Landscape photo of a rainbow by Bill Scar

Assuming We Are Willing to Take Our Future Seriously...

by Bill Scar, Editor


Dear Colleagues and Friends,

When I became CPSP President in 2015, we worked to grow our ministries and be more inclusive and diverse. We had seen the expansion of state licensure around the country, as well as the diminishing influence of religious denominational structures. These trends challenged the role and authority of professional guilds such as the CPSP. Those of us who were also members of AAPC were aware of the lack of growth in that group of certified pastoral psychotherapists. The median age of our most qualified AAPC colleagues was approaching 65, but our zeal in the CPSP kept us focused positively on our own growing witness and ministries. 

Today state licensure threatens the very existence of professional guilds, not to mention the quality of the training and services provided by pastoral clinicians.  In addition, the influence, credibility, and authority of ordained clergy have further decreased in society as a whole.

Without rehashing history, the CPSP, from its beginning, had a curious and/or negative view of the ACPE, and working with them has often been a challenge since 1990. We have little regard for some of their administrative practices and their claim of clear superiority as the “standard” in the fields of pastoral education, training, and now psychotherapy.  By 2019 the AAPC had closed its doors as a professional guild of pastoral counselors and psychotherapists. However, conversations were held between ACPE and AAPC for several years, looking at both survival issues and creative directions for future pastoral clinical practice.  Existing AAPC members would have a new home as ACPE Pastoral Psychotherapists.  Other proposals were developed that did not apply to chaplains. 

One proposal was to educate, train, and certify non-clerical (lay) clinical professionals in integrating spiritual and religious dynamics in their clinical work.  This requires a rejection of the essential importance of:

  1. The personal “call” to ministry, which requires the commitment to authority beyond oneself. 
  2. Formal education in the dynamics and formulae of the meaning of faith. 
  3. “Endorsement” as the reification of the “on behalf of” authority of the pastor. 
  4. Ongoing institutional accountability to a recognized religious body of faith.  

This became the ACPE Spirituality in Psychotherapy (SIP) program, which initially trained and authorized SIP Trainers to then train licensed community clinicians and others interested in obtaining this paper credential.  Our own Jim Pruitt was in the first cohort of 24 Trainers, and I graduated in the second group of 16.  

In fact, members of the ACPE had been designing and testing a full curriculum for this effort since 2016, and the lay training has already begun.  However, ACPE “certification” is only a recognition of the completion of a certain program of study and training that provides no authority or professional accountability; participating clinicians must now be state licensed.  

A note of caution now for all our CPSP members serving as professional chaplains:  The more we describe clinical chaplains as “pastoral psychotherapists”, the greater are the risks of legal liability and review by the state.  Yes, we follow Boisen and we are truly about the work of “soul change”, and we should continue to see that as central to our ministries. 

When the AAPC dissolved and “blended” into the ACPE, I was one of the first to apply to the ACPE for recognition as a certified Pastoral Psychotherapist.  Since that time, I have been seeking to understand better what the ACPE is all about now.  I am concerned about inadequacies in the ACPE programs and also the implications of current ACPE efforts for the mission and ministry of the CPSP.  It is time for you, the members of the CPSP, to better understand what the ACPE and the ACPE SIP program are now all about and express your thoughts about the best ways for the CPSP to proceed at this time.  I am also concerned that our own leadership is stressing the word “pastoral” at the same time as there have been exceptions made to the requirement for ecclesiastical endorsement.  

I know you already imagine the implications of societal and cultural changes for our work in chaplaincy and pastoral psychotherapy.  What is the role of a guild when insurance companies and other elements of our society recognize the authority of the states to identify qualified clinicians, even in the field of pastoral psychotherapy?  How much can we rely on the support of church bodies?  What will our beliefs about authority and accountability be in the future?  What about institutional chaplaincy... what are the forces altering the role and identity of chaplains?  How do we earn a living as professionals doing the things we feel called to do?

This is a discussion for every committee and Chapter of our organization.  We need to hear from you. 

Authorized ACPE SIP Trainer
ACPE Pastoral Psychotherapist
AAMFT Approved Supervisor 
and yes, CPSP Diplomate Psychotherapist 
Email: [email protected]

Bill Scar, Editor








Photo credits: Bill Scar