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What is CPE?

Clinical Pastoral Education is interfaith professional education for ministry. It brings theological students and ministers of all faiths (pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and others) into supervised encounter with persons in crisis. Out of an intense involvement with persons in need, and the feedback from peers and teachers, students develop new awareness of themselves as persons and of the needs of those to whom they minister. From theological reflection on specific human situations, they gain a new understanding of ministry. Within the interdisciplinary team process of helping persons, they develop skills in interpersonal and professional relationships.

-Excerpt from ACPE website.       

Each CPE unit consists of 400 hours (300 hours of clinical time and 100 hours of instruction/didactics) spread over 12 to 24 weeks.

Why should I take it?

CPE is useful because it prepares pastors for parish ministry, chaplaincy, lay ministry, teaching, and counseling. Through CPE, one builds pastoral care skills and becomes more self-aware. Taking CPE also enables pastors to broaden their vocational ministry options.

Those taking CPE focus on:

  • Pastoral Reflection: reflection on one's self as person and pastor in relationship to persons in crisis, the educator, and peer group members, as well as the curriculum and institutional setting
  • Pastoral Formation: focus on personal and pastoral identity issues in learning and ministry
  • Pastoral Competence: deepening and unfolding of competence in pastoral function, pastoral skills, and knowledge of theology and the behavioral sciences

-Excerpt from ACPE website.         

Where can I take CPE?

Many organizations offer CPE programs, but finding the right one requires research. Choosing a site depends on your:

  • CPE goals: There are a variety of vocational ministries, and different sites will focus on developing different pastoral skills and theories.
  • Timeline: Applications are usually due 6-8 months in advance of a CPE unit.
  • Ministry setting: Different sites will offer a variety of part-time and full-time structures including residency, online, and hybrid programs.

When considering a CPE site, review their website and contact their spiritual care department to determine which CPE programs are offered, what characteristics define them, and what learning theories are implemented.

There are many different training centers, but here are a few that have widespread recognition in Canada and the USA:

  1. Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) is one of the most recognized and accepted CPE program providers in the United States. Many refer to their units as the "gold standard" of training. They offer a variety of programs, including internships, residencies and hybrid (with online component) programs. These units of CPE meet the requirement for Association of Professional Chaplains Board Certification and the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care.

*To view hybrid online programs, select the drop-down menu for Units Offered and select On-line. These hybrid units may require video meetings, several in-person meetings to develop group dynamics and complete clinical hours.

  1. Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC) is the only professional certifying and education organization in Canada. They are especially unique in that they offer both CPE and PCE (Pastoral Counselling Education). CASC has an agreement with ACPE and Association of Professional Chaplain in which all units are accepted.
  2. College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP) offers some on-line programs. Not every organization recognizes these CPE units, but they are recognized in certain pockets of the USA such as the west and east coast. One unit from CPSP may be transferred to Association of Professional Chaplain’s board certification.
  3. The Institute for Clinical Pastoral Training is a  relatively new, growing chaplain training program that has been housed under different names and websites (Spiritual Care Association,, Health Care Chaplaincy). They offer onsite and hybrid CPE units with a heavy online component. These units are easy to be accepted into and to complete because of their on-line learning modules, video conferencing group times, and flexibility in allowing students to complete clinical hours in their current ministry setting. There is concern within the professional chaplain community that this organization at times devalues the importance of religion, connection to a faith community, and personal faith. It is important to note that this CPE structure is different as they accommodate 12 students per CPE group, which the other CPE programs limit student enrollment to 4-6 students per unit to ensure meaningful engagement. These units are not accredited by the ACPE, but they are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET).

How do I pay for CPE?

  • CRCNA pastors and ministry staff can utilize their own continuing education funds.
  • Prospective and current CRCNA chaplains can apply for Training Support by completing an Endorsement Application and Application for Training Support. Upon receiving a grant, the applicant must commit to working at least 3 years as an endorsed CRCNA chaplain or repay the grant.

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