10 Questions for the First Day of CPE

Clint Eastwood's least favorite word is "ubiquitous." Barbara Streisand’s is "impossible." If heaven exists, when Robert Redford arrives at the pearly gates he wants to hear God say, "You're too early." I know this because they were all interviewed by James Lipton on Inside the Actor’s Studio. At the end of his scintillating interviews with top television and movie stars, the late Lipton - creator, executive-producer, writer, and host of the show - always asked the same 10 questions, which he acknowledge were adapted from a list used by the French talk show host Bernard Pivot:

  1. What is your favorite word?

  2. What is your least favorite word?

  3. What turns you on?

  4. What turns you off?

  5. What sound or noise do you love?

  6. What sound or noise do you hate?

  7. What is your favorite curse word?

  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

  9. What profession would you not like to do?

  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Having enjoyed this show for years largely because of the answers Lipton’s famous guests gave, I wondered if I could use these same 10 questions with my CPE students. Fearing they’d be too provocative for some students, I adapted them to the following 10 questions:


  1. What is your favorite word?

  2. What is your least favorite word?

  3. What is your favorite emotion?

  4. What is your least favorite emotion?

  5. What sound or noise do you love?

  6. What sound or noise do you hate?

  7. What profession other than ministry would you like to attempt?

  8. What profession would you not like to do?

  9. How would you like to die?

  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Initially, I attempted to use this list while interviewing potential students. I found, however, that it was not a helpful tool to assess the following characteristics:

  • Safety – Can I trust this student to visit patients and “do no harm”?

  • Motivation – How motivated is this student to learn using a process model of adult education in a clinical setting?

  • Compatibility – How compatible is this student’s personality and learning style with the group I am assembling and with my style of supervision?


I did find the questionnaire helpful, though, as an icebreaker for the first day of a CPE program. Theories of group development suggest that the first stage of a new group is characterized by a need to develop trust and safety. One way I facilitate both is through exercises that lead students into progressive self-revelation. Too much too soon can undermine this important first stage. I use this questionnaire to ask the new group two questions at a time, which enables individuals to introduce themselves slowly and in creative and personalized ways. Students resonate with some of their peers’ answers and form new connections. Other students differentiate themselves through their responses as they find ways to highlight their differences. All of this is part of the process of building trust and safety in the new peer group.

I invite you to use this questionnaire the next time you are orienting new CPE students, leading a staff meeting, or facilitating a spirituality group. What questions would you add and/or delete for your context?

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