The ACPE Research Network

Back to the Articles of the Month Index Page ]


April 2016 Article of the Month
This month's article selection is by Chaplain John Ehman,
University of Pennsylvania Medical Center-Penn Presbyterian, Philadelphia PA.


Ragsdale, J. R., Orme-Rogers, C., Bush, J. C., Stowman, S. L. and Seeger, R. W. "Behavioral outcomes of supervisory education in the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education: a qualitative research study." Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling 70, no. 1 (March 2016): 5-15.

[Note: This article is available online to ACPE members through the Resources page of the ACPE's website (]


SUMMARY and COMMENT: Our featured article is the final report of a study originally presented to the 2015 ACPE national conference (Atlanta, GA) during Judith R. Ragsdale's acceptance of the organization's Critical Thinking in Research & Innovation Award [--see Items of Related Interest, §I, below]. It is a prime example of the practical value of research to the ACPE and should be essential reading for every person seeking to enter supervisory education, but it also provides for a wider audience an illustration of what lies behind the very special learning modality that is Clinical Pastoral Education.

This is the latest of three studies by Ragsdale, et al. to help develop a theory to guide those who train Supervisory Education Students (SES) [--see Items of Related Interest, §II, below]. The principal aim of the study is one of clarification of behaviors of successful SESs that demonstrate the integration of various strands of emphasis in the supervisory education process (e.g., "conceptual understanding, practical skills, personal maturity and spiritual/religious grounding" [p. 6]). "We believe that integrated supervision is essential to CPE and its soul-full qualities...[and]... [c]larifying the behaviors resulting in certification will help define these separate strands and how they are woven through experience and study..." [p. 6]. What the present study is not, however, is an attempt to list expected behaviors simply to "lead SESs to act [them] out...rather than developing the integration allowing the behaviors to be expressed from a depth of understanding and personal maturity" [p. 14].

Data were analyzed from transcribed interviews of 40-60 minutes with 28 members of the ACPE Certification Commission, representing all of the organization's nine regions. "The interview question was: 'What behaviors either in the written materials, or on the DVD, or in the committee meeting itself, influence you to vote to grant, or to deny, a candidate’s request to be certified as an ACPE Associate Supervisor?'" [p. 8]. The method for the Grounded Theory analysis is briefly but well described on p. 8, along with certain demographics of the participants.

Among the results, 12 behavior themes are identified and explicated under the headings of 4 competencies. In sum, these are [--excerpted from Table 1 on p. 9]:

Conceptual   - Uses theory in SES's own way
  - Assesses CPE students’ learning needs
  - Describes underlying reasons for behavior
Supervisory   - Develops individual/group supervisory alliance
  - Guides use of emotion in ministry
  - Explores theological and cultural diversity
  - Develop spiritual care competencies
  - Facilitates CPE student group reflection
Collegial   - Focuses committee process on certification
  - Expresses relational authority
Integration   - Connects theory, practice, personhood
  - Commits to continuing to use CPE processes for own development

Each of the 12 themes is then paired with very practical examples of behaviors. For instance, specific behaviors for Assesses CPE students' learning needs include: "Provides an example of assessing a student's learning need and using a theory-informed intervention in response to an opportunity presented in the moment" and "Describes a theory-based shift in approach when an intervention did not work" [p. 9]; and for Develops spiritual care competencies, specific behaviors include, "Identifies skills the CPE students need to learn such as spiritual assessment, listening, and working with people in conflict" [p. 11]. A total of 84 specific behaviors are listed on pp. 9-13, along with a number of quotes characterizing the Certification Commission members' perspective and discernment. It's important to recognize that "[t]his study did not list the negative behaviors commissioners identified as preventing certification because many of the negative behaviors are simply lack of expressing the identified behaviors" [p. 13].

Among the points in their discussion that demonstrate how this research raises practical issues for the ACPE, the authors note, "Using theories to assess student learning needs does not appear in the current (2010) ACPE Standards, yet this is an important ability certification commissioners seek from SESs." And further, "While spiritual assessment is still not a named outcome for Level I or Level II CPE, the call for better preparation for chaplains...suggest[s] that spiritual assessment should be a skill SESs both practice and teach" [p. 13]. For this reader, understanding better what commission members may actually look for in supervisory candidates would seem not only to help build theory to improve the supervisory process but also to help bring greater clarity and congruence to official standards and outcomes. This research paints a very real-life picture of the supervisory competencies from which CPE students should expect to benefit.

Some of the recommendations out of this study are: "to define timelines and evaluation strategies for these behaviors," "to focus CPE supervisory education on content as well as on process," "to reconsider including integration as a competency for Supervisory CPE," and to encourage "supervisors considering supervising SESs ...[to]... intentionally use CPE processes for their own development in two ways: by evaluating their theoretical positions and amending them for supervisory education; and by submitting their supervision of SESs for consultation" [p. 13].

Special comment to the Network from our article's lead author Judith R. Ragsdale, Director of Education and Research in Pastoral Care at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

Identifying these supervisory behaviors energized our research team, all ACPE supervisors. Some of these behaviors became goals for me not just for my supervisory students, but in my own supervision. Our team mined the interview data from the Certification Commissioners to find fresh language that would bring clarity to the ACPE Supervisory Education outcomes for SESs, Candidates, and their supervisors. Our hope is that these behaviors will provide a practical focus to a process that's educational, spiritual, intellectual, relational, and sometimes mystical. Our belief is that integration is core to competent CPE supervision, as is continued consultation for supervisors of SESs/Candidates.


Suggestions for the Use of the Article for Student Discussion: 

The most obvious ACPE context for discussion of this article would be a supervisory education group, in which case the findings should naturally generate animated sharing. The quotations included with the listing of competencies and behaviors could be helpful in focusing the discussion on manageable segments of the material. It might be both interesting and useful to explore how students perceive the behaviors in light of the article’s emphasis on the broad goal of integration. What of the findings do students experience as particularly clarifying? Special attention might be paid to the points made in the Discussion section about the "two of the philosophies from CPE’s roots" [p. 13]. A potentially more challenging group setting for discussion would be a regular CPE group. How would it feel, as a supervisor, to ask a group of CPE residents to read this article? Could it help those students better appreciate the adult-learning modality in which they are immersed? What do students make of the observations of the authors about diversity and the possible limits of drawing on one’s one faith tradition for spiritual care practice [--see p. 13]?


Related Items of Interest:

I.  This study reported this month has previously been noted by the Research Network. The PowerPoint slides from Dr. Ragsdale's presentation to the 2015 national conference in Atlanta, GA, are linked to our Summer 2015 Newsletter (see §6), and a bibliography of her research is linked to our Spring 2015 Newsletter (§2).


II.  The two preceding studies in the "series seeking to develop a theory to guide supervisors of SESs" [p. 7 of our featured article] are:

Ragsdale, J. R., Holloway, E. L. and Ivy, S. S. "Educating CPE supervisors: a grounded theory study." The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling 63, nos. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 2009): 10-1-14 [online journal article designation]. [(Abstract:) This qualitative study was designed to cull the wisdom of CPE supervisors doing especially competent supervisory education and to develop a theory of CPE supervisory education. Grounded theory methodology included interviewing 11 supervisors and coding the data to identify themes. Four primary dimensions emerged along with a reciprocal core dimension, Supervisory Wisdom, which refers to work the supervisors do in terms of their continuing growth and development.]

Ragsdale, J. R., Steele-Pierce, M. E., Bergeron, C. H. and Scrivener, C. W. "Mutually engaged supervisory processes: a proposed theory for ACPE supervisory education." Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling 66, nos. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 2012): 3 [electronic journal article designation]. [(Abstract:) Nineteen newly certified Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) Associate Supervisors were interviewed to determine how they learned to do Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) supervision. Grounded theory was the qualitative research method used in gathering and analyzing data for this IRB approved study. The emerging theory, Mutually Engaged Supervisory Processes, includes nine processes: Discerning Vocation, Feedback, Support, Supervisory Practices and Identity, Theory, Increased Awareness, Shift in Personhood, Offering Presence, and Owning Authority. Member checks confirmed the trustworthiness of the results.}


III.  For students whose interest in the story of CPE might be piqued by this month's article, the following two books (cited in the bibliography) offer thoughtful perspectives:

Hall, C. E. Head and Heart: The Story of the Clinical Pastoral Education Movement. Decatur, GA: Journal of Pastoral Care Publications, 1992.

King, S. W. Trust the Process: A History of Clinical Pastoral Education as Theological Education. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007.


IV.  This month marks the return of online access to the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling as part of ACPE membership (via the link on the ACPE's Resources page. Students should take advantage of this rich resource by browsing recent years' tables of contents for reports of research and other materials. Note that from 2009-2014, articles were designated by individual electronic journal page designations, but since 2015 normal sequential pagination by issues was resumed.



If you have suggestions about the form and/or content of the site, e-mail Chaplain John Ehman (Network Convener) at .
Copyright © 2016
The ACPE Research Network. All rights reserved.