CLINICAL PASTORAL EDUCATION (CPE) & BUDDHIST STUDIES
By Venerable Thom Kilts
I want to talk briefly about CPE (clinical pastoral education) and its purpose for seminary training and as well the opportunities it creates for Buddhists interested in or “called to” a ministry of interfaith service. I am one of the first certified Teaching Supervisors for CPE from a Buddhist tradition in Canada, and this was true when I worked in the states as well. I have been working professionally in spiritual care for more than 17 years and served many different sites first in the states and now in Canada. CPE has traditionally been utilized for two purposes both in Canada and in the states. The first purpose is to provide an experiential training in units that are required for those looking for certification as a Pastoral Specialist through CASC (Canadian Association for Spiritual Care). These folks will be looking for professional service job opportunities in hospitals, prisons, long term care etc. The other purpose of CPE is when certain denominations (at this point mainline Christianity) utilize units of CPE training as required parts of their degree programs, because of the intense formation experience CPE provides. We would do well to consider CPE as an important and essential component of any Buddhist Studies degree program we develop. It is known as one of the most difficult but rewarding aspects of seminary training and has the potential of being a wonderful meeting ground for us with other religions and denominations---to match the same rigors of a formal religious training and education of other traditions to our degree.
I did my seminary training as a Buddhist at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. As part of the Masters of Buddhist Studies degree program I was required to take a unit of CPE training which eventually began my career in CPE. This experience, though hard and at times frustrating (especially as one of the first Buddhists to ever take this type of training in the early 90’s), was a crucial component to my formation and education while getting my Buddhist Studies graduate degree. As we look to formulate a degree program for Buddhists in Canada I want to make sure that we consider a unit of CPE as a possible requirement for the program. Too often in the academic environment, especially in a study of “theology” or “religion” we can run the risk of providing an education in a vacuum where the students literally live in a “bubble” and have very little opportunity for applied theology. A required unit of CPE would complement the study of Buddhism but do so in a diverse environment where students would function as spiritual care professionals having to serve a multitude of different patients and thus learn to expand one’s knowledge and application of Dharma study beyond Sangha and even the meditation cushion. Again allowing CPE to serve its dual purposes; A required unit of CPE during the course of a Buddhist Studies program would also provide an opportunity to serve in a ministry vocation that may or may not catch the interest of potential students looking to further their CPE experiences and eventually apply for certification with CASC (Canadian Association for Spiritual Care).
I currently offer CPE training in full time formats as well as part time formats at my hospital in Brampton. Over many years of training students I have worked with many different denominations and as well continue to be a voice of Buddhism in the professional world of spiritual care. Especially now in Ontario when the “controlled act” guiding psychotherapy goes into effect, we are at the forefront of integrating psychology and theology as those of us already certified with CASC also become registered as psychotherapists through the CRPO (College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario). In this group I really don’t need to introduce the notion that Buddhism has a lot to offer the conversation in regards to how psychology and theology meet. Too often outsiders new to our faith mistake our practices, principles and teachings as some type of new age psychology—when in actuality the working of the mind and its connection to health is a core tenet of Buddha’s teachings as an ontological and theological concern.
I fully support this group’s effort to design and put forth a degree program of Buddhist Study at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto. I don’t know where I would be without the program I was fortunate to be a part of in the states. It is our responsibility as community leaders to create the ground for the next generation of Buddhist leaders and these are positive steps moving forward.
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