Research Committee Review: Personal growth in CPE
By Judy Ragsdale, Chair|  October 22, 2018

Greetings ACPE! ACPE’s Research Committee has reviewed all the literature we could find focused on CPE Level I (which used to be known as “Basic”) and Level II (previously known as “Advanced”). The reason for offering these historical names is that much of what we reviewed is old. As some of you may have noticed, old writings frequently contain wisdom for the present day. Here we’re thinking of the sacred texts of every known faith tradition! Our plan is to take turns every two weeks (more or less) sharing salient concepts from this literature with you. Our goal is to get you hooked on research! 

Our first article review is about personal growth in CPE. Of note is the discrepancy between men and women in their CPE experiences. Here’s the citation in case this review leads you to want to read the article for yourself: Geary, T. F. (1977). Personal growth in CPE. Journal of Pastoral Care, 31(1), 12-17.

Geary sought to test the widely-held idea by the early 1970s that CPE fosters "personal growth," which for immediate purposes he defined in terms of Abraham Maslow's concept of self-actualization. Surveying 101 people (first unit CPE students; second/third/fourth unit students; former students; and church professionals who had never taken CPE) and interviewing 8 students (5 Basic and 3 Advanced), he found some evidence that first-time students experienced notable movement toward self-actualization during their program, but that this was true significantly more for males than females. He speculated that this might indicate how CPE had "not yet addressed itself specifically to the needs of female students," and he asked, "[A]re the men, who dominate historically and numerically, holding the women back?" Advanced-CPE students, as a group in this sample, showed a more consistent and increasing pattern of personal growth. Overall, however, it was the DESIRE to grow that was the most permanent attitude among all CPE students, even as individual gains in growth may tend to be lessened and tempered when students return to their previous environments. Geary wondered, though, whether that desire for growth may have been what attracted the students to CPE to begin with, rather than it being a result of the CPE experience.

This research can raise for us today some productive questions: Does CPE nurture personal growth more in some demographic groups than others, and if so, how could such an indicator inform the ACPE? How best might we measure this "personal growth"? Is personal growth still considered by members in ACPE to be a primary desired outcome? If you would like to discuss your thoughts about this article or this question, please know we are working to create a discussion board so we can engage one with another as we are stimulated by research!

The Rev. Judith R. Ragsdale is an ACPE Certified Educator at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, OH. She also serves as chair of ACPE’s Research Committee and may be contacted at
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