10 (+1) Tips For a Good CPE Verbatim

I’ve posted a few of my past verbatims as examples of how they can be written, but  each CPE program likely has its own format, things to include and so on. So please don’t use my examples as the standard for how they should be written in every case, as your supervisor likely has a particular format he or she wants to use. Many supervisors don’t even recommend a particular format, only elements that need to be included. Each member of my CPE group wrote differently, and we all tended to borrow from each others’ styles to find something that we all liked (including our supervisor!).

I thought it would be helpful to give what I think are some helpful hints and things to remember when writing any verbatim. Formats are pretty unique, but every good verbatim has some common elements.

1: Don’t be so anxious about getting the actual report absolutely perfect. This is the one thing I stressed out about the most when doing a visit. I felt like I had to remember everything absolutely perfectly, and would be so anxious about getting it right that I wasn’t paying attention to the other person. One thing you should do is to keep a notebook to write down key phrases and other things that come up during your visit. After your visit these will cue you to the rest of the conversation. Write down what you remember as best as you can immediately afterward. While it’s tempting to bring a recorder and simply record the conversation I would check with your supervisor – and of course the person you’re visiting – first before recording a visit. While having a recording takes the pressure off you to remember the visit, you should bear in mind that people will react differently because they are being recorded – including you. Also you may find that the visit you recorded may not be the best one to write up. Remember that this isn’t a test and that you aren’t a stenographer.

2: Write the visit conversation first, and then fill in around it with your interpretations, reflections and so on. Even better, write the visit down and then don’t look at it for a day or so. When you go back to read it over again things may come out that you hadn’t noticed before.

3: Obfuscate, but don’t obfuscate so much. Change names or use initials, but don’t change the age or sex of the person you are visiting on your report. While you need to guard their privacy, things like the person’s age and gender may be part of what impacted you during the visit. This person may remind you of your mother or aunt, but if you change those details around in your report they will be lost to readers.

4: Include pertinent details, but don’t drown in them. You don’t need to say what they were wearing or what the room is like unless there is something remarkable that sticks out to you or is significant to the visit.

5: Remember that this is an emotional exercise, not just an intellectual one. Your feelings about the experience, and your feelings about those feelings, are as important as anything else in your report. If you write a report that has lots of details, an excellent detail of the conversation, and ends with everyone happy but has no emotional depth or honesty you will be roasted. This is one of the hardest things to get down at first, especially for seminarians who are so used to being graded on what you know and not as much as the internal process underlying the work.

6: Be honest but be kind to yourself. Recognize where you could have done better but also where you did well. If you feel like you did a great job, say why. Don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake in a visit. If you feel like you need to beat yourself up, write about that! If you feel that you did a great job, your group will surely let you know if they agree.

7: Remember that the visit and the result are not the only focus. Your own internal process is just as significant – and probably more so. Write so that the verbatim and all the details are secondary, pointing to what your own internal process is. This will give you a great deal of insight into where you are and supervisors are more interested in that anyway.

8: Consider theological issues that are brought up in the person you’re encountering as well as yourself. What biblical stories or passages come to mind? How does this encounter inform your theology regarding ministry, suffering, and self? Where was Jesus in this encounter?

9: Don’t be afraid to read and revise several times. This will help you not only to make your report more readable, but also help you find details and “aha moments” that you missed before. This is one reason why waiting until the night before a verbatim is due is generally a bad idea. You need to be able to have time to review it at least once a day or so after it’s “done”.

10: Take notes regarding feedback when you present your report. Expect that others will find things you didn’t see and offer their own insights and criticism. Don’t be hurt by this – it’s part of the process. Use that feedback to become a better counselor, a better writer, and to find out more about yourself.

And your bonus +1: I found that writing my visit transcript in Excel made it easy for me to keep things in nice columns so I could have one column for the dialogue, another for reflection and comments, and another for reference points. Doing this in Word is a massive pain.


Internal Process


Hello, Tillie? How are you?

I’m wondering if she will wake up at all.


What? Oh, uh..

She looks startled and scared, disoriented.


It’s Pastor Sam, I stop by to see you every now and then. (I take her hand and hold it)


Oh, are you from the church?

She looks a little relieved. I notice that her hand jerks uncontrollably.

You can then copy and paste the spreadsheet into your regular Word document.


8 thoughts on “10 (+1) Tips For a Good CPE Verbatim

  1. Now I need to ask a dumb question:
    I am trying out your suggestions regarding the Excel spreadsheet – how the heck does one format the columns – first of all to wrap text and secondly to change colour on alternate rows

    • To wrap text you need to go to the cell properties and select that. you can highlight the cell or column, then right click once and there should be something like “format cells”. Changing color is usually a bit easier. There should be a little paintcan icon on the toolbar and that controls the fill color.

  2. Some superb ideas here
    I don’t know how different your process is from ours in Canada, but I am finding that reflecting on the verbatim based on the required competencies is also helpful when it comes to writing self-evaluations at the end of our unit (I’ve done 2 basics and just completed my evaluation for my first advanced)

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