United States Department of Veterans Affairs
National Chaplain Center

CPE Frequently Asked Questions and Additional Information


Information on CPE and Frequently Asked Questions

Information for CPE Residents

What is Clinical Pastoral Education?

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

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) programs are established in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) according to the guidelines of the Associated Health Professions Handbook, Academic Affiliation (M-8, Part II, Chapter 2), and the annual program announcements for the trainee support in associated health professions.  VHA policy requires that CPE programs be accredited by a national accreditation body officially recognized by the U. S. Department of Education.  "The Office of Acadamic Affairs recognizes these national accrediting bodies as legitimate quality assurance mechanisms that foster high standards of excellence in associated health professions (M-8, Part II, Chapter 2.08)." CPE Programs in the VHA are accreditated by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc. (ACPE).  

The Essential Elements in CPE Include:

  • The actual practice of ministry to persons
  • Detailed reporting and evaluation of that practice
  • Pastoral Supervision by a certified CPE Supervisor
  • A process conception of learning
  • A theoretical perspective on all elements of the program
  • A small group of peers in a common learning experience
  • A specific time period
  • An individual contract for learning

The Individual Learning Contract:

    The CPE participant's contract is developed around the learning goals of:

  • Pastoral Reflection - reflection on one's self as a person and pastor in relationship to persons in crisis, the supervisor, 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 unfloding of competence in pastoral function, pastoral skills, and knowledge of theology and the behavioral sciences.
  • Some centers also offer Pastoral Specialization, focusing on the student's desire to become competent and knowledgeable in a particular area of ministry, e.g. oncology, urban ministry, parish ministry, hospice ministry, etc.

What Does CPE Prepare a Person to Do?

CPE serves as part of one's preparation for parish ministry, chaplaincy, lay ministry, teaching and counseling.  A student's learning contract may be focused toward integration of theological, psychological and pastoral insights into parish ministry.  Or, the contract may be designed with a career goal of chaplaincy or pastoral counseling.

Some students, after completing several units of CPE, choose to enroll in Supervisory CPE, working toward certification as a CPE Supervisor.  In Supervisory CPE the student learns the theory and practice of supervision and has the experience of supervising CPE students under the guidance and with the consultation of a CPE Supervisor.

CPE develops the capacity for the pastoral and spiritual care of individuals, families and systems.

Many theological schools require one unit of CPE as a part of a theological degree program.  Other schools accept a year of CPE as the required intern year of ministry for a theological degree program.  A number of theological schools have graduate degree programs that combine academic study and Supervisory CPE. 

Who is eligible to enroll in CPE?

  • An individual who, through a written application and an admissions interview, has demonstrated the ability to participate in CPE - usually one who has successfully completed at least one year of theological school.
  • Such other requirements or education and experience as a specific CPE Center may require.
  • An individual who wishes to enroll in Supervisory CPE shall have successfully completed several units of CPE and demonstrated a readiness to pursue Supervisory CPE.  The applicant will usually have completed a theological degree and have several years of pastoral experience. 

How may I enroll in CPE?

  • Complete the application and mail it to the CPE Center to which you wish to apply. 
CPE Application Form
  • Arrange for an interview with a CPE Supervisor or other person approved by the center to which you are applying.

Any CPE Supervisor, Regional Director, or CPE Seminary Liaison Professor is available for consultation concerning opportunities for students in CPE.