Musings and Articles by CST Associates and Partners
Whilst training counsellors on a short course about supervision, my colleagues and I became interested in how to teach the trainee supervisors to take appropriate supervisory authority both under normal circumstances, which entails developing some interventionist skills and habits for good practice, and how to manage a relationship under threat because of a major difficulty, which requires a relationship- focused approach. Adlerian ideas about the importance of monitoring whether the superiority and inferiority dynamic is being expressed, and if so, how it is happening in the supervisory relationship have become useful to our teaching. Specifically we used Dreikurs’ (1953) and Sweeney’s (1981) explanations on the inter and intra-personal dynamics that arise from an individual’s feelings of superiority and inferiority. My colleagues, who call the preoccupation with success and failure (superiority and inferiority) “the slippery pole”, introduced me to these ideas and adapted Sweeney’smodel presented in the diagram on page 45.
What do I mean by taking supervisory authority under normal circumstances? It may include many ways to relate that require immediacy, may be uncomfortable, or simply take more initiative than is normal in counselling relationships, currently the major professional role of the trainee supervisors. It relates to the task of the supervisor and the expectations of the role to protect clients and uphold standards.
Examples of the relationship qualities normally required are subtle to convey, and trainees’ private logic (‘internal working models’, in the language of attachment theory) greatly affects how they hear the teaching. Specifically, and unhelpfully, trainee supervisors may conflate ‘taking authority’ with ‘being authoritarian’, a style they do not wish to implement because it would undermine some core Adlerian values about equality and encouragement, respect and regard. In the inevitably asymmetrical relationship that is supervision, the everyday challenge is to sustain these core values about relationship whilst undertaking the necessary tasks of supervision.
As trainers of supervisors, we need to explore the issues and model the skills involved. Especially when supervising trainee counsellors there is a real power differential arising from the tasks the supervisor has to undertake, and this can beneficially be openly acknowledged rather than denied. The Adlerian commitment to supporting clients to fulfil the tasks of their life through encouragement is paralleled in supervision, as assessment and giving feedback are core tasks for the supervisor. Furthermore, these tasks need to be done within honest exchanges and without attacking the self-worth of the supervisee. The concept of Social Interest is uniquely relevant to healthy supervisory relationships and indeed professional relationships ofall sorts, because of the emphasis on people’s “proclivity for being responsible, co- operative yet creative members of humankind” (Sweeney, 1981, p. 23).
Criteria for Best Practice
Making the contract sets the tone for the relationship. Is it a basis for a working alliance? Is it comprehensive or sloppy? What leeway is there for meeting the unique needs of this supervisee as well as this supervisor? Does the supervisor feel entitled to be clear about her or his own needs, such as adequate payment, or notice for missed sessions? Does the supervisee feel entitled to be clear too, to be able to request help without having to hide their vulnerability or their skill, to be understood at their developmental stage, and so on? Contracts are crucial at the start of the supervisory relationship, and also at the start of each session, especially when the supervisee has a big agenda. The contract conveys that this is a purposeful relationship that can be monitored and reviewed by both parties regularly enough to allow uncomfortable matters to be discussed before they become impossible to speak about. Contracting is useful in counselling, and essential in supervision.
Trainees on the supervision course came with habits and expectations from their experiences as supervisees that implied that contracting is a skill that many supervisors barely deploy. Training can usefully contradict this custom and practice. Trainee supervisors can use contracting to become aware of differing learning styles, and thus of the balance between theoretically-based interventions, intuition, and use of the senses that suits them, and that a different balance may suit each supervisee. The contract can spell these out, together with pragmatics about meetings, payments, cancellations, extra contact between supervisions, and so on.
It is helpful to see managing the time during sessions as a shared responsibility. If the agenda is big, supervisor and supervisee can decide the order of topics and renegotiate if some elements take longer than anticipated. Invitations to use creativity and to focus on a specific question for supervision under each heading can invite the supervisee into
healthy habits of preparation for supervision, and build their “internal supervisor” during the process (Casement, 1985).
Power and the Taking of Authority
Power issues do need to be explored during the training to be a supervisor, add comma in which ways to address supervisee expectations are identified. If the supervisee feels inferior, fears failure, and pervades the dialogue with anxiety and excuses, blaming or complaining, the power dynamic can be discussed, and the supervisee can be invited to express their concerns and to take responsibility for their part in the interaction. This situation and this interchange may thus form a paradigm for other relationships and model direct communication in ways the supervisee may take back to the relationships with their clients. Sensitivity is required, and sometimes it cannot be made all right. Either party needs to be able to say that the relationship is not working and propose an ending, but in particular the supervisor needs to be monitoring the efficacy of the relationship and the work coming out of supervision, and they both need to commit to having regular reviews of the supervision relationship. The Adlerian insight from the slippery pole is to bring encouragement into the situation through attending todescriptions in response to the thought, “What am I doing?” rather than preoccupationwith judgement by self or other.