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Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE): Program and Training Information

Clinical Pastoral Education programs prepare members of the clergy to support individuals and families through medical situations. These programs are available at numerous colleges, universities, hospitals and health care institutions. Read on for information on classwork and clinical requirements for participants.

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Essential Information

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is a professional ministry training program for theology students of all faiths, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other religions. They learn to act as counselors for individuals and families in crisis, such as people with chronic disabilities or those facing death. These programs are heavily geared towards clinical work with patients and their loved ones.

There are three levels of training, often found within one all-encompassing program; however some institutions only feature the first or second level. Students must complete one level before progressing to the next; those progressing to Level II or beyond may qualify for a paid 1-year residency.

Education Prerequisites

Applicants should have a high school diploma or GED. Alternatively, ordination by a religious authority may also qualify potential students. Some schools may require applicants to have completed one or more years of theological school.

Program Coursework

CPE programs include both clinical experiences and supplemental class work. Many programs have a ratio of three hours of clinical experience to one hour of education. Clinical responsibilities may include being on-call for hospital visits. Instruction involves reading, written reflection assignments, seminars, group discussions and case studies. Didactic session topics may include:

  • Cultural perspectives on pastoral care and counseling
  • Pastoral identity
  • Spirituality and health
  • Communication styles
  • Systems and groups of ministry
  • Patient relationships
  • Personal growth and development
  • Community building.

Popular Career Options

Many residential and outpatient facilities employ individuals who have completed a Clinical Pastoral Education program, including hospitals, hospices, veteran's facilities, geriatric care centers, rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities and children's medical centers. Common job titles include:

  • Pastor
  • Chaplain
  • Parish minster
  • Lay minister
  • Pastoral counselor
  • Pastoral educator
  • Licensed professional counselor

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2012 about 13,000 clergy members worked in hospitals and nursing care facilities, in addition to being employed by home health care services. That same year, those clergy members' average annual salaries ranged between $46,510 and $48,310. The BLS predicted 18% job growth for clergy in general, from 2010 to 2020.

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