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A look into chaplaincy training

Updated: Oct 22, 2023



Chaplains are dedicated professionals who provide spiritual care and support in a variety of settings, offering solace, guidance, and compassion to individuals and communities. The journey to becoming a chaplain involves rigorous training, which includes Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), earning a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree, certification, and often ordination.


Chaplaincy skills are not just limited to providing spiritual care in healthcare settings; they are transferable to companies and corporations seeking to promote a supportive and inclusive environment.


In this blog, we will discuss the core components of chaplaincy training along with how the skills directly benefit companies and organizations.


Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE):


At the heart of chaplaincy training is Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). CPE is a one-year experiential learning program in which chaplains are fully immersed in an institutional setting, working on cross-functional teams that include doctors, nurses, social workers, and more.


Students engage in direct chaplaincy work under supervision, providing spiritual care to individuals in healthcare, correctional, military, university, corporations, hospitals, palliative care, hospices, and other institutional settings.


Through CPE, aspiring chaplains gain practical experience, develop their interpersonal skills, and deepen their understanding of the human experience to foster growth for the people they serve. Here are the main components of CPE training:


1. Supervised training and feedback: CPE programs include a one-year, full-time residency that provides ongoing supervision and feedback from certified CPE supervisors. These supervisors provide mentorship, support, and feedback throughout the practical learning process as chaplains in-training work within institutional settings. This guidance helps students refine their skills, deepen their understanding, and integrate theory with practice.


Supervisors offer support, challenge assumptions, and encourage personal and professional growth, fostering the development of competent and resilient chaplains.


2. Peer group reflection: After engaging in patient visits, students participate in peer groups in which they are supported and held accountable by their peers while sharing encounters, exploring emotions, and delving into their own growing edges as they develop core competencies.


A key component of peer group reflection is “verbatims,” which are transcripts of conversations between a chaplaincy student and patients that are analyzed by the peer group as a means of identifying patterns and themes in a chaplain's approach. The term used to describe this method of learning is action-reflection-action. The goal is to help each other improve in order to provide the best care that meets the needs of the people they serve.


3. Didactic education: CPE programs often include didactic education sessions that cover a range of topics such as spiritual counseling, psychology, ethics, grief and loss, cultural competence, communication skills, and crisis intervention. Didactic education helps chaplains gain skills that are essential to their work in diverse settings.


4. Pastoral visits: Chaplains engage in one-on-one pastoral visits with individuals seeking spiritual support under the supervision of a CPE supervisor. These visits may involve patients, residents, students, inmates, or personnel in the institutional setting.


5. Grief counseling: Chaplains in CPE learn to provide grief counseling through a combination of theoretical classes and practical experiences. CPE supervisors guide chaplains in developing the skills necessary to accompany individuals as they explore their emotions, find meaning, and navigate life's challenges.


6. Group support: Chaplains learn how to not only facilitate group support sessions but use their training to actively influence group dynamics. While there are standardized methods of facilitating group sessions, no two groups are the same. CPE teaches chaplains to skillfully adapt to provide customized support that matches the dynamics of each group, creating an environment for greater transformation.


7. Crisis Intervention: CPE prepares chaplains to respond effectively in crises, supporting families and individuals during times of trauma, loss, and emergencies. Chaplains working in hospitals and hospices are not only called during death and dying, but during all moments of intense grief, conflict, uncertainty, and communication gaps.


8. Interfaith Engagement: CPE offers chaplains the opportunity to develop their interfaith knowledge and skills. Through engaging with individuals from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, chaplains in CPE learn to build bridges of understanding, respect, and inclusivity.



Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree


Many chaplains pursue a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree as part of their training. The MDiv is a rigorous academic program that provides a comprehensive education in theology, religious studies, ethics, pastoral counseling, and other relevant subjects. The degree equips chaplains with a solid foundation of knowledge, enabling them to engage with diverse religious and spiritual traditions and address the complex needs of those they serve. The MDiv also fosters critical thinking, theological reflection, and ethical discernment, enhancing chaplains' capacity for compassionate and informed spiritual care.



Board (certification) eligibility


Chaplains must become at least board-eligible to work in an institution.


Becoming board-eligible is an essential step in a chaplain’s professional development. It shows key competencies and the ability to carry out their responsibilities effectively.


The process of eligibility requires completion of CPE, a Master’s, denominational endorsement, a thorough review of CPE quarterly assessments, recommendations from colleagues and organizational leaders, 2,000 hours of chaplaincy work outside of the CPE residency, written materials demonstrating professional competencies, and board interviews,



Ordination


While not mandatory for all chaplains, ordination is an additional step that many individuals choose to pursue. Ordination typically involves a religious or faith community recognizing and authorizing an individual to serve as a spiritual leader. The purpose of ordination is to hold chaplains spiritually accountable, ensuring that they are aligned with their own spiritual values before supporting others. It’s like learning to swim before becoming a lifeguard; the personal growth and understanding gained through their ordination process enable chaplains to offer a deeper and more empathetic level of support to those they serve.


The transformative nature of training


The skills gained through chaplaincy training are widely applicable beyond traditional healthcare and religious settings. Chaplaincy training fosters personal growth, self-awareness, cultural sensitivity, and the necessary skills to provide compassionate spiritual care. The breadth and depth of experiential learning make chaplains uniquely qualified to provide spiritual care and support in a variety of institutions, including corporations and businesses.



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