Clinical Pastoral Education

ACPE-CPE Program Curriculum Elements

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is clinically based education. The CPE program acts as a teacher, facilitator, and guide. It is up to the students to engage the program and make it work.


The program's focus

  • Dynamic: Evolving from a student's need and interest to learn in different ways at different paces, guided by self, peers, Certified Educators and written evaluations. It is informed by theological, philosophical, cultural, psychosocial and systems understanding of humanity.
  • Holistic: Directed toward the development and integration of the student's own gifts and limitations, awareness of self in relation with others and ability to use learning resources.
  • Comprehensive: Clinical pastoral education introduces the students to areas of pastoral formation, personal reflection and professional competency. Students will also learn how to use theoretical tools to minister to persons, family and staff facing the continuum of health and illness. The program's objectives occur within the structure of ACPE standards, which include areas of professional development in parish ministry, chaplaincy and other relevant areas of ministry.
These are the main elements of the curriculum:


Spiritual care ministry

The clinical setting of the hospital is the primary teacher for students. Each student interacts and provides care in a clinical area(s) within the hospital that coincides with their own learning covenant. These clinical areas include adult trauma, pediatrics, women's health, burn patients, and adult acute care units. Students are responsible to provide spiritual care through patient/family visitation, collaborative relational development with the health care team, and overnight on-call rotations. This unique opportunity provides various experiences in which the student has an opportunity to establish a basic level of trust, which in turn, fosters an openness to learning and experiencing deeper relationships, varied lifestyles, beliefs, and self-knowledge. This can serve to help the student in identifying, developing, and differentiating their own unique ministry.

Didactic seminars

Didactic seminars facilitate a working knowledge of pastoral content, personality theory, leadership development, cultural/gender theory and medical practice. This understanding of humanity informs, enhances, or limits the student's spiritual care work.

Group supervision

Group provides a time for students to share their thoughts and feelings about working with patients, families, staff, other students, and the Certified Educator. The purpose is to help the student become aware of how they receive and respond to support, clarification, and confrontation with regard to their own attitudes, values, and beliefs. Group supervision includes Interpersonal Relations (IPR) group, verbatim seminar, and belief & practice seminar.

Individual supervision

This is a weekly time between student and supervisor to individualize, integrate and plan opportunities for personal/professional growth. As active partners in the learning process, the student is invited to take significant responsibility for initiating issues that are important for learning and seeking feedback/consultation regarding these issues.

Clinical mentors

Students are matched with a chaplain resident or staff chaplain who serves as their clinical mentor. The clinical mentor helps bridge the gap between the skills and knowledge taught in the educational activities of the CPE program and how these skills and knowledge are utilized and integrated into the real environment of healthcare.

Reading requirements

Throughout the unit, students are required to read from a variety of topics. Some of these assignments arise from the individual supervisory conference. Others focus upon the student’s work in a specific area of health care. The primary focus in reading is in the student’s areas of need or interest, as well as reading that supports the concepts and theories presented. 

Writing requirements

At the beginning of each unit of training, a covenant of learning is developed and completed as mutually agreed upon by the student and supervisor. The covenant is open to negotiation as the need arises and the student becomes aware of new ways to enrich their pastoral formation and reflection.

Verbatim and narrative reports on the student’s spiritual care are written on a weekly basis. These tools of assessment and reflection are submitted for both group and individual supervision as part of the ongoing process of patient care. These serve to strengthen self-awareness, self-confidence, and professional competence in delivering effective spiritual care.

Year-long residents write a personality development paper (2nd unit) and a theological anthropology paper (3rd unit). Both interns and residents write a final self-evaluation at the end of each unit of CPE.