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I have to admit, I get a wee bit jealous of my parish pastor friends who are able to slow down considerably in the summertime. In CPE land, summers = busy season! (Hence no posts for two months!) After a 11 week intensive program and some quality vacation, I am finally able to come up for air again.

Those who managed to survive Summer CPE now may be wondering what’s next. I recently got this inquiry, from a Summer CPE grad,

Any tips for how to begin to process CPE? I am experiencing a ton of referred grief and trauma. What a crazy trip it has been.

I wasn’t present for this individual’s CPE experience, but s/he asks some good questions about what to do with everything that was seen and experienced. I’m afraid there’s no easy answer. Here’s a few things to remember as you recover:

  • You will not be the same after CPE. CPE changes a person. You’ve witnessed much suffering and looked at yourself in ways you might not have before – there’s no going back to the period of blissful ignorance that preceded CPE (and boy, was I naive before my first unit!)
  • Be gentle with yourself. You were no doubt incredibly pastoral and gracious to your patients this summer, so extend a bit of that to yourself. What would you tell yourself if you were your patient? How might you be your own best chaplain right now?
  • You are not the only one. This is actually the tagline to the the Young Clergy Woman Project (which if you meet the guidelines, you should join!), but it works here too. You might take some solace in knowing that others are going through something akin to a culture shock of re-entry to the real world. If you are returning to seminary, you might find classmates who are also trying adjust and find support in your shared experences.
  • Grief can be compounded. I am fond of telling my students that with any change there is loss, and loss has to be grieved in some way or another. So the end of CPE can bring about grief. The loss of your processing time, supervisor and peer group (even if they drove you up the wall!) are all weighing on you.  It is also quite possible that you have yet to grieve all the losses you witnessed over the summer. And these two areas of grief can easily snowball together. I had a wonderful CPE Supervisor who told me once, “Never underestimate the cumulative effect of CPE.” What works best for you to process your grief?
  • Consider Rituals. Rituals can be a healing way to process some grief. Many of the stories I feature on this blog were my way of honoring and remembering people I have accompanied to the end. I worked with a chaplain who loved to garden and had a special ritual when a patient died, he would plant a particular plant in his garden. Rituals help us to make meaning, but they also provide a nice boundary around things. For example, instead of constantly reflecting and thinking about the suffering, with a ritual you can say “when I do this, that’s when it will come out for me” and knowing that your’e doing something at an assigned point in time might help to ease some of the pain of being consumed by it.
  • Pay attention to what’s going on. Notice where your mind is going and symptoms you’re having. I would sometimes dream about patients and that told me that I hadn’t fully processed their deaths and/or I had my own unresolved fear about my loved ones dying. Also, I kept thinking about my CPE internship long after I returned to classes and worked other jobs, that was part of how I knew that I had been bitten by the CPE bug and had to return to chaplaincy.
  • Tend to your wounds. CPE can open up some therapeutic issues that we didn’t know existed or weren’t as palpable before. If counseling is an option for you (read: if you have insurance & access) it can be extremely beneficial. Even if you don’t think you have anything in particular you need to work on, I like the idea of “preemptive” counseling, getting to know yourself even better, so that when a crisis does hit, you have more insight into your reactions.

CPE Survivors, what else has worked for you as you have transitioned out of CPE?