CPE History

Early 20th Century: Theological Education during the early 1900s focused primarily on classroom learning with little emphasis on experiential learning. With the influence of Rev. Anton T. Boisen and others, things changed, and a new way of learning and ministry formed. The Presbyterian/Congregational minister, Rev. Boisen, emphasized listening, observing, and reading “living human documents.” As a former mental patient, he was convinced that some mental illnesses were related to religious experiences. Thus, he concluded that persons experiencing mental health problems related to religious concerns versus medical problems could be successfully treated. As a result, Rev. Boisen was hired by Dr. William A. Bryan, Superintendent of the Worcester State Hospital as the hospital’s chaplain. Shortly after that, theological students under the direction of Rev. Boisen began serving as attendants during the day. They attended staff meetings and, during the evenings, participated in seminars with Rev. Boisen and professional staff members.

1925: Dr. Richard Cabot, M.D., also known as the father of social work, began supervising seminarians in a hospital setting using an internship/case model study. Although Rev. Boisen and Dr. Cabot agreed on the basic concept of clinical training for theological students, they differed in other areas. Dr. Cabot proposed a sophisticated professional training model in which students learned to carefully record their observations in history, diagnosis, treatment plan, and goal formulation. However, Rev. Boisen was interested in exploring the relationship between mental disorders and religion within this context.

1930: Dr. Cabot, Henry Wise Hobson, Episcopal Bishop, Samuel Eliot of the Arlington Street Unitarian Church of Boston, William A. Healy of the Judge Baker Foundation, and Ashely Day Leavitt of the Harvard Congregational Church met to form the Council for Clinical Training.

1932: Dr. Helen Flanders Dunbar moved the Council for Clinical Training to New York, and a split developed involving Dr. Cabot and Guiles in New England on the one hand and Rev. Boisen and Dunbar in New York on the other. The division grew larger before a significant break occurred.

1944: Dr. Cabot and Guiles from Boston separated from the New York group and formed the Institute for Pastoral Care. Over the next several years, established other groups, the Lutheran Advisory Council and the Southern Baptist Association of Clinical Pastoral Education focused on the importance of pastoral theology. At a Boston conference, representatives of the Lutheran Advisory Council, the Institute for Pastoral Care, the Council for Clinical Training, and the Association of Seminary Professors in the Practical Field sowed the first seeds for the formation of the Committee of Twelve, which developed a process that eventually emerged into a new organization.

1967: The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) was formed, and although ACPE has remained the most prominent organization offering CPE, a multitude of groups have formed since its formation, which includes the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP), Center for Spiritual Care and Pastoral Formation (CSCPF), Spiritual Care Association (SCA).

2018: Clinical Pastoral Education International (CPEI), Inc., a 501(c)3 organization, was formed with three primary goals in mind: (1) to ensure that students of all faiths were welcome; (2) to ensure our students received quality and life-transforming clinical pastoral education, and (3) to ensure the educational programs were achievable.

2020: To ensure CPEI fulfilled its initial goals, the CPEI Board of Directors approved the process to affiliate with the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). Approval was received in December 2020, and although this was a significant milestone, the leadership felt that additional oversight and accreditation would benefit graduates and began identifying an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. As a result, CPEI is now in the process of applying with an accrediting body affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education.