Beginnings of CPE

CPE began in 1925 when Richard Cabot, a physician and Christian layperson, introduced a fresh way of training theological students drawing on teaching methods used in medical education.

In the same year the Reverend Anton Boisen, who himself had experienced several periods of hospitalisation, began to refine this initiative into an educational process, including a case-study method of theological inquiry. He was chaplain at an USA hospital where, with the encouragement of several people including Cabot, the first group of theological students underwent 'supervised' clinical pastoral education.

This group worked during their summer vacation in the psychiatric hospital as orderlies. Each evening, Boisen and the students would meet together to talk about their experiences and what they had observed as they worked with very disturbed patients.

Boisen wanted to discover whether "many forms of insanity" might not be "religious rather than medical in nature". From his perspective, it was not sufficient that persons who were mentally ill should be treated in, what we would today call, a 'biological way'. He believed, in the language of the time, that in order to help troubled people, the Church had to develop "physicians of the soul".

The students were required to write up 'clinical case studies' prompting them to think very fully about the "living human documents" with whom they were working. Over time, these 'case studies' developed into the written 'verbatim' of CPE which directs students towards first-hand living source materials - men and women actually in crisis - rather than towards second-hand statements in textbooks.

CPE has continued to evolve since these first steps in 1925, though the essentials have not changed: an emphasis upon the practical rather than the theoretical; a focus on the "living human documents"; the writing of verbatims; the desire to help people become more fully integrated in body, mind and spirit - these are all key aspects of CPE.