This Work Matters

Written by Trace Haythorn

Filed under: News

Trace smiling at camera

Have you seen the call for nominations for awards? As with every year, we want to celebrate our colleagues and recognize those who have been leaders in the movements of clinical pastoral education and spiritually integrated psychotherapy. These awards are a way of celebrating all of us, of making our increasing commitment to appreciative inquiry come alive in the stories and practices of colleagues. It is a way of reminding us who we are and why we do what we do.

This time of year, the office gets many calls from people looking for CPE programs, trying to find a therapist, or wondering about working as a spiritual care professional. I remember sitting in Professor Christie Neuger’s office and asking how one became a chaplain. She smiled and encouraged me to explore CPE. I loaded my car and drove to Denver, CO, for the summer within a few months.

I vividly remember having the first of what would come to be many breakthrough moments in that program. On Fridays, several programs came together to present verbatims, a wonderful use of the diverse CPE settings offered in metro Denver. When it was my turn to present, I shared an interaction where I had become stuck in my care of a patient. He was a 20-year-old young man from the “limb reattachment unit,” a specialized floor at the hospital designed first for farm injuries, but grew well beyond those presenting tragedies.

The young man was on this unit due to an injury sustained while stealing beer from a pub in Boulder. He and a friend saw that the bartender had left the tap unattended, so they quickly poured themselves a couple of cold ones and tried to sneak away. The bartender saw them and called them out as they headed towards the door. They ran, and the friend caught the plate glass door such that when he tried to pivot, it came back on the young man, shattering and severing his right arm down to the medial nerve.

The young man was a second-year architecture student, and such an injury was both devastating and potentially career-ending. One afternoon, he asked me to grab lunch from the Taco Bell adjacent to the hospital. We had a kind of picnic on the lawn, enjoying our burritos. At one point, the conversation came to a strange halt. I felt stuck. We’d started to explore how he was feeling about the uncertainties in his future, and I experienced this strange and rather intense barrier within me.

When I presented this experience to the Friday group, a few folks did what many early CPE students do: they jumped in to offer advice. I distinctly remember one of the educators asking my colleagues to hold their thoughts for a moment, to just sit with my sense of stuckness. The educator then asked, “What is the group sensing?” A woman in the group said, “I wonder if the stuckness may be tied to a personal experience. Don’t I remember you saying you were once a trumpet player but suffered an injury that ruined your ability to play?”

I felt as if lightning struck. In the coming weeks, I realized how I had never grieved that loss, which gave me insight into the young man's questions and challenges. I experienced the power of an artfully led group process.

Whether a counselor or educator, professional or practitioner, we all have stories of those who helped us get to where we are. Take a moment and nominate one of those folks today. It’s a way to say thank you. It’s a way to celebrate your own growth. And it’s a way to treasure ACPE.

Trace Haythorn is the Executive Director of ACPE and can be reached at