Musings and Articles by CST Associates and Partners
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 for some people. So before going any further, we need to emphasise the importance of establishing an equal, collaborative 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 greement 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.
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: Organisational arrangements – identifying the relevant policies and procedures of external agencies. Codes of conduct and ethics – naming the processes, boundaries, and (crucially) the limits of confidentiality in relation to the supervisor’s and supervisees’ codes of ethics.
The relationship between supervisor and supervisee that also has the potential to be mutually enjoyable. This is an essential value at the heart of our new book Practical Supervision: How to become a supervisor for the helping professionsand the Cambridge Supervision Training courses we run. Although we draw on diverse resources, our main approach rests on humanistic and 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 roadblocks 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 100 ago, and these ideas are now extensively shared by ‘strengths based’ supervision approaches and ‘appreciative enquiry’, 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
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 imperfect. Making mistakes and ‘not knowing’ are essential prerequisites for learning. Yet, as was identified in some US-based research, 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 by 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 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, 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 positives. 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 like ‘You’re hopeless with boundaries and get far too involved with your clients’, becomes: ‘I notice that instead of the allotted half-hour, you regularly stay for one hour with your client, and that you made an additional home visit out of work hours when it was this client’s birthday.’