From the Desk of the Executive Director
By Trace Haythorn, Executive Director/CEO  |  March 18, 2019

What makes for an expert? I have wondered about this several times as I have observed our members develop the new certification process. What does it mean to obtain mastery in a discipline, and how do we assess when a person has reached the “good enough” place, knowing we all continue to grow in our abilities?

These questions surfaced again when I came across a 2012 study by Ericsson and Moxley in the Handbook of Organizational Creativity. ACPE seems to have been living many of the central arguments from this handbook for the last several years! The researchers identified six characteristics of those we call “experts,” all of which seem in line with the work of the Certification Commission and its task forces and work groups:

  • Experts seem to acquire a large number of complex algorithms to evaluate future scenarios.

    Whether a chaplain serving on multiple units in a hospital, an ACPE Certified Associate Educator just beginning her/his career, an ACPE Psychotherapist positioning his/her practice in their community, or a seasoned department head or vice president working within a large system, ACPE Certified Educators, Psychotherapists and Spiritual Care Professionals are always managing an enormous amount of complex information in their daily routines. Add to that their attention to professional development, accreditation, and commitments within their faith communities, no one serving in these positions simply rests in a space of “as is.” So many organizations have seen significant changes due to technology, economic pressures, and mergers/acquisitions, and ACPE is no different. Amidst it all, we strive together to discern not only what the future might hold but what future we desire for the profession, our association, and its members.

  • Experts ‘chunk’ data to organize more complex scenarios.

    While many people think of data sets that are filled with numbers and charts, our members - aka experts - chunk data most often in the form of narratives. Many individuals and groups are actively engaged in research helping to quantify this data and develop schemes for communicating it to decision-makers within the many contexts where our members serve. A decade from now, I can imagine we will be revising and building on much of what we have learned in recent years as we work to partner globally as well as domestically in a wide variety of contexts.

  • Experts engage in meta-cognitive reflection that reduces the urge to automaticity.

    ACPE Certified Educators teach and help cultivate “meta-cognitive reflection that reduces the urge to automaticity;” in other words, our members teach and engage in reflective practice. Maintaining a non-anxious presence amidst so much uncertainty and change takes a kind of expertise that is at the very heart of ACPE!

  • Experts put the effort in - around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice at a minimum.

    While some organizations appear to offer short cuts to certification, research shows - and ACPE remains committed to - more than cognitive comprehension of the practices of spiritual care. As Ericsson and Moxley identify, deliberate practice makes the difference in the long run, intentional, reflective, engaged. To express 10,000 hours differently, 5-6 years of thoughtful practice is what the research shows leads to expertise. When you add together residency(s) and CEC work, you’re looking at 5-6 years. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  • Expertise is highly domain specific and does not seem to generalize well.

    Just because you are an expert in spiritual care, you should not expect to suddenly be able to use those skills within another field. Others may become effective generalists of spiritual care, but expertise comes in being grounded in the domain.

  • Experts have a talent for practice, persistence and skill mastery.

This work takes time. It is difficult. Practitioners will fail again and again, even after years of practice. Thus, it requires deliberate attention to the practices that make for expertise. Experts know what they know, and they know what they don’t know. They “stay in their lane,” refining their expertise rather than experimenting outside of their areas of competence. They still innovate, challenge conventions, and push for deeper understanding, but they do all of that within the frameworks and professional standards that define their work.

I know many of our members shy from words like “expert” due to the perception that it is both arrogant and terminal, i.e. seems to indicate that one is no longer learning. I am clear that our association is full of experts and that we need to celebrate, promote, and advance that expertise in service to a world that needs our support and encouragement, that needs the kind of expert spiritual care we offer and teach every day. Here’s to the ACPE experts!
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