***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.