Thursday, November 12, 2009

It shouldn't be this hard -- thinking...

It's been a week since I achieved certification as a supervisor in Clinical Pastoral Education. There's been a lot of joy and gratitude as this arduous educational process finally came to an end for me. But there is also an undercurrent of sadness. Only about 60% of the candidates who went up this time were approved along with me. These rejections are a personal trauma to the people who were turned down, but they are also a trauma for the project of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) as a whole -- how can we expect the field to thrive if there is not a steady crop of new supervisors coming up to educate the chaplains and clergy of the future?

Can you imagine being willing to join a field where there's a 40% chance that you will be turned down after a 3-6 year educational process? Few would be willing to do that, which means that the proverbial "best and the brightest" are not very likely to choose our field, and that is a tragedy.

Now, granted, some proportion of that 40% will be approved on a second or third try. But does it really have to be this hard? Is it really worth discouraging people from joining or staying in this field?

I don't think so. We need to do what other fields -- including law, medicine and doctoral education -- have done over the last thirty or forty years. We need to remove much of the uncertainty from the educational and certification processes. Students need to know how long it will take them to finish. They need to be able to feel confident that they know what they need to do in order to finish. Neither of these things are true now.

The place to start is with the committee appearance process itself. A few years ago an association (ACPE) task group created a report that included some excellent recommendations for reform, most importantly that the committee a candidate appears before should be -- as it is in the Phd defense process -- made of people who have an ongoing relationship with the candidate and his or her work. But the ACPE leadership, unfortunately, rejected the most important recommendations.

Another reform I would recommend would be to make graduate education a component of the process. Supervisor candidates are expected to demonstrate substantial competency of theoretical knowledge from the fields of education and psychology. Yet, few supervisory education programs include graduate courses in those subjects. Having had very little previous formal education in these fields, I was forced to engage in a process of self-education with only minimal guidance. Now that I am in a Phd program (I started at NYU's program in Education and Jewish Studies in September), I can really see the difference that learning under the guidance of top-notch professors devoted to your success makes. I did a good job of educating myself to the level required for associate supervisor certification, but did it really have to be this hard? I don't think so, and I'm conscious that I had the advantage of being a life-long autodidact with a strong academic background. What about people who don't have those advantages? Shouldn't they have the opportunity to become supervisors, too?

My doctoral work is just at its beginning and I'm not sure exactly where my research is leading me. But I hope it helps me to make a contribution to the field of CPE in a way that will help it to raise both the quality and quantity of its supervisors. The field has so much to give. I hope to be able to help that tradition grow!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Becoming super – I made it!

One of the confusing things about Clinical Pastoral Education – the main way of educating chaplains and others who provide spiritual care to the ill and dying – is that we don't call the educators in this field teachers or professors. We call them supervisors.

This is because of the educational model we use, one borrowed from medical education where the main part of the learning happens on the job under the supervision of a kind of highly trained professional mentor (see this recent New York Times article, which suggests more use of supervision in training schoolteachers). I am one such professional mentor – supervisor – but I am not yet fully certified (a process that typically takes around five years start-to-finish). But on Thursday I came one giant step closer when I appeared before a committee of senior supervisors in Atlanta and was granted status as an Associate Supervisor.

I am grateful to so many people for helping me on the way, but mostly to Minna for both moral and practical support, especially when I was putting together my written materials for this appearance, and also to my supervisor – a true mentor of mentors – Gregory Stoddard.

At this time the Jewish supervisors who passed this way before me also come to mind. They are a small, but, thankfully, rapidly growing group, each one of them a pioneer. I am glad to join their ranks, not just as supervisors in the chaplaincy field, but as people who have a special voice – a special Torah – to contribute to the education of rabbis and other spiritual caregivers in the Jewish world. With our long tradition of bikkur holim (visiting of the sick) and of aveilut (the caring for mourners), we Jews have a lot of wisdom to offer the rest of the world when it comes to caring for people whose spirits are wounded.

But rest of the world has things to teach us as well. The world of Clinical Pastoral Education has a lot to teach us about the importance of paying attention to the emotions and reactions of the caregiver his or her self when they come into contact with the suffering. And that attention to emotions can also teach us much about how to forge emotional connections between our people and ourpeople's holy texts and holy values.