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: An analysis of the Affective and Cognitive Changes in First-Unit Clinical Pastoral Education Students
By Niyoka I. Nelson, ACPE Research Committee  |  December 17, 2018

The 6th article in the series of reviews by the ACPE Research Committee is by Larry Vandercreek & John Valentino's "Affective and Cognitive Changes in First-Unit Clinical Pastoral Education Students," from the Journal of Pastoral Care [vol. 45, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 375-386]. The study involved 150 students in 48 CPE programs, addressing the questions what are CPE students learning, and what changes result from the CPE Experience. Findings, grouped by the measures employed, were as follows: 

Psychological Measure: Personal Orientation Instrument (POI)
A large part of the CPE experience and education is for students to gain a level of self-actualization. The POI, consisting of 150 items, provides insight into the student’s self-actualization process. Data revealed that the first unit of CPE did yield positive psychological differences between pre-test and post-test scores, suggesting that an increase of self-actualization is a major effect of the first unit of CPE. 

Depression Instrument: Beck Depression Inventory (BDI)
"As…depression may contribute to the student's decision to enter CPE, …we believe it has an impact on participation in and growth during the clinical process" (pg. 377). Among the findings, a number of students indicated higher depression scores between the pre-test and post-test. However, the authors speculate that this result may actually indicate a constructive process, whereby a students’ experience of suffering and death can lead to a deeper spirituality, though that can also be accompanied by a temporary increase in a sense of depression. The authors also suggested that the sense of depression is lessened depending on the students, age education and other external variables.

Personal/Professional Confidence: General Expectancy for Success Scale (GESS)
Growth is also a very important aspect of CPE. Are students more confident in their ministries after CPE? If so, how does that affect their personal and professional growth? How are students measuring their success? The GESS is a 30-item instrument to measure students' anticipated level of success, according to the domains of General Efficacy, Long-range Planning, and Problem-solving. Findings indicated that students grew in the areas of their personal and pastoral confidence, and long-range planning, as well as problem-solving numbers, increased from pre-test to post-test. This suggests that the first unit of CPE has a positive impact on a students' ability to function well in their ministry.

Implications for CPE, and Suggestions for Further Research: 
While the topic of this article was not specifically about CPE and depression, the BDI was the area that most stood out to me, and I believe it may be a focus of particular benefit for our professional community. Is there a correlation between CPE and depression or depressive moods, and what instruments could be used to effectively capture this data? Would adding CPE outcomes to reflect a more behavior-centered approach help to identify students who may be dealing with depression?

Niyoka I. Nelson is a chaplain in the Atlanta area. She also serves on ACPE's Research Committee. She may be contacted at
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