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A Message from APC President...

APC President Ronald C. Oliver PhD MBA BCC

APC Forum, May 2019, Vol. 21 No. 3


The following article was published in the ACPE News on May 6, 2019 and in it important context and insight regarding the status of professional chaplaincy are provided by APC President Ronald C. Oliver PhD MBA BCC. APC appreciates our colleagueship with ACPE and thanks ACPE for allowing the use of article.


"Asking the Right Questions, Vol. 2" by Amy Greene, Board Chair, ACPE

In February, I had the privilege of interviewing Rev. Ron Oliver, the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) president. He is also the System Vice President, Mission & Outreach for Norton Healthcare in Louisville, KY. He has served at Norton for nearly 30 years – 4 as a resident, 9 as the PICU chaplain, 7 as the Director of Pastoral Care and since 2009 in his current role which also includes executive oversight for Pastoral Care, the Office of Faith & Health Ministries, Medical Ethics Council, selected employee outreach initiatives and community benefit reporting.

This month, Ron and I reversed roles and he interviewed me.

Q: “ACPE describes itself as the “Standard for Spiritual Care and Education.” Would you talk about the ways ACPE is the standard?”

Sure. I love talking about that subject, since I was privileged to be among the people who got to work with the consultants on our re-branding a few years ago. Standard literally means “a level of quality or attainment.” Second meaning is “an idea or thing used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations.” ACPE, as a professional organization and as an evolving spiritual movement, is both. When the four pre-existing associations for clinical pastoral education came together in 1967, they did so because they all knew that despite (or maybe because of) their geographic, philosophical, and cultural differences, they would likely be stronger together as a force for learning and teaching (and teaching the world about) spiritual care and education. It was a creative, fertile, roiling time in our history. There were the usual power struggles and rivalries, and of course process, process, process. But that’s our strength – it’s in our root system and our DNA, to care so deeply about quality and depth of knowledge, experience, relationship…so many things. Nothing can hold a candle to our level of concern with standards, outcomes, ethics and, most important, the time that professional formation takes. The deep engagement with the self that ACPE-certified education requires can’t be replaced by faster methods or slackened expectations for personal accountability.

Q: Can you explain why ACPE’s accreditation is unique among organizations that are offering “clinical pastoral education?” Can you help those of us who are unfamiliar with this accreditation appreciate what it means and why it is so unique and important?

Yes. Our accreditation from the United States Department of Education is for post-secondary education. It is not easily earned or maintained. The U.S. DOE recognizes that what we do meets the standards of other graduate schools – this is much more than simply training or “continuing ed.” Attaining this accreditation is a rigorous process that requires ongoing maintenance. Of course, we don’t own the phrase “clinical pastoral education” but we do represent the Standard most people associate with the term “CPE.” And we’re not the only ones with the right to go through the process of getting accredited for post-secondary education through the DOE. But we are the only ones who have done it, and we are hands-down the largest, oldest, and most rigorously concerned with ethics of the existing groups purporting to offer this kind of education.

Q: Why was the recent ACPE & AAPC consolidation good for the two organizations, the profession, and how has it gone?

By now I think most people are aware that the AAPC had become financially unviable going forward. Though the community and ongoing educational opportunities that membership in AAPC afforded were literally priceless to many, membership fees alone simply could not generate an amount large enough to sustain a paid staff and a workable infrastructure going forward. Unfortunately, since AAPC was at risk of shutting down completely, ACPE offered our experience of organizational redesign for future viability. Joining us was an option.

So obviously, this consolidation was very good news to the folks who wanted to maintain their identity and spiritual “home base” as practitioners in the world of psychotherapy. We’ve been overwhelmingly pleased and surprised by the more than 800 members who joined ACPE.

This wasn’t a rescue mission on our part – not at all. This was an opportunity to help colleagues with many of the same gifts and challenges in their work as our own to survive and also thrive and collaborate with us in broadening the scope of spiritual care and education (as our new name declares). First and foremost, we knew we could not take any undue financial risks. Fortunately, AAPC had a small endowment that they decided to invest with ACPE. Their budget will be its own and will be dependent upon membership fees. Think of it like a university, with different schools or departments, each of which has responsibility for its own funding and programming.

We also got excited about some of their ideas…such as joining existing Communities of Practice around theories, justice issues, cultural and clinical concerns, research, etc. They are also doing creative work on a curriculum and a Certificate (not certification) program called Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy. Therapists from all sorts of backgrounds, as long as they are fully certified to practice in their home states, may take a course that gives them tools to more responsibly and ethically engage their clients’ spirituality in their therapeutic work, as well as to know when and how to use their own spirituality in their practice. I think this has huge ramifications for ACPE CPE education. I can envision a parallel Spiritually Integrated Healthcare curriculum that would have huge potential in places like the Cleveland Clinic (where I am) with an ACPE program already in place. Ever since The Joint Commission added the patient’s right to have their cultural and spiritual needs addressed, many healthcare institutions have looked for ways to train physicians, nurses and other clinicians to feel more comfortable and be more competent in addressing these issues…even if mainly to know more clearly when to refer to the professional chaplaincy staff. In my experience, many healthcare professionals do value the spirituality of their patients but are simply unsure of how to bring it up. I find a lot of healthcare workers keep their spirituality kind of hidden out of fear of offending someone or being stereotyped or admonished. Something like this would be a lot more practical and accessible than expecting busy doctors and nurses to take whole units of CPE – which they can’t really use as a credential for anything anyway.

Q: Because the BCC certification is so linked to ACPE CPE, would you describe what ACPE is doing to ensure professional spiritual care providers seeking CPE have access to ACPE certified educators and sites?

I think our communications are getting clearer all the time. Our web site is the best source for knowing which centers are ACPE. The closer our organizations can work together, the better off we’ll all be. ACPE has gotten criticism in the past for not preparing people well enough to be Board Certified Chaplains. I think that is indicative of the wide variety of training settings for ACPE CPE, as well as the wide range of needs. The vast majority of people who take a single unit of our CPE will not go on to become professional chaplains. I’ve argued for years that we ought to certainly bump up those skills in programs where chaplaincy is the primary focus, but that we should also look to organizations such as the Association of Professional Chaplains as the experts in vetting and certifying for clinical practice. It’s certainly the standard I use at the Cleveland Clinic.

I think as we solidify the relationships between these historic and high-caliber organizations, we will all be stronger for it. And we will be more able to clearly communicate to those people seeking a career in these forms of ministry where the top-quality training and certifying is to be found.


Rev. Ronald C. Oliver PhD MBA BCC is a system vice president, Mission and Outreach, of Norton Healthcare, Louisville, KY. He serves as President of the APC Board and may be contacted at