplaincy, we have a new article asking people seeking (as I am) approval as chaplaincy supervisors/educators to "trust the process". And, here at my hospital, I am asking five new students to trust me for the next 11 weeks of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) as their teacher and supervisor.

Trust has not always come easy to me. This time last year I certainly did not -- much to the frustration of my supervisor -- trust the process for becoming a CPE supervisor. It seemed highly random to me, and to involve inflicting a lot of unnecessary pain on people as they went before committee after committee that put their lives -- and their dearest hopes and fears -- under a microscope. But since then I was approved as a candidate by one such committee. The approval process now makes more sense to me and seems less random. I don't want to lose touch with the critique I had of it before, but I am closer to being able to trust the process.

Committee appearances will not again be a part of my process for some time now. The place where I am in my process now is to, for the first time, be the solo supervisor of a CPE summer unit, a unit that began on Tuesday. I say "solo", but I don't really feel alone in this task. It's been part of my life history to try and function alone. But, I've been more able to trust this time. I trusted the orientation of our new students to other students -- our CPE residents (who are with us for one full year). I've sat through many of their orientation presentations this week. Sometimes I felt my trust leaving me in those moments. I wanted to leap out of my chair and steal the lead role away from them -- to take over, thinking that I could do it better.

But I've been successful (mostly!) at continuing to trust and in staying in my chair. I've been able to feel the wisdom in that and to be able to appreciate how, in many ways, these residents are doing a better that I could ever do. They see things I can't seen. They know things about what it means to be a new student that I have forgotten. Also, my showing trust for them, demonstrates to the new students that I have a capacity for trust (and, perhaps, that I can be trusted).

My key task over the coming days will be able to find trust also in my five students (four of them young protestant seminary students and one a Catholic priest from Nigeria). I need to be able to trust them to know what they need to learn, how they need to learn and at what pace they can learn. It will be hard for me to do this, but it is important. For, if I do not show trust for them, they are unlikely to trust me. And, if they do not trust me, they are unlikely to grow in their trust for each other as a group.

That trust as a group is so important for the kind of learning we hope to do in CPE. We want the students to be able to use each other as a resource -- a resource for learning more about how other people experience them as a person. Do people know me as warm? Do people experience me as aggressive (maybe even when I think I'm being warm)? Am I pushing people away (even when I am thinking I am drawing them closer)? If we can get people to trust us enough to tell us the truth about these things we might even have an opportunity to grow to be able to eliminate these inconstancies. But, to do that we will also need to be able to trust those others enough to accept their feedback.

In the coming days, I will be working to foster that environment of trust between me and my students and between each other. There are two important things I will seek to do to help that along:
  • 1) Emphasize the new student's strengths (naming them and helping them identify them for themselves).
  • 2) As much as possible, make my feedback on a group level, as opposed to singling individuals out.

I feel like this post has been rambling a bit, but I am ok with that. The main customer I have always envisioned for this blog is myself. That is not to say that I don't hope other people will read it (and that I would appreciate it when they do!). It's that I write here mostly because it helps me. It helps me organize my thoughts and to discern between what truly is and is not possible. It helps me better focus on the things that are truly important to me.

I have been writing less here than I have in the post. Last year, between April and October I was averaging nearly 15 posts a month; this year it's only been around four a month, and many of those have been short.

There's a lot of reasons for the change. One is that I met a wonderful woman last October and that my 'real world' relationship with her has distracted me from this 'virtual world'. But, I think the answer is more complex than just that. Somehow, whatever it was that this blog was doing for me all those prolific months is no longer as important. Or, it is being done in other ways.

But I do wonder if the intensity of the summer to come with my students will reawaken my blog life. I was driven to contemplate that this morning by reading another chaplain's blog (Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside) where he mentioned my blog along with those of of CPE students who are blogging about their summer experiences.

So, I am looking forward to this summer, and to finding out if blogging comes to meet my needs. And to finding out if I can indeed trust, and be trusted.

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