In the CASC/ACSS “three step” Certification Process, Step Two (professional) papers are an important focus of competency assessment. While previous renditions of the Standards identified ten topics and the writing of short reflection papers, a major revision of Step Two standards was approved by the Education Standards Commission in January 2009 and posted on the CASC/ACSS website in May 2009. The revised approach features three papers. This approach was “piloted” between May 2009 and April 2011 and recognized as a valid process for achieving Certification as a CASC/ACSS Specialist in Spiritual and Religious Care. [Note: A parallel revision is currently being drafted for Specialist in Pastoral Counselling.]

In autumn 2010 a careful review of “pilot” revisions was conducted and further updates were made based on feedback from candidates, review teams and pre-certification mentors. Further, the updated Step Two standards incorporated use of “Spiritual Care and Counselling Specialist” competencies (approved and posted on the CASC/ACSS website in May 2011) as the basis for assessing Step Two papers.

Effective July 1, 2011 the Step Two “pilot” became the Standard. Candidates who applied prior to that time using the “ten paper” Step Two process had until December 31, 2012 to complete their work.

In 2014, the nomenclature was changed to reflect the updated categories of membership. “Specialists”  in “Spiritual Care and Pastoral Counselling”, were now termed “Certified Spiritual Care Practitioners” , and “Certified Psycho-Spiritual Therapists”.  “Teaching Supervisors” were now called “Supervisor-Educators”.

NOTE:  These 3 professional papers apply only to the certification process for Spiritual Care Practitioners and Psycho-Spiritual Therapists.  The papers required for Provisional Supervisor-Educators and Certified Supervisor-Educators are different.  Consult with Chapter 2, Section IV, C and D for descriptions of these papers.  

Step Two Objectives
The “three paper” Step Two process asks certification candidates to write:

An “Integrative Professional Theory and Practice Paper”

A “Thoroughly Documented Case Study”, and

An “Autobiographical Statement”.

A very basic way of capturing the underlying objectives for Step Two papers is:
Can I both “talk the walk” and “walk the talk” as a Spiritual Care Practitioner, Psycho-Spiritual Therapist? Talking-the-walk has to do with theoretical underpinnings and conceptual knowledge, self-awareness and a capacity to reflect on one’s experience. Walking-the-talk has to do with demonstrating ones integrated knowledge in concrete experiences of Spiritual Care Practice or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy. The common denominator of both “talk” and “walk” is the unique person we have become in light of our CPE/PCE learning experiences, academic accomplishments, and day-to-day engagement with people in our professional practice.

Under the Microscope
What follows are ideas and questions relevant to each of the three Step Two papers. These remarks are not intended as prescriptive methods or required checklists. Rather they are offered as tools to aid candidates who are trying to get their bearings in terms of what to write for each Step Two paper. It is hoped they will serve as a reference of inquiry by which candidates can feel better informed and equipped to not only “get the papers done” but also enjoy the process of writing, remembering, reflecting, integrating and articulating the unique learning as well as clinical/ministry experiences that have gone into making them feel ready to apply for certification.

         The “Integrative Professional Theory and Practice Paper”

Preliminary considerations:

  • Counting pages or counting words? In previous renditions of the standards for Step Two papers a word count was suggested (e.g. 750 – 1,000). The current rendition asks for a given number of pages (e.g. 20-25). Depending on a candidate’s preference for words or pages, a good rule of thumb is to estimate about 250 words per double spaced typed page.
  • Sometimes theory papers are envisioned using a “sandwich” metaphor..
    • An introduction (“this is what I plan to say”)
    • The body of the paper (where a reader finds the substance of the writer’s thoughts, experiences, reflective perspectives, etc.). [Note: Use of subheadings can strengthen a paper and guide the development of ideas.]
    • A conclusion or summary (“this is what I did in the paper”)
  • Use of the sandwich metaphor can also provide a means through which to “outline” the paper, and thus organize one’s thinking in terms of what points are being made.

Questions that can contribute to building an outline for the paper:

  • What is my understanding of the personal/professional integration CASC/ACSS is looking for in a Spiritual Care Practitioner or Psycho-Spiritual Therapist?
  • What are my own thoughts/beliefs/values/assumptions about the provision of Spiritual Care or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy? Who are the people that have modeled this for me?
  • What are the books, articles, movies and/or other materials that have informed my understanding and deepened my convictions about how I can best provide optimal, ethical and effective Spiritual Care Practice or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy within my preferred clinical setting(s)?
  • How do both theological knowledge and knowledge of the behavioral sciences inform my professional practice?
  • What do the ten CASC/ACSS competencies look like in my professional practice?
  • Are there clinical vignettes that capture me doing what I consider to be my personal and professional “best practice”?
  • Are there mistakes I’ve made in my professional practice that have taught me valuable lessons and from which I have learned to be a better Spiritual Care Practitioner or Psycho-Spiritual Therapist?

Questions that have to do with the paper’s format and style:

  • Is it between 20 and 25 pages in length?
  • Is it written in keeping with a standard style (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA)?
  • Is it representative of writing at a Master’s level.

The “Thoroughly Documented Case Study”

In the theory paper there is opportunity to talk-the-walk. Now it’s time to write about walking-the-talk. The experiential learning method that undergirds both CPE and PCE equips CASC/ACSS members with skills for descriptive writing (e.g. verbatim, reflection reports, case reviews, process notes, etc.). Now it’s time for those skills to come to the fore.  A thoroughly documented case study is “thick description” of one or several carefully selected clinical experiences. The case study portrays an individual or group to whom the candidate has offered Spiritual Care or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy. It describes beginning, middle and ending phases of the professional relationship. It reveals the candidate’s authenticity, knowledge, skill and integrity.

Questions that can assist in building a thick description:

  • Is there a description of the context in which the care is provided? That is to say, will the reader be able to envision what my professional setting looks like in some detail? What are some of the relevant particulars – e.g. type of hospital or patient care area, counselling venue, other centre/agency/ministry setting?
  • Is there background information about the patient/family/group? Have I included sufficient information about what journalism refers to as the 5W’s of an event (i.e. who, what, when, where, why)?
  • Is there evidence of my approach to spiritual assessment? Do I normally use a particular tool or model? If so, how have I used it in this situation? How does the assessment provide me with a tentative plan for care or counselling?
  • Is there a description of “how” I have provided Spiritual Care or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy? Have I chosen specific strategies and/or interventions? How have they helped and/or not helped?
  • How have I adapted my care in light of sensitivity to diversity and with awareness of beginning, middle and ending phases of the Spiritual care or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy relationship?
  • How would I describe patient/family/group dynamics to my allied health professional and/or Psycho-therapy colleagues in a consultation interview, chart/process note, and/or referral?
  • Have I incorporated into the case study some verbatim sections and/or descriptive vignettes in order to highlight or ‘freeze frame’ my thick description of the case?

Questions that can assist in summarizing and/or concluding the case study:

  • What do the ten CASC/ACSS competencies look like in my case study?
  • Have I included a reflective assessment of my strengths/limits and learning areas within this Spiritual care or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy relationship? Where have I demonstrated what I consider to be my “best practice”? What might be some blind spots that impacted my ability to provide optimal care or psycho-therapy? What has changed for the patient/family/group? What has changed in me?

Questions that have to do with the case study’s format and style

  • Is it between 9 and 11 pages in length?
  • Is it representative of writing at a Master’s level?

The “Autobiographical Statement”

Whether we are talking-the-walk or walking-the-talk in our Spiritual Care or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy activities the locus of our effectiveness will be tied into who we are as persons and professionals. A commitment to self-awareness and spiritual as well as personal development is at the heart of CASC/ACSS training in both CPE and PCE. Every phase of our learning (from that first basic program application right through to seeking certification) includes autobiographical narrative. Our story is the container of our strengths and limits, gifts and wounds, vision and blind spots. It is the ‘territory’ through which we travel in seeking to build capacity for the skillful fostering of relational integrity, quality, congruence, and professional benefit to those we serve.There are many ways to tell one’s story and to capture the continuous threads as well as life transitions from which authenticity and integrity are learned. Recent revisions to the CASC/ACSS Manual include options for self-narrative that are both creative and practical. These options are available in this writing of the candidate’s autobiographical statement.

From the competency papers for advanced standing:

  • Using your personal life story (i.e. personal, family, educational and vocational history, including SPE history), describe how you have integrated this into your personal and professional identity and your practice of Spiritual Care or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy.
  • Using yourself as the subject, write your autobiography based on one of the following theories/paradigms (Family Systems, Object Relations, Jungian theory, Freudian theory, etc.) and highlight how this impacts the way you provide Spiritual Care or Psycho-Spiritual Therapy.

From the CASC/ACSS Competency titled “Self Awareness” a framework of inquiry can be explored and self-narrative articulated that assesses the impact of one’s own spirituality, beliefs, values, assumptions and power dynamics in relationships with others. If questions are used for each sub-point of this competency, a candidate’s autobiographical statement could build around the following:

  • How would I describe who I am personally and professionally in terms of my identity, integrity and authority?
  • How do I integrate my personal culture, beliefs and values in ways that lead to authenticity, consistency and dependability in my practice of spiritual care or psycho-therapy?
  • What role has self-reflection and self-evaluation played in my life – including critical self-reflection on my words, actions and theoretical orientation?
  • In what situations and/or circumstances have I recognized and/or experienced my professional limitations? When face-to-face with my limits/vulnerabilities, what steps have I taken to seek consultation, counselling, and/or to make appropriate referrals?
  • What events/instances in my life story have enhanced my caring and/or therapeutic effectiveness?
  • To what degree am I conscious of the symbolic power associated with my role as a spiritual care or psycho-spiritual therapy professional? And, to what degree am I attentive to transference and/or counter transference dynamics in the spiritual care or psycho-spiritual therapy relationship?
  • In light of occupational hazards that can contribute to burnout and/or vicarious trauma (within both spiritual care and psycho-spiritual therapy professions), what are my favourite methods of self-care, re-creation and/or reclaiming balance in the face of triggering events?
  • How do I integrates beliefs about well-being and distress with my day to day functioning as a spiritual care or psycho-spiritual therapy professional?

Questions that have to do with the autobiographical statement’s format and style:

  • Is it between 6 and 9 pages in length?
  • Is it representative of writing at a Master’s level?

Concluding Comments
As shared elsewhere, the process for Certification is set within a context of collective experiential learning as well as continual improvement. If this resource is helpful, or if improvements are needed, please contact the Certification Chairperson.