14/8/2018 0 Comments
The encouraging supervisor helps supervisees remove some of their self-imposed attitudinal roadblocks and supports them to aim for their highest possible level of competence.
The word ‘supervision’ has oppressive connotations to some people. So before going any further, we need to emphasise the importance of establishing an equal, collaborative relationship between supervisor and supervisee that also has the potential to be mutually enjoyable. This is an essential value at the heart of our book Practical Supervision: How to Become a Supervisor for the Helping Professions1 and the Cambridge Supervision Training courses. Although we draw on diverse resources, our main approach rests on Adlerian ideas and values, focusing on awareness of interpersonal relating, the importance of empathy, equality, and co-operation, and the central need for, and specific skills of, encouragement.
‘En-courage-ment’, with courage at its heart, develops the person’s inner resources and courage and enables the building and maintenance of a constructive working relationship. The encouraging supervisor helps supervisees remove some of their self-imposed attitudinal road blocks and supports them to aim for their highest possible level of professional competence.
The theory and practice of encouragement was described by Alfred Adler nearly one hundred years ago, and these ideas are now extensively shared by ‘strengths based’ supervision approaches2 and ‘appreciative enquiry’3 where the supervisor and/or organisation respects, values, and positively acknowledges the ability and potential of their supervisees. As most management texts now agree, people perform best when they feel appreciated, understood, encouraged, and accepted ‘warts and all’. We can all feel shame when we make mistakes. The encouraging supervisory relationship provides a space where learning from mistakes, coping with uncertainty, and processing our emotions, are valued as normal and actually essential elements of our professional development. An encouraging supervisor does not ignore these mistakes or uncertainties, but provides an appropriate balance between support and challenge, ensuring that the supervisory role also carries authority. This involves knowing how to be authoritative without being authoritarian.
Before exploring some of the encouraging ways to put this support and challenge into practice, here are what we understand to be the three supervision tasks to be met:
1. To support and give courage to people engaged in emotionally demanding tasks.
2. To make sure they know how to do what is expected.
3. To uphold agreed standards and support the supervisee to work to them.
In our experience, the successful achievement of the core tasks requires the supervisor to ground their practice in these definitive essentials of supervision:
• Creating a carefully negotiated working agreement between supervisor and supervisee(s).
• Developing a supervisory relationship that has mutual trust and safety as its basis.
• Talking openly about personal and professional values and ethics in relation to the work that is being supervised.
The working agreement
Effective supervision is a collaborative process. The co-creation of a clear contract through exploring both explicit and implicit hopes, fears, and requirements of supervisor and supervisee, lays the foundation for an encouraging, respectful and equal relationship.
The explicit contract includes such issues as organizational arrangements, codes of conduct and ethics, general practicalities such as venue, time, payment, and structures within supervision such as review processes:
The psychological or ‘implicit’ contract in supervision prevents unspoken misunderstandings bubbling away beneath the surface, such as clarifying training level, expectations, issues of difference, learning style, ensuring boundaries, and maintenance of the supervisory alliance.
Contracting for each session
To reduce a power imbalance, it will also be important for the supervisor and supervisee to work together to clarify the agenda for each new session, so that the needs of supervisees are freshly accommodated. Some possible open questions include:
“What is your key supervisory question?”
“What do you most want to achieve in this session and how can we work together best to achieve that?”
To maintain the encouraging equality of the relationship, supervisors can actively invite feedback from supervisees at the end of each session with such questions as:
“What are you taking away with you today?”
“What was useful about this session and what was less helpful?”
A supervisory relationship based on mutual trust and safety
Even where there is a difference in experience and expertise it is possible for supervisors to create a climate of equality and collegiality with their supervisees. This provides a potent foundation that helps supervisees have the courage to be imperfect5. Making mistakes and ‘not knowing’ are essential prerequisites for learning. Yet, as was identified in some USA based research6, trainee supervisees often avoided bringing material that could have been central to their learning; this included personal issues raised by clinical work, perceived clinical mistakes, and negative reactions to clients. This non-disclosure, which is particularly relevant with trainees, can be prevented by the supervisor at the outset of the contract saying something like:
“In supervision it is important to bring me things you are worried about, or feel you have not done quite right, or that you need to know more about. This can provide really valuable material that will invariably be useful as a base for further learning. If you avoid bringing any of these worries, I shall be concerned that you are not telling me essentials. I will be clear with you as we go along if I have any concerns about your ability to pass this course, and will discuss this with you long before I write any report.”
Part of what is involved in being an encouraging supervisor is to be able to name uncomfortable issues and offer clear feedback about the supervisee’s practice. Effective encouraging feedback is about enabling growth and learning and improved practice. It can be seen as an interaction, or a meeting-point between the supervisor and supervisees, rather than something that the supervisor ‘gives out’ to them. The feedback channel works best when it is two-way. One-sided feedback in supervision invariably increases a power imbalance, even when the supervisor shares positive comments.
Encouraging feedback is different from traditional praise or rewards, as it focuses on enabling both supervisor and supervisee to develop an inner sense of satisfaction and motivation. This involves much more than expressing positives7. Different from praise, encouragement focuses on what the person is doing, rather than how the person compares with others. Verbal encouragement can be achieved by avoiding the use of adjectival labels such as ‘good’, ‘unethical’, ‘clever’, ‘non-empathic’, and by keeping in mind the assets and intentions of the supervisee.
By using descriptive language and paying particular attention to verbs, the supervisor can offer feedback that is very specific, identifying what the supervisee has actually been doing, without needing to evaluate it. For example, an evaluative label: “You’re hopeless with boundaries and get far too involved with your patients” becomes: “I notice that instead of the allotted half-hour, you regularly stay for one hour with your patient, and that you made an additional home visit out of work hours when it was this patient’s birthday.”
From this non-attacking base, the supervisor can invite the supervisee’s own views, and then share any concerns, providing educative information and supportive challenge as appropriate.
Here respectful use of ‘signposting’ is helpful. Just as it is crucial on a motorway to be prepared for a side turning a good mile before, we can signpost our feedback in advance so it is less startling and enables a more collaborative meeting-point.
For example: “I’d like to discuss the ethical issue that may be involved in this situation – can we look at this now?” Further space can then be given for two-way discussion with the supervisee.
The use of Socratic questions can also help supervisees focus more deeply on their work, thus keeping a two-way flow of communication. This type of questioning invites the supervisee to gain insight into their own perceptions and then, ultimately, their own wisdom. For example:
“When you say you find this young person difficult, what specifically do you mean?”
“What do you appreciate about the way you handled that?”
“How might you do things differently in future?”
Being able to receive feedback in a constructive way is a skill in itself, and is far from a passive process. Whether in the role of supervisor or supervisee, some form of defensiveness is likely when receiving feedback. Maybe because this triggers old feelings of shame, from which we may defend ourselves by shrinking and losing our sense of capability, or perhaps we overcompensate for our feelings of inferiority by becoming aggressive. Either way this inhibits potential learning and growth. The challenge for both supervisee and supervisor is to be able to listen openly to the feedback, and identify how, if at all, this might support future practice.
Supervisees will feel more able to share their mistakes and vulnerabilities if supervisors take risks to speak directly and honestly, and not put themselves on a pedestal. In addition, the supervisee must know the steps to take if they wish to make a complaint about the supervisor (this information can be clearly indicated in the initial contract). Supervisees seldom say what the supervisor has done that was unhelpful, and so it is important that the supervisor routinely asks such questions as: “What were the most and least useful parts of today’s meeting?”
Ethics and authority
Part of the supervisor’s role is to act as a gate-keeper for the profession. Trainee practitioners are especially aware of this when coming for supervision, as the report the supervisor writes about their work could directly affect their entry into their chosen professional field. Whether a supervisee is in training or fully qualified, if there are concerns about their competence and resilience, the supervisor has an ethical responsibility to address the concerns, in the interests of protecting clients/patients from possible harm. The ethical position as supervisor is also one of support and care for the supervisee. So is an encouraging attitude compatible with the supervisory authority essential for effective supervisory practice?
At the start of this article we defined the encouraging supervisor as someone who helps supervisees remove some of their self-imposed attitudinal road blocks and supports them to aim for their highest possible level of professional competence – so yes, authority and encouragement go hand in hand. Authoritative interventions include advice-giving, providing information, and confronting. Feedback can be particularly useful when the other person has a ‘blind spot’, and is totally unaware of their motivation for what they have done or the impact of it. Often trainees fail to recognise minor ethical difficulties. When supervision can offer an encouraging and authoritative space for the supervisee to explore, ‘not know’, and ‘feel stuck’, there can be rich learning from mistakes.
It is important to distinguish between mistakes, malpractice, and poor practice. Minor mistakes are normal unintended slips in normally good practice. Malpractice arises when the practitioner meets their own needs at the expense of the workplace or people in it, and if it continues, this must be addressed as part of the ‘giving of courage’ or encouragement. Whether mistake or malpractice, the supervisor needs to address the issues with encouraging authority, and in turn, the supervisee will be more open to the feedback and guidance.
The supervisor also needs to be open to stuckness, not knowing and learning from mistakes. Saying ‘I don’t know’ can be hard as a supervisor, if you feel you ought to know. It is beneficial to tolerate the discomforts of not knowing while still thinking together about an issue: this models the reflective process and demonstrates the value of reflection to the supervisee in an encouraging way.
Encouragement is a many-faceted process, and we see it as a vital ingredient for effective supervision. However, this fine balance between support and challenge, empathy and authority is by no means easy. We all have tendencies to move into judging and defensive positions at times, and we all make mistakes. When we can embrace these moments with compassion, it is gratifying to realize that they offer great opportunities for professional growth.
1. Henderson, P., Holloway, J. and Millar, A. (2014) Practical Supervision: How to Become a Supervisor for the Helping Professions. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
2. Edwards, J.K. (2012) Strengths-based Supervision in Clinical Practice. London: Sage.
3. Cooperrider, D. et al (2000) Appreciative Enquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Towards a Positive View of Change. Champaign, IL: Stripes Publishing.
4. Burnham, J. (2012) ‘Developments in social GRAAACCEEESS: Visible and invisible, voiced and unvoiced.’ In Krause, B. (ed.) Mutual Perspectives: Culture & Reflexivity in Systemic Psychotherapy (pp 139-162). London: Karnac Books.
5. Dreikurs, R. (1970) ‘The Courage to be Imperfect’. In Articles of Supplementary Readings. Chicago: Alfred Adler Institute.
6. Ladany, N., Hill, C.E., Corbett, M.M., and Nutt, E.A. (1996) ‘Nature, extent and importance of what psychotherapy trainees do not disclose to their supervisors’. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43, 10-24.
7. Millar, A. (2007) ‘Encouragement and Other Es’. Therapy Today (18)2, 40-42.
Encouragement: An Essential ingredient of Supervision - Anthea Millar
Supervision comes in many shapes and sizes, inspired by numerous models and theoretical orientations. Yet when ‘unpeeled’, it seems there is a common ingredient at the heart of all effective supervision practice: encouragement. This is also an essential value at the heart of our Cambridge Supervision Training courses and the book Practical Supervision: How to Become a Supervisor for the Helping Professions co-authored with my colleagues Penny Henderson and Jim Holloway.
Adler, over 80 years ago, took an optimistic view of human nature, believing that a need to belong and contribute to the group is inborn in each individual. However, humiliation and shame, disconnection and disgrace, inferiority and deficiency are deeply threatening dangers to us all, and prompt us to lose courage (feel discouraged) in making positive connections and contributions. So we may resort to patterns of self-destructive behaviours if, in our family of origin, we experienced these forms of discouragement. Adler also suggested that neither heredity nor environment is the ultimate determiner of personality. Instead he believed that this desire for pro-social behaviour is embedded in us, and we all have the capacity for constructive change (Ansbacher and Ansbacher 1956). And crucially, this change is most likely to occur in a relationship with a person who is encouraging.
Encouragement has been described as: ‘…the process of facilitating the development of the person’s inner resources and courage towards positive movement. The encouraging person helps the discouraged person remove some of the self-imposed attitudinal road blocks.’ (Dinkmeyer and Losoncy 1980 p 16). Looking more specifically at supervision, Lemberger and Dollarhide (2006) state that the process of encouragement can ‘..assist the supervisee to aspire to the highest possible level of professional competence. Encouragement is literally “entering the courage” and assets possessed by the supervisee….(it) can further buttress the working relationship between the supervisor and supervisee and open up new meaning-making opportunities for both…’ (p119).
In a bid to identify the many forms that encouragement can take, and having a bit of fun with alliteration, I have created a diagram that aims to illustrate my thoughts about the main Elements (or ‘E’s) of supervision. These elements are ordered to echo key phases in the supervision process, and are framed by encouragement.
Where there is a clearly contracted working alliance that is underpinned by a strong ethical framework, such as that provided by the BACP, both supervisor and counsellor can work more courageously. The increased courage comes from being supported by a set of principles that are not there to ‘police’ but to encourage mature reflection. Without the encouragement of an ethical frame, dilemmas can seem insurmountable; or of much greater concern, we may miss the dilemma altogether, and unwittingly enter into unethical practice, becoming both discourager and discouraged.
The Essential ‘E’s
Equality and Empathy‘To be human means to have inferiority feelings’(Adler 1964 p54). Adler suggested that the development of inferiority feelings result in large part from subjective childhood comparisons with other family members. As these feelings are so uncomfortable, we compensate by striving to overcome them through such patterns as superiority and perfectionism. Here’s where problems can arise in the supervisory relationship. This ‘slippery pole’ dynamic of inferiority and superiority will show itself as a discouraging power imbalance, that destroys a sense of equality.
Equality does not mean that the supervisor and supervisee need to have the same level of experience, values or theoretical orientation – what it does mean is that there is a cooperative partnership that acknowledges and honours difference. By not getting caught into ‘How am I doing in comparison to others’, and reflecting instead on: ‘What am I doing?’, we then offer a supervision space based on equality that encourages supervisees to risk disclosure of problematic issues much more readily.
Most counselling and supervision approaches have empathy as a fundamental basis to the relationship and I certainly see this as essential to offering an encouraging frame for the supervision work. However encouragement is always about authenticity, where a willingness to be honest (congruent) with a supervisee is as important as offering of empathic understanding.
Exploration and Enabling InsightEnabling the supervisee to present and explore what is going on, whilst keeping a careful eye on the client’s well being, is a complex task. As supervisors, we may be tempted to come in too early with our theories, interpretations and answers. Equally, with the aim of being empathic, we may delay intervention, listen attentively, but offer no focused input to the supervisee. One example of very many interventions that can encourage supervisees to explore and gain insight is the process of Socratic questioning (Millar 1999).
Using Socratic questions, the supervisor does not play the role of expert or authority. The skill of the supervisor is in having an idea of what direction would elicit the most useful information, clarification, or insight. Each new question is based on the supervisee’s previous answer or statement. Gradually, the supervisees are led to their own insight, and make their own conclusions as to what they are doing, and what they could be doing more effectively.
Education and ExtensionWhether in the role of supervisor or supervisee, taking risks and extending our skills is often deeply encouraging. Our learning can be particularly rapid after making mistakes or discovering gaps in our knowledge. However it is at exactly these moments that we can feel most vulnerable to inferiority feelings. By protecting ourselves from this discomfort, we are not protecting the client, and poor practice may be perpetuated. Supporting the supervisee to have ‘the courage to be imperfect’ (Dreikurs 1970) through feedback that will educate and extend, is an essential aspect of taking supervisory authority (Henderson 2006). So how can this verbal feedback be offered encouragingly so that it is neither punitive nor unhelpfully praising? (Dreikurs 1958, Dweck 1999, Kohn 1993).
Adlerian practice puts the emphasis on first identifying a person’s strengths, before presenting areas for development and change. This provides a firm base from which we can be more receptive to other forms of feedback. A similar process can be used both for identifying strengths and challenging areas for growth, as verbal encouragement, differentiated from praise, focuses on what the person is doing, rather than how the person compares with others. This is achieved by avoiding the use of single adjectival labels such as ‘good’ ‘unethical’, ‘clever’, ‘non empathic’, and also by keeping in mind the assets and positive intentions of the supervisee. By using descriptive language, paying particular attention to verbs, feedback offered is very specific, identifying what the supervisee has actually been doing. From this base, the supervisor may add their view, or provide educative information as appropriate.
EffectivenessLast, but not least, is the need to assess not only the supervisee’s competence, but our own effectiveness as a supervisor. Some crucial ways for the supervisor to ensure this include regular opportunities for mutual feedback between supervisor and supervisee, supervision for the supervision work, ongoing professional development and further supervision training.
Encouragement is a many faceted process that is the essential ingredient for supervision. But it is not easy. I have continually to deal with my own tendency to move into a superior and judgmental mode, but have discovered, gratifyingly, that when I am more encouraging, I actually feel more encouraged. So I would invite all supervisors to reflect on what they might develop further to ensure encouragement is at the heart of their supervisory practice. This practice will in turn encourage and enable the most important person of all: the client.
ReferencesAdler, A. (1964) Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind. New York: Capricorn. (Original work published 1933)
Ansbacher, H.L. & Ansbacher, R.R. (Eds). (1956) The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. New York: Harper & Row
Dweck, C (2000) Self Theories: Their role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Philadephia: Psychology Press.
Dinkmeyer, D. & Losoncy, L.E. (1980) The Encouragement Book. New Jersey: Prentice Hall
Dreikurs, R. (1958) The Cultural Implications of Rewards and Punishment. The International Journal of Social Psychiatry. Vol IV, No 3, Winter 1958
Dreikurs, R. (1970) The Courage to be Imperfect. In Articles of Supplementary Readings (Chicago: Alfred Adler Institute 1970)
Henderson, P. (2006) Learning to take Supervisory Authority. In P.Prina, K.John, C.Shelley, A.Millar (Eds). UK Adlerian Year Book 2006. London:ASIIP pp 40-49
Henderson, P., Holloway, J. and Millar, A. (2014) Practical Supervision: How to Become a Supervisor for the Helping Professions. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Kohn, A. (1993) Punished by Rewards New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Lemberger, M.E. & Dollarhide, C.T. (2006) Encouraging the Supervisee’s Style of Counseling: An Adlerian model for Counseling Supervision. The Journal of Individual Psychology. Vol. 62:2, pp106-125
Millar, A. (1999) The Use of Socratic Questioning in Classical Adlerian Therapy. In P.Prina, C.Shelley, C.Thompson (Eds). UK Adlerian Year Book1999. London:ASIIP