Seminary Strengthens Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Program Beginning Fall 2012

2 May 2012 • Faculty News • By Deborah (Malacky) Belonick

Icon of St. Panteleimon, the Unmercenary HealerIcon of St. Panteleimon, the Unmercenary HealerThis coming fall semester, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) will become a requirement for all new students enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at the seminary. This means that beginning in academic year 2012–2013, incoming seminarians who are M.Div. candidates will be required to complete 400 hours of hospital visitation and related self-reflection under the watchful eye and direction of a certified CPE supervisor.

“And that’s great news,” says Dr. Albert S. Rossi, adjunct professor of Pastoral Theology and supervisor of Hospital Field Ministry at St. Vladimir’s. “Our students will be receiving training that’s ‘off-the-charts’ enlightening: CPE will not only challenge our seminarians to face their own fears and demons regarding providing pastoral care and their own prejudices, but it also will provide them with skills that are transferable to their future pastoral ministries.

“This new requirement will benefit our seminarians greatly,” Dr. Rossi continued. “Besides earning 1 full CPE unit from an accredited CPE program, they will be simultaneously earning 3 academic credits counted toward their M.Div. degree.

“More importantly,” Dr. Rossi noted, “they will hone their listening skills and discover the value of being ‘present’ to hurting people. I always claim that ‘listening is love delivered’—whether that’s in a hospital setting or at a church coffee hour—and learning to listen is exactly what CPE will train our students to do.”

Clinical Pastoral Education began in 1925 as a form of theological education that takes place in clinical settings where ministry is being practiced: hospitals and health care facilities; hospices; psychiatric and community care facilities; geriatric and rehabilitation centers; and even parish-based settings. In the case of St. Vladimir’s seminarians, all CPE learning will take place in hospital settings, either during their Middler academic year or during their summer recesses.

“For many years,” noted Dr. Rossi, “our seminarians were required to do 100 hours of hospital field work under the supervision of Dr. Sarah Fogg, director of Pastoral Care at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, which was very beneficial to them.

“During the past couple of years, however” he continued, “we have slowly begun to allow our students to substitute 1 unit of CPE in lieu of their hospital field work.

“Surprisingly, we found that most of our seminarians preferred to do more work—400 hours of hospital work and self-reflection instead of the required 100 hours of fieldwork—in order to earn the 1 CPE unit,” he said.

“This showed that they recognized the value of the skills they were learning in CPE, in particular the value of skills ‘transferable’ to their future pastoral ministry, such as knocking on a hospital door while not knowing what they may face when they open it; or, being challenged regarding their mannerisms, expressions, and conversations with patients as they discuss their experiences in debriefing sessions with their CPE peers and supervisor,” he explained.

Dr. Rossi himself is an integral part of the new CPE requirement, in that he conducts both “intake” and “exit” interviews for participating seminarians. At their intake interviews, students receive an overview about the Orthodox Christian perspective of suffering, an understanding of a basic pastoral counseling model, and a fundamental orientation about the CPE program. At their exit interviews, students review their CPE supervisor’s report, discuss their experience with the program, and constructively create guidelines for the future. Their CPE unit certificate goes into their permanent student record, with the option of also including their CPE supervisor’s report.

Students who complete their first CPE unit often go on to fulfill three more units, in order to be certified as “institutional chaplains,” Dr. Rossi noted. He also remarked on the “extraordinary success” that SVOTS graduates have in being accepted to CPE residency programs, which have included such venues as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City; Veteran’s Administration Hospitals in the Bronx; Westchester County Medical Center; and St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers.

“I’m joyful and humbled (but proud of our students) to say that being a SVOTS seminarian is known as a ‘credential of integrity’ among CPE supervisors nationwide,” Dr. Rossi concluded. “Many of our students, after earning their M.Div., are going on to some of the most prestigious programs in the country.”

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