How to Succeed at Certification -- by David Roth

12 Jul 2018 12:05 PM | Perry Miller, Editor (Administrator)

No one who is seeking to become a board certified clinical chaplain (BCCC) should meet a certification panel and leave disappointed. This is my firm conviction and has been the commitment of the Nautilus Pacific Chapter since it was founded. We have always held that there is simply no good reason for a candidate to meet the panel and walk away unsuccessful. 

In recent years I have had the sad experience of sitting on panels and having to tell some candidates that they had not met the Standards for certification and would not be certified. I don’t think it’s a message anyone likes to deliver and it’s one I believe no one should have to hear.

Why people fail at certification
The primary reason someone gets turned back is that they didn’t fulfill the clearly articulated expectations set out in the CPSP Standards. Too often, mistakenly, individuals and their chapters will decide for any number of reasons that “it’s time” without considering what makes it time – when a candidate is truly ready – to meet a certification panel. In other words, the vast majority of those who fail at certification do so because they simply weren’t ready and didn’t know what “ready” means.

Certification is never based upon whether you have been in a chapter “long enough” or are liked by your chapter members or you are an active participant in chapter activities. These are important aspects of our professional life together but they are not what demonstrate competence as a clinical chaplain or pastoral counselor.  Similarly, having worked in a position with the title chaplain for an extended period isn’t sufficient. The word “chaplain” can be applied to anyone who does ministry outside the congregational setting. In fact, most people who bear the title – college chaplains, police and fire chaplains, many prison chaplains, and others – are not and could not become board certified. Even in healthcare many are not board certified. And even having completed four units of CPE is not in itself sufficient to merit board certification.  

What does it take to be certified?
The CPSP Standards spell out the necessary competencies (Section 730) for certification as well as what is expected – the 13 objectives – to be achieved as a result of CPE training (Section 230). 

If someone fails, this typically means that they likely haven’t had an informed, capable mentor to work with them though the certification process.  It certainly means their chapter hasn’t considered the set expectations that apply to all of us. In a really rigorous CPE program there will be those who are nearly ready by the end of four units, but this is the exception, not the rule. The healthy chapter is a place of peer support as well as peer review and input. While a lot can be accomplished in 1600 or more hours of clinical training, most often the finishing work of preparation – as in any guild – will be the responsibility of that of the chapter’s more competent, experienced, certified chaplains. 

The Litmus Test
When a candidate meets the certification panel, those on it will have reviewed at least three major documents: the candidate’s autobiography, their theory paper and two case studies. Reading closely these documents alone and without ever having met the chaplain, an astute reviewer is usually able to make a good assessment of the competence and readiness of the candidate. If each of the documents seems congruent with the others it is most likely the candidate will be certified. One’s theory of pastoral care should make sense given key aspects of the person’s life story, and one’s theory and life story should inform and be visible, if sometimes obscurely, in the cases.  It is this integration, along with evidence of the basic competencies set out in the Standards, that assures certification. 

How to succeed (or when to plan the party)
Certification should never be a crapshoot. I don’t think it should even be a gamble. With the right preparation and responsible chapter involvement in the process meeting the certification panel should be a pleasurable and affirming experience. 

What is key is that chapters take responsibility for mentoring certification seekers so they’re prepared, paying close attention to meeting the Standards, and helping the seeking member thoughtfully to prepare and assemble the required documents. 


David Roth is the director of spiritual care and clinical supervisor for chaplaincy training at Kaiser Permanente in the Napa/Solano Area and a member of CPSP’s Nautilus Pacific Chapter. Visit his website at or email him at

Download: "A Concept and Function of a Mentor in the CPSP" by The Rev. Dr. William Scar, CPSP Diplomate, Pastoral Report, 31 July 2008.