Chaplain certification: APC vs CPSP vs … nothing?


***update: if you like this then read this article as well: APC vs CPSP vs … both?***

***update #2: here’s my thoughts on the benefits of certification after I completed my own: Why Certification Makes a Difference for Chaplains***

***update #3: why the formation of the Spiritual Care Association (SCA) is a good thing***

This is probably one of the most polarizing topics concerning professional chaplaincy – at least from what I’ve heard – but it’s a good one to consider if you’re considering a career as a Chaplain. I’m going to give  a quick run-down of the options, the benefits and drawbacks of each, and let you know what I’m doing. Bear in mind that these opinions are just based on my own limited experience and aren’t intended to be an exhaustive, investigative comparison. I couldn’t recommend any stronger that you need to do your own homework and research. Read on and I’ll give my impressions on the two major certifying bodies as well as the “what, me certified?” route.

APC/BCCI Certification: The “Gold Standard”

Certification for many is a one track road: do your four units of CPE, get provisional certification through the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, which is part of the Association of Professional Chaplains. put your time in and complete your required forms, do your board review and you’re certified. That road is a long and tough one, but one that many travel down. There are a lot of preliminary requirements before you go before your board of review, and the boards meet on specific dates depending on your area of the country. Chances are you will need to travel, sometimes a significant distance, to take your board examination. It’s also fairly expensive at $475 if you’re not an APC member. But it does grant you the title of Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) from the most recognized body out there and that counts for a lot – some would say everything. One key requirement is CPE. You will need at least 4 units, and only one of those units can be from a program outside of an ACPE approved program (CPSP for example). So if you have other training, you will most likely need to fill in some CPE units. The main benefit of BCCI certification is that it is the gold standard: every agency that looks at chaplain certification sees it as the standard to be met. My CPE supervisor called it your “union card”: get it and you can go anywhere. There are also many who have gone through the process so it is a bit easier to get help when you need it from a mentor. And chances are you will need help, as navigating all the requirements is rough. It also doesn’t require much of you after you’ve been certified.

CPSP Certification: A Viable Alternative

Chances are someone who is BCCI certified will tell you that CPSP certification is a joke. It’s not. The College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy began as a breakaway from ACPE 25 years ago and offers its own certification programs for Clinical Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors among others. It is a smaller group and is not as prominent, but has some major benefits to it. The process of certification in CPSP as a Clinical Chaplain is quite different. Prospective members must first join a local chapter, who then serves as an advising body and accountability source. After a provisional period the candidate is considered for certification. The preliminary requirements are similar but not as voluminous. You will still need 4 units of CPE prior to being considered, for example. But the process seems less labor intensive than BCCI. One benefit that I see of CPSP certification is that it requires that members continue to be involved in their local chapter, providing material for didactics and keeping regular meetings. This provides not only ongoing training but support and accountability from colleagues. Membership is not simply a matter of paying your annual fee – you have to keep showing up and producing. It is, in many ways, a continuation of the CPE experience. A benefit I saw at least for me was that CPSP was actually quite active in my area. There is only one certified CPE training center near me (Pittsburgh), while there are three areas for CPE through CPSP as well as two local chapters. The drawback of certification through CPSP is a lack of recognition. Some workplaces will specifically look for someone who is BCCI certified, or at least give these candidates higher consideration over those credentialed through other sources. That is why many will say that there’s no reason not to go for BCCI certification. It is probably a good idea to talk with potential employers to get an idea of what they are looking for and aim for that.

Other Certification, or None At All

There are other bodies that will grant some special certifications for those entering chaplaincy, but honestly I don’t think most of them are worth your time and money. Many of these programs only grant certificates, which are helpful for your resume but aren’t equivalent to board certification. I recommend working on these after you’ve finished the certification process through either BCCI or CPSP. But you may even ask, “do I need certification at all if I’m already working as a professional Chaplain?” That’s a tough question to answer. I worked for many years as a hospice Chaplain before even thinking of professional certification. My employer didn’t require it, and honestly I don’t think they cared – so if they didn’t I didn’t. But when I lost that position I was thrust back into the job search competing with others who already had that BCC title and I was at a disadvantage. Some positions, such as at the local VA, required it. However other positions may not require any sort of professional certification.

Conclusion: Know thyself

The choice of how you pursue your career and continuing education is an important one. If you’re currently enrolled in CPE and thinking of a career in Chaplaincy, it is a very significant decision. If you ask around you will get lots of advice on what to do and how to do it. None of that is a substitute for knowing your own goals and doing your own homework. I chose to pursue certification through CPSP primarily because of the chapter model. I’ve found that I know very few colleagues in the field outside of the other Chaplain I work with, and meeting with local professionals regularly will help to keep my skills strong as well as provide me a place to get feedback on strengths and weaknesses. I might also pursue a Supervisory role in the future, as I could see my hospice setting as a great one for a CPSP group (plus we need the volunteers!). I know that this choice has its weaknesses, but I feel comfortable with it.

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33 thoughts on “Chaplain certification: APC vs CPSP vs … nothing?

  1. Many employers, especially those related to government systems (such as the VA), require Endorsement by a recognized Religious denomination or endorsing consortium. So it would be wise to find out what is required by your Endorsing Agent for religious endorsement to full time institutional chaplaincy.

  2. I had never heard of CPSP before, but I will look into it now. The community and continuous engagement aspect of it is very appealing to me. I have my application for BCCI and only need to sit down and being tackling it page by page, but I think I’ll take some time now and see if CPSP might be a good fit.

  3. Finding this blog and the timing of it were a gift from God. I’m literally in the process of applying for a local CPSP unit, my first unit, this September, without realizing the value of the BCC with APC. I will now plan to do my first unit with CPSP and then maybe switch over to a certified CPE program. My goal is to become a Certified Chaplain when I “semi-retire” in four years. I’m currently a Catholic deacon.

    • Fantastic! There is definitely a call for Catholic chaplains in all areas. I think the mixing up of CPSP and CPE will be a good way to go.

      • The Catholic Church has its own agency for certifying chaplains, the National Association for Catholic Chaplains. It is the certifying agency for all Catholic Chaplains with the exception of Catholic military chaplains. A Masters degree (30 credits or more) in theology, etc. and 4 units of CPE is required. The process requires examination by their board, etc.

  4. Thanks for the great info! Figuring out how to navigate CPE and Board Certification is like putting a huge puzzle together. I’m still trying to find all the pieces! I am a hospice chaplain with no CPE and I am seriously considering shifting to a career at a hospital or prison in 2-3 years. I am hoping that will give me enough time to get all my ducks in a row: Board Certification, Church Endorsement and possibly ordination to the diaconate (Orthodox Christian). Question: You don’t mention getting CPE units from the ACPE or APCC. The APCC, in fact, offers a distance course wherein you can use your employment hours as part of the clinical requirement. What is your opinion about both of these accredited associations? Do they hold the weight of the BCCI or CPSP? What if I completed 1 unit by them — would they be accepted by the BCCI or CPSP? Your thoughts would be much appreciated!

    • Thanks for your question! BCCI and APC (Association of Professional Chaplains) work hand in hand – BCCI is the credentialing body and APC is the broader organization. ACPE is the body that organizes and approves Clinical Pastoral Education sites and programs and they also are closely tied with BCCI and APC. You can become a member of APC but that’s different than certification, and you can also be certified without becoming a member of APC. You can also formally join ACPE but that’s really more for supervisors, although their journal is interesting to read. If you completed one unit of CPE through a program accredited by them (look on their site) it would count anywhere. If you want board certification through BCCI you’ll need at least 3 units through CPE. CPSP recognizes ACPE units, but it’s not so the other way around. And certification through BCCI is your best bet if you’re getting started in chaplaincy. It will give you an extra edge over those without it and some places really look for those four letters.

      I hope I’m accurate in everything – check the individual sites before jumping too far in to anything. All those abbreviations do get confusing!

    • And I actually have never heard of APCC but was able to find them. They look relatively new and to be a split off of CPSP. Given that I’ve never heard of them I would doubt that many employers would have as well, so personally I’d prefer an ACPE or CPSP program. If you stick with those two you can’t go wrong. I noted that they are recognized by COMISS so they are nationally recognized and accepted, but they may not hold the weight of the other programs in an employer’s eyes. It might be a useful group for you to join for purposes of education and networking though. If you are planning for board certification through BCCI check with them to make sure they’ll accept a unit.

      • I appreciate the detailed response. I think I will take your advice and contact the BCCI first. What is most appealing about the APCC CPE program is that it’s done online and you can apply your employment toward the clinical requirements. Sounds too easy to be true! Unfortunately, all the Extended CPE programs in my area are filled and I would have to wait a year before starting. The APCC program is much more flexible, but I need to determine its credibility first. Thanks again!

  5. Back with the update: I talked to a BCCI rep and she said they only recognize ACPE, CASC and NACC accredited CPE units. She didn’t mention CPSP. (You said, “Only one of those units can be from a program outside of an ACPE approved program (CPSP for example)”, so I would double-check that.) After re-reading your article and replies, I’ve decided to go for BCCI or CPSP Board Certification. I’m intrigued by the fact that you are a hospice chaplain and chose CPSP. I need to look into it more before I decide, but it appears there aren’t many training centers here in the Northeast.

    • As far as I know they would accept one unit from CPSP. CPSP and ACPE don’t get along well. CPSP broke away from them over two decades ago and there’s a bit of animosity from the breakup. If you look under the BCCI standards under “equivalency” and there is a form for applying for a unit of CPE outside the program. If it’s written to their standards they should accept it. I did ponder BCCI for some time and what swayed me was the activity in my area as well as the paperwork and hoops. I don’t need any more hoops in my life right now.

    • Peter,
      BCCI does accept one unit as an equivalence however they won’t always mention it. The three organizations you mention are automatics because they have a close working relationship. I am a Board Certified Clinical Chaplain and Supervisor in Training with CPSP because of the chapter model and its philosophy of training. Various CPSP centers such as mine offers distance learning via an online web-interface classroom where you are able to fully benefit from seeing your peers face to face, making effective use of group dynamics, and everything else you end up valuing in CPE. If you have any questions please let me know. Thank you! – Scott http://www.transitioningpathways.com/

  6. Hi,

    It has been grea to find this at this time. I´m from Chile and I´m applying for CPE in the US. I didn´t know that in order to get certified you need a Masters. Do you know if the requirements are different for people who studied abroad like I did. Thanks anyways for all your useful posts.

      • Thank you! I found that form shortly after leaving this comment. I´m in the process of applying to different CPE programs from Chile. Hopefully I will get accepted into one. It has been difficult to find many blogs or stories of others who have done this.

  7. If I may add some points to your comments about certification with CPSP, is that they also certify non-traditional faith groups, recognize the certification work of other cognate groups, and offer sub-speciality certifications in hospice and palliative care, which is a growing field. You made some excellent points in your article, and I appreciate your factual presentation of the various organizations you wrote about. Thank you for your thoughtful post!

    • Thank you! I want to add to anyone reading that I don’t see any reason why one would not want to be involved with both organizations if there was an active CPSP chapter in the area

  8. Thanks for this info. As a CPSP Supervisor (starting a new program in Pittsburgh!), I find your analysis to be fair and thoughtful. Whenever someone remarks that CPSP certification is “a joke,” I point out that I was turned down for certification the first time I sat before a board. Joke organizations don’t do that.

    I actually have used this blog post to share with applicants to my CPE program to help them understand the difference between the organizations.

  9. Samuel,

    I just got done reading your “. . .vs nothing” and your “. . . vs both” articles. They were both incredibly helpful and digestible. I just wanted to say thank you to you and all of those who have offered their useful insights. This blog was recommended to me by one of the faculty at my seminary as a good starting point for beginning to understand some of the differences between the different accreditations and certifications. I have found this to be absolutely true. I’ll be sure to recommend it to others!

    Thanks again!

    Aaron

  10. The Ecclisuadtical Endoresment has me on a fishing expedition now. The PAC and BCCI seemed logical but as I prepared to understand the Endorsement I am beginning to get the feeling of politics in the selection/approval.

    As a Chaplain Endorsement prepares a Chaplain called to work by God, to do so in a denominationally-accepting environment. I don’t feel like arguing my feeling to answer Gods call with the most important 2 commandments in mind; a supposed to why my denomination believes a theologically specific belief. Am I wrong? Still pursuing and feeling a lot like Peter being humbled but pushing forward in His name.

    Appreciate any perspective on this.

    • This is a very significant question! Ecclesiastical endorsement, from the employer’s point of view as well as the church body’s point of view, shows that you are under the care and authority of at least some other body. I don’t think that I would hire any clergy who didn’t see the need for endorsement because they saw their independence as too valuable. Yes it can be seen as just a “rubber stamp” or an unnecessary label, but I think it is important. There are many bodies besides the mainline denominations that endorse, so perhaps finding a body that reflects your own beliefs – while at the same time challenging them! – may not be so hard. But from my experience endorsement not only is necessary in terms of employability but accountability. Also note that endorsement is not the same as certification by a long shot. Just to be clear.

      • Thanks for this article.Very informative. I am seeking your advise .I am a licensed clinical social worker for over 26 years.I have worked with families and children in a clinical in home setting primarily but for the last five years I have worked in a small impoverished high school setting in coastal NJ as a clinician.I am sixty now and feel GOD calling me to serve in a more spiritual setting.I am a born again christian who regularly attends a non denominational church. I work for a healthcare agency that has a large hospice population and I am considering researching credits needed to re invent myself.I would appreciate your feedback and thank you in advance.God bless you sir.!

      • Thanks so much for your kind remarks and I’m glad that you find this helpful. I think that reinventing yourself as a chaplain at this time may be a bit difficult given that chaplain certification and social work have little in common. If you did want to pursue that route don’t let me dissuade you though! I would at least look at obtaining an MDiv either online or preferably local to you, at least two units of CPE, and investigate ordination. I’d talk with your pastor and see if they would be willing to ordain you within their own congregation. Apart from chaplaincy, you could also investigate bereavement counseling professionally. I’m not sure what the licensure and certification laws are regarding professional counselors in New Jersey, but your MSW may have you set up nicely for that. You might consider doing that on your own rather than through a hospice agency. I’d also strongly suggest talking to your company to see what they would require. Some agencies are much more lenient than others in some areas or may help pay for your education. God bless you on your journey!

  11. WOW.What a wealth of information in one paragraph.I was meant to see your blog today.I just finished an eighty day stint on temp. disability for a total hip replacement.During this time I was in the word daily and was very refreshed as it was the first time that I was able to escape the “rat race of fight or flight social work” since 1988.Needles to say I did a lot of thinking.I was just ready to test the waters at my agency as it related to my earlier question when I hit on your blog.The tight summary you offered here is tantamount to an hour of career advisement(to me) as your feedback illuminated all the gray area -questions that have been hovering around lately.You definitely know the nuances of these fields and the part about talking to my pastor at some point is spot on.In the meantime,I want you to know that God used you as an instrument of providence today and for that I thank you.I will stay tuned and wait on the Lord for further whispers of His spirit and truth.Once again thank you and God bless you on your journeys…..Tom

    • Hello SC Blair,

      Thanks so much for the wealth of information. I work full-time and not only will my employer not grant me a leave of absence from my job to take the CPE units, since it isn’t work-related, but the only accredited CPE centers around me only offer the internship hours during working hours, no night or weekends. So I’d have to quit my job to take the CPE units and be unemployed afterwards. How do and everyone else acquire CPE units as I’m sure most people in my situation? I think I’ll pursue becoming a hospice chaplain as many hospice don’t require CPE units or certification.

  12. Thanks so much for the info!

    As far as CPE units are concerned, it seems that the only accredited places near me only offer CPE hours during my working hours, no night or weekends, even for CPE units part time . I’ve already requested a leave of absence from my job to take CPE units during the summer and was denied. So in order for me to do CPE I’d have to quit my job, which isn’t feasable nor a wise choice. Should I just look into becoming a hospice chaplain, since many hospices don’t require CPE units?

    • You can but I would still look in to CPE. The new SCA association says that they will be doing CPE online, and I think you can check in to that at cpe.org or the Spiritual Care Association website

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