In this ongoing series, every two weeks the ACPE Research Committee will publish reviews focused on Level I and Level II CPE. 

Research Committee Review: Lasting Effects of CPE
By Henry Heffernan, ACPE Research Committee  |  November 26, 2018

Among the research articles that the Research Committee reviewed, one represented the information that a CPE supervisor obtained from former students on how the training they received in the program was influencing their current professional functioning. The information sought was quite appropriate and timely for helping to complete the self-study for the CPE program’s periodic accreditation review:

Derrickson, P., & Ebersole, M. (1986). Lasting effects of CPE: a five year review. Journal of Pastoral Care, 40(1), 5-20. 

Improving pastoral functioning is the ultimate purpose of CPE. But for a former student to evaluate her or his own current pastoral functioning in any systematic way is a daunting task. It would have been unrealistic to ask the sixty former students who had completed either a basic summer unit, an advanced unit, or a basic extended unit to respond voluntarily and with candor to a fully detailed questionnaire covering all aspects of one’s current pastoral activities. The supervisor wisely chose three relatively simple questions. First, the frequency with which they recall and think about their CPE experiences in their current activities: how many times during a week or month, on average? Second, an open ended question on the context of pastoral activity in which these memories of CPE experiences come to mind, and with what aspects of the CPE program? Third, which seminars in the CPE program came to mind and with what frequency?

Fifty five of the former students responded with a lot of information that was both very useful for the self-study and also with some unanticipated surprises. A number of initial expectations were confirmed along with the unexpected high frequencies that CPE experiences were recalled during the variety of current pastoral activities. In addition, differences between the summer basic units and the extended units became clear, along with some surprises on which seminars were truly meaningful and useful in practice. The memories were more frequent the more that current pastoral situations matched past CPE experiences. But the responses suggested that the transfer of skills to different types of pastoral situations was less in evidence. 

Although the frequencies of evoking of memories of different aspects of the CPE experience may not have the characteristics of data for truly scientific research methods, and self-report is always susceptible to bias, the information gained from this survey proved to be useful for confirming a number of questions the author had about his CPE program’s curriculum and methods. This article can be useful as a model for CPE Educators. It is an example of a survey process that can motivate voluntary and useful responses from former students who are quite busy in their current careers, and too busy to respond to a scientifically constructed survey.  

The Rev. Henry G. Heffernan is a chaplain in the Washington, DC area. He also serves on ACPE’s Research Committee. He may be contacted at hheffernan@gonzaga.org
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