Why Certification Makes a Difference for Chaplains

The question of the necessity of certification is common today among chaplains, especially those who are already working as a chaplain in the field. During my CPE experience all of us were encouraged to go on to be certified. It was the “gold standard” and would put you ahead of someone who isn’t certified. After completing my four units and having all of the paperwork I needed mostly done (verbatims, theology papers, biography) I didn’t bother getting certified for several years. It just didn’t seem necessary.

In my particular situation, it wasn’t necessary. I already had a job as a hospice chaplain. My employer at the time didn’t require or even encourage certification. In fact, I had to push to be able to take CPE in the first place. None of my colleagues were certified, and some had no CPE at all. Couple the lack of interest in certification by my employer with the time, expense and difficulty involved in going through the certification process itself and there really was no real reason for me to become certified.

This apathy towards chaplain training and certification often rubs those who have gone through the process and become certified raw. One of my colleagues in my CPSP group told us that their new owner (their hospice was recently bought by a much larger company) does not require certification or CPE for their chaplains. It is myopic not to see the value of training and credentialing for all members of the healthcare staff, not just aides and nurses. It’s also frustrating and devaluing for those who are already certified. However it’s hard to make employers and managers see the value of certification, especially when the chaplain is one of the least understood (even if it’s not the least appreciated) members of the team.

If you’re a chaplain you may be asking yourself whether or not it’s worth it to become certified. From where I stand now, I feel it has made a difference and will make a difference in years to come. Here’s why I think all chaplains considering certification should pursue it.

  1. Future employability: Even if your current employer doesn’t require certification, your future one might. When you’re looking for a job in this highly competitive job market is not the time to start working on your certification. Even when certification isn’t required in the job description, it can push your resume higher in the stack over those who aren’t. Never assume that you’ll be at your current job forever and therefore will never need certification, no matter how secure you feel your position is.
  2. Future opportunities: Certification can open up other doors beyond that of your typical chaplain position. Most notably it opens the door up to becoming a CPE supervisor. This requires further training and time of course, but if you enjoy teaching and appreciate the CPE model supervision is a great next step.
  3. Authority: Most interestingly I can say that certification definitely changed how I viewed myself, my position and my calling. Even though it’s “just a piece of paper” what that paper signifies gives me more self-confidence than I had before. In CPE-speak we would call this “claiming my authority”. I didn’t think it would make a difference in how I viewed myself, but it does. I take my job more seriously as well, and see myself as more of an active participant in a narrower field of players than before.

If you think that certification doesn’t really mean anything, it does. Think of it as a contract with yourself, as a sign of what you have accomplished already and what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it. If you’re not sure if chaplaincy is going to be a good fit for you down the road though, talk about it with your CPE supervisor or others in the field.



4 thoughts on “Why Certification Makes a Difference for Chaplains

  1. I’ve read a lot of what you’ve written about certification (and the other stuff too), especially your consideration of APC vs CPSP. Do you have any thoughts on the new announcement from HealthCare Chaplains Network and the new Spiritual Care Association? Personally, I go back and forth on my feelings towards certification but this new certification kind of interests me. I could probably be swayed whichever the wind blows at this point though. Thanks for the work you do and writing and sharing it with us.

    • I honestly don’t know what to make of it right now. I’m pleased that if you are already certified it seems that you can get grandfathered in with them fairly easily. I’m not sure what the hubbub is about. I think strong proponents of ACPE/BCCI don’t like anyone monkeying with the system. I’m hoping that the Spiritual Care Association can have a greater presence in the field and maybe have a goal that pertains not only to training Chaplains and ministers but to increasing their presence and role in health care settings.

  2. Thank you for posting this. Funny, I never thought of NOT going for certification. While I do not have the necessary MDiv for hospital work, the certification as a Chaplain’s Assistant will go a long way in the process of hiring in Hospice. Once I achieve my certification, I may just consider pursuing a certificate as a Certified Clinical Chaplain.
    Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Thanks for your input! While many of the chaplains are certified, they are more the “old guard”. Most of the newer chaplains I know aren’t certified and don’t see it as a necessity or even all that beneficial.

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