Asking the Right Questions
One of the things I learned in my brief career as a journalist was that the key to getting the right information was….wait for it….asking the right questions. How many times do we find that true in our spiritual care, or education, or anything else we endeavor to accomplish with some purpose?
By Amy Greene, Board Chair | February 4, 2019
In my role as ACPE Board Chair, one of its greatest privileges is working alongside leaders of our spiritual care strategic partners (APC, CASC, NACC, NAJC). So, based on a stimulating conversation with the President of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), Rev. Ron Oliver, I thought it might be helpful to give the high points of our recent conversation. Ron is also the System Vice President, Mission & Outreach for Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky. He has served at Norton for nearly 30 years – 4 as a resident, 9 as the PICU chaplain, 7 as the Director of Pastoral Care and since 2009 in his current role which also includes executive oversight for Pastoral Care, the Office of Faith & Health Ministries, Medical Ethics Council, selected employee outreach initiatives and community benefit reporting.
Here are some of the questions I asked Ron:
Q: “What do hospital (and other) administrators need to know about the field of chaplaincy in order to make the most informed choices when hiring a chaplain?
The title “chaplain” is widely used. The distinction administrators would do well to consider is the difference between what is required to be a “professional chaplain” and how is this distinct from a clergyperson or other spiritual care provider who wishes also to be known as a “chaplain.” Being a “minister” is not synonymous with being a chaplain. Just as in hospital environments you have physicians who are all MDs or DOs, they nevertheless have specializations that are different and, in order to ensure the well-being and safety of those in their care, you don’t want them overlapping each other’s fields of expertise. So too, in the religious world there are infinite types of “clergy” -- and a subspecialty is professional chaplaincy. What makes it “professional” is the training, experience, accountability structures and examination of competencies. They are vetted by a jury of their peers, and not merely completing a course.
Q: What does it mean to be a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) and how does one accomplish this?
BCC is like the title “chaplain” – it’s widely used (and misused). Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a “Board Certified Chaplain.” However, being a Board Certified Chaplain from a professional organization such as APC and our strategic partners means the BCC has demonstrated professional competence via the time-tested, evidenced-based process of the association. The Association of Professional Chaplains, and its affiliate organization, the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., is the largest and most rigorous chaplain certifying agency. APC requires a theologically based master’s degree of at least 72 hours, 4 units of CPE (3 of which must be ACPE-accredited Clinical Pastoral Education), as well as 2000 hours of professional experience as a chaplain, written essays and an in-person interview with a committee of certified peers that includes lengthy documentation of competent practice. Maintaining one’s certification requires annual continuing education, professional accountability, continuing education, and an annually-renewed commitment to a rigorous ethics code plus meeting with a peer review committee every 5 years.
Q: Why are ACPE CPE units required over other providers of CPE?
APC knows that ACPE – the Standard for Spiritual Care and Education – is without peer in providing the best supervised clinical education for individuals seeking effective training and formation for ministry. As the oldest, most established, and most academically focused of the organizations training post-masters people for ministry in the clinical setting, ACPE ensures challenging, safe, and consistent education. Again, like “chaplain” and “BCC,” “CPE” is a term that can be used by anyone. Here is the major differentiator: ACPE-certified CPE is recognized by the US Department of Education (DOE) as graduate-level academic work, making their Certified Educators graduate-level faculty rather than trainers or workshop leaders for continuing education credits. The relationship with the DOE ensures accountability through the attention to rigorous standards of certification of its educators (supervisors) and accreditation of its educational centers.
Q: You spoke about APC valuing formation, why is that important?
APC asserts that there is an important difference between training and formation. Formation is what happens in the intensive give-and-take of the person’s interaction with their own beliefs, attitudes and prejudices when confronted with all the variety of the human experience of suffering. This simply cannot be learned from a book, or an online course. Likewise, formation is central to the process of becoming Board Certified. I unequivocally believe that when caring for persons in life’s most pressing situations, the integration of self and learned skills is necessary in order to be effective and, even more importantly, to do no harm. One cannot be effective by applying facts or techniques gained by rote memorization or checking off a list of courses completed. Spiritual care is an art, not just a skillset.
Q: We hear a lot now about the need to be “evidence-based” in the training and certification of chaplains. What exactly are we looking for?
The impact of chaplaincy practice, formation, training and education has only recently emerged as areas of research interest. Great progress is being made. APC is funding research initiatives and requires 10% of our annual continuing education requirements to be research related. APC is a sponsor of the Joint Research Council and values the ways we have partnered with ACPE and our other strategic partners in various initiatives.
For the administrator looking to hire a chaplain it is important to note that there are some organizations that claim only their BCC process is “evidenced-based.” Again, like the terms “chaplain,” “BCC,” and “CPE” one would do well to look beyond the terms and the claims. Here’s what we know, APC and our strategic partners have engaged and reengaged experts in the field over decades to shape our shared competencies, standards of practice, and certification process. Expert opinion is a standard of evidence. As such, our process and all that stands behind it is evidenced-based. No other BCC certifying organization has any evidence beyond their own pool of experts – no case series, no retrospective cohort studies, no meta-analysis of studies, and certainly no randomized control trials.
Q: Anything else?
Again, all professions have a wide variance in the quality and training of an individual calling themselves by that profession’s single noun – chaplain, doctor, etc. So, it is important to know what you’re looking for. Many administrators who, understandably, are unaware of the complexity of spiritual care will ask, “Can’t we just use local clergy or volunteers for this?” It’s important to be able to say that responsible organizations should not let persons who serve without requisite accountability structures and who have not been appropriately formed and trained to attend to the spiritual needs of total strangers in settings and moments of high stress and vulnerability, any more than they would allow someone who had taken on online course for nursing assistance to fill in for an actual RN or BSN licensed nurse. The spiritual care of troubled persons facing life’s hardest circumstances requires more than general ministerial credentials and a kind and well-intentioned character. What we do as professional spiritual caregivers is of utmost urgency and importance that is distinct from congregational ministry or spiritual counseling. It is its own professional specialty and should be treated as worth the effort to raise expectations for.