Thursday, June 05, 2008

Exhausted . . . and having a ball!

We are approaching the end of our second week of our summer chaplain intern program (the first I am leading) and I am finding myself feeling quite exhausted. At the same time, I am very excited. This week, especially, has been fun for me. I decided to make this a week of special focus on the educational side of Clinical Pastoral Education, so we're are spending all of our mornings engaged in the business of an introduction to the ways we do learning in CPE. This is shaping up to look a bit different than I've ever seen CPE done before. For example, we're doing things in group (we have five students) that I've always seen done individually between student and supervisor in the past -- like, today, when we talked through the student's goals in the group.

I won't be meeting individually with my students in a formal way until next week. The first session is an important one because it sets the framework for the relationship. I believe it is important for that framework to be one characterized by mutuality. I plan on following a pretty standard agenda for that first session to try and make that happen:
  • 1) Explain to the student what I think individual supervision is about.
  • 2) Tell the student that, for that to work, we having to have a mutual understanding (or covenant).
    • By the way, I think this business of 'covenant' is particularly important to me in supervision. It relates back to how important I think the issue of 'consent' is in doing pastoral care with patients. We believe in not trying to care for anyone without their consent. This is partly for ethical reasons, but it is also about maintaining quality in pastoral care -- if the patient has not truly consented to be care for, then he or she will not truly share of themselves. And, if they don't do that, then the chaplain has not chance of coming to truly understand their experience, and thus be able to care for them. . . It is the same with the student, if you don't truly have their consent, then they will not share with you. They will hide their 'pastoral care dilemmas' from you, and thus you will not have an opportunity to help them grow and learn. . . . This really becomes an issue because their are many students who do CPE under a requirement from the denomination from which they are seeking ordination. . . Can a consent from such a student really ever be a true one?
  • 3) And so, I need to ask them two questions
    • How open and honest about your experience are you willing to be with me?
    • How open and honest do you want to to be in my feedback to you (especially, about how I experience you)?
  • 4) Tell the student they have a right to "I don't want to talk about that now."
    • I think this relates back to the core issue of consent.
  • 5) Conclude by focusing the conversation on the student's learning by telling them it's important to understand their goals. Ask them what you want to accomplish while you're here?
    • This final question has the potential to transform an _involuntary_ situation (that is, of the student who doesn't want to be doing CPE, but is required to do so) into one that can feel voluntary to the student. That is, once you've both acknowledged that the student is going to be there even if he or she does not want to be, you can say, "ok, now since you're going to be here, anyway, what would you like to do with this time?"
I feel confident that I have a good chance of forming meaningful relationships of genuine mutuality with all of these students. The key issue at this early point in a program is trust. I think that these first two weeks have created an environment where trust is possible. We've done that by taking a team approach to orienting our students and getting them started in their clinical work. This is very different than the way I experienced my first unit of CPE. Then, the only people we had meaningful contact with during our orientation were our supervisors. But, our students this summer have had regular and meaningful contact from the git-go with our staff chaplains and our chaplain residents. I think that's hugely important and is the reason I assess our orientation -- led by our chaplain residents (thank you, chaplain residents!) -- as having been highly successful.

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