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Professional Chaplain Certification

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Certification for chaplaincy can provide an individual with greater credibility and the ability to apply for more positions. Such certification requires rigorous study as well as personal contemplation and proven competence. A variety of programs exist to help individuals prepare for certification and careers as professional chaplains.

Chaplain Defined

A chaplain seeks to provide care while respecting each individual’s culture and beliefs, according to the Association of Professional Chaplains. Hospitals and military outposts represent the two most common areas of ministry for chaplains. The main purpose of a chaplain is to listen, care and respond appropriately to a client's needs. Specific duties may include performing liturgies; praying with patients, family or staff; conducting funeral services; providing bereavement counseling and general ministry.

Training Variations

Depending on one's goals, training can vary dramatically from an on-site program designed to earn basic certification all the way up through doctoral degrees. A doctorate in chaplaincy may make sense if chaplaincy is used as a steppingstone to another ministry career. No matter the type of program pursued, covered topics will likely include theology, counseling, administration, crisis and abuse therapy, death and grief therapy and some procedural information specific to the type of work (e.g., hospitals, military work).

CPE Units

Most chaplaincy positions require completion of one or more units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). It is the primary way many chaplains are trained. CPE courses explore issues from a theoretical perspective and involve both group work and individual learning. An emphasis is placed on personal reflection, the formation of a pastoral identity through learning and competence across a number of theoretical and behavioral areas.

CPE Types

The Association for Clinical Pastoral Education offers three main types of CPE units: level I, level II and supervisory. Units within one level must be complete before a student can move to the next level. Single units can generally be completed in three months of less, while a year-long program may provide three or four individual units. The CPE unit levels may be named differently at different institutions, but the content of coursework should remain similar. The overarching point of CPE units is to ensure that a student learns the theory and practice necessary to care for individuals, families or a religious system.


Professional chaplain jobs require certification. The Clinical Pastoral Education program (CPE) is the most recognized certification in the field. Certification is offered through the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) or the National Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) and requires a minimum of four units of CPE. Supervisory positions or positions as instructors will require additional units.

Types of Work

The types of work can vary significantly. Health care work may require a bachelor’s degree in addition to the CPE certification. Military work in the active forces may require a Master of Divinity; however, some military areas–such as the Civil Air Patrol and Sea Cadets–accept volunteer chaplains with minimal training. Chaplains may also work in correctional facilities. An official position will likely require a bachelor’s degree. However, volunteer positions are plentiful and do not have specific requirements. While less common, some chaplains may also find work in educational settings, everyday workplaces and in a formal church counseling role.


About the Author

Rachel Frost began writing professionally in 2001 and works primarily in internal communications, marketing and corporate publication management. Frost writes externally for various websites. She holds a bachelor's degree in public communications from Buffalo State College and a Masters of Business Administration with a marketing concentration from Canisius College.

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  • prayer-book and rosary image by Maria Brzostowska from