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Published:  August 4, 2009

Clinical Pastoral Education begins 6th year at St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital

The connection between the mind, body, and spirit is indisputably significant in the healing process. Spiritual care is essential, according to Chaplain Randall Trego, who leads the Pastoral Care department of St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital and assists with the Clinical Pastoral Education program that is offered at the campus. The hospital is the only site in Montgomery County to offer the training program.

Helping caregivers to hone and develop their skills in empathy, focused listening, and compassion, the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at St. Luke’s continues to draw diverse interest within the local community as it enters its sixth year.

“This course is not exclusively for spiritual leaders,” explained Chaplain Trego. “While this training program is designed for people who provide hospital ministry, spiritual care or pastoral care, it is also available to anyone who has the desire to tap into their own resources, self awareness and spiritual insight in an effort to mobilize their own faith and hope. As a result, they become better equipped in their ability to share a caring heart with people of all religious faiths, including those with no religious affiliation, who are hurting in some way – whether physically, spiritually, or emotionally. Just knowing that someone is taking the time to listen and really hear what you have to say can be a powerful path toward the healing process. This is an integral part of what we offer at St. Luke’s. It supports and enhances the excellent medical care the team provides here.”

To complete one Extended Unit of CPE requires 400 hours of clinical and classroom work. One hundred hours are classroom/group instruction and 300 hours involve visiting with hospital patients. The cost for the first year is $150 and subsequent years are $100. The program is accredited through the Department of Education and the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, Inc. However, students who are not seeking certification may choose to take the program to simply enrich their caregiving capabilities. Four successfully completed Extended CPE Units could contribute towards the requirements for Board Certification with the Association of Professional Chaplains.

Topics covered in the training include:

  • Listening and responding appropriately to patients.
  • Developing and displaying empathy and caring instead of sympathy.
  • Respecting the religious convictions of patients as an interfaith spiritual caregiver (not preaching or trying to convert).
  • Learning to provide spiritual care and to make spiritual assessments for patients, families, and staff.
  • Receiving feedback on patient visits through a group process of clinical debriefing.
  • Developing a healthy self-awareness, the ability to access your feelings, and to get out of the way in order to be fully present to the other.
  • Dealing with illness and loss.

Chaplain Lerrill White, Director of the Center for CPE at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, noted, “One could say this program is a journey, not a destination. Each year we focus on a unique angle that is relevant to our students and their patients, so there is always something to learn and improve on as a caregiver.”

Chaplain Trego pointed out that within a pastoral conversation, as opposed to a personal conversation, the difference is in listening intensely to another’s fears and concerns. Therefore it is a much deeper form of communication. In the training process, students actually learn more about themselves and become more self-aware. And, in turn, as a mentor and facilitator, Chaplain Trego said he learns from the students every day.

Debra F. Sukin, CEO of St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital, stated, “We recognize our patients’ need for spiritual care is an important complement to the quality of medical care that our hospital provides. The mind, body and spirit are fully incorporated in the patient care experience within St. Luke’s healing environment. Our pastoral volunteers also minister to our staff, who are so often emotionally impacted by our patients and who truly care about their experiences.”

Barbara Carmichael, Chaplain Assistant, 5th-year student explained, “Sometimes we are simply present, not even speaking. Yet we are right there with them; walking the journey with them.” 4th year student, Ahmonilla Nichols said, “I enjoy learning about people; what makes them different and how they are put together, as that has so much to do with who we are as unique individuals.”

Harding Goodman added, “What is critical to understand is that people’s problems don’t really change all that much, but their situations do change, and so their problems can manifest due to a bad economy or other stressors that come in different layers.”

The Clinical Pastoral Education program at St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital will begin in early October. For more information about the program, please contact Chaplain Randall Trego at (936) 266-3366 or send an email to

St. Luke’s The Woodlands Hospital is located at 17200 St. Luke’s Way in The Woodlands, at the southwest corner of SH 242 and I-45. For more information, please call (936) 266-2000 or visit

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