Research Committee Review: Measuring changes in personal and professional growth for CPE students
By Heather Weidemann, ACPE Certified Educator  |  October 22, 2018

Welcome to the second review article in a series written by the members of the ACPE Research Committee.  We have reviewed all the literature we could find that is focused on CPE Level I (formerly called “Basic”) and Level II (formerly called “Advanced”).  The reason for featuring these historical names is that much of what we reviewed is a number of years old.  I found a brown paper backed copy of my journal article in our hospital’s library dated 1982!  As John Ehman observed in our initial offering for this series, old writings frequently contain wisdom for the present day.  While not sacred texts, these articles will nevertheless introduce you to some of the themes and insights that have shaped our current understanding and practice of CPE.  We dare to hope there will also be some revelations along the way!

Our second article review is about measuring changes in personal and professional growth for CPE students.  Openness to change has recently become a key trait of interest to researchers who study essential qualities for leadership.  There is emerging consensus on the importance of openness to change, but less so on how to measure for it.  Here’s the citation for the full article in case this review inspires you to read further:  Thomas, J.T., Stein, L.I., & Klein, M.H. (1982).  A comparative evaluation of changes in Basic Clinical Pastoral Education students in different types of clinical settings as measured by the Adjective Check List and the Experience Scale. Journal of Pastoral Care, 36 (3), 181-193.

Klein and Stein, both Professors of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin/Madison, and Thomas, a Presbyterian minister and ACPE Educator in Madison, WI, sought to quantify changes in students who had taken a Basic unit of CPE.  The mid-1970’s when their research took place, was a high point of interest in “psychometric” personality assessments that were oriented toward describing and defining human behaviors.  Tools like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), which had been popular since the 1940’s and is still in wide use today, are informed by a learning- or behavioral-based approach.  As an example, the MMPI does not rely on its subjects’ disclosure of extensive personal history as a more psychodynamically informed test might do.  Instead, it forms its assessments through measuring overt, observable behaviors thought to have value in predicting personality traits.  Klein, Stein and Thomas administered the MMPI, along with two other similarly structured tests called the Adjective Check List (ACL) and the Experiencing Scale, to 81 CPE students in a variety of clinical settings. 

The students who participated (56% Catholic and 44% Protestant, 62% male and 19% female) were tested during the first and last weeks of their Basic CPE unit as well as 3 months afterward.  They took the MMPI once at the beginning of the unit, and the ACL at the beginning, the end, and the post-unit 3 month follow up date. In addition each student submitted three Critical Incident (CI) Reports, which will sound familiar to many of us.  These reports described a meaningful incident during the CPE student’s week and included a verbatim reporting of a caring encounter as well as a brief reflection on its significance.  The CI reports were analyzed for personality traits using the Experiencing Scale, which Stein had been instrumental in developing.  The researchers’ conclusions were that Basic CPE students in several types of clinical settings reported more positive self-perceptions and less defensive attitudes after the conclusion of their unit.  The type of clinical setting where the student was placed (psychiatric, inpatient hospital, etc.) did not appear to affect this outcome.  Of the 81 students, the study noted that 60% took CPE for “Pastoral Skill Development” or “Personal Growth Related” reasons.  This statistic raises questions about whether the student’s underlying reasons for taking CPE may possibly contribute to their responses. 

Does a student’s motivation for taking CPE influence the changes they experience?  And are behavior-based instruments the most effective method to measure interpersonal openness to growth and change?  The study leaves these questions open for future consideration.  How might they inform our quest to effectively measure student learning in CPE today?

The Rev. Heather L. Weidemann is an ACPE Certified Educator at Maine Medical Center in Portland, ME. She also serves on ACPE's Research Committee and may be contacted at
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