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.
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