Supervision is a bit sneaky. We meet in private to talk about individuals who aren’t there. We’re constantly reporting, guessing, collating, imagining, putting two and two together. Some people would call this gossiping. And it is absolutely true that we often say things in supervision about a client that we wouldn’t say to their face. Imagine if one of your clients was sitting in your session with your supervisor and listening to you talking about them. How might that affect you? The degree of difference it would make to what you said, or the way you said it, could be very useful as a measure of your ethical hypocrisy.
Of course we’re not mere gossips, and we’re not sneaks either, but you take my point. It’s your well-tuned ethical sense that tells you why you’re describing a client in language you wouldn’t use if they were in the room with you. We need to know why we do this and we would be non-ethically hypocritical if we didn’t know.
Good supervision enables us to take a dispassionate and curious look not only at how ‘two-faced’ we may be, but also how we use our awareness of that duplicity. This reflective process can be awkward but it’s not agonising. We could start with the familiar notion that a hypocrite* is someone who doesn’t practise what they preach. So that’s already most of us, right? When you offer therapeutically wise and sensible ideas to your clients – about self-care and self-compassion, for example – do you genuinely apply these same things to your own daily life? Let’s not dishonour our subjective truths on this. For myself, I reckon the answer is ‘no’ about a third of the time. From discussions I’ve had with colleagues it seems that we do regularly practise some of the good stuff we preach, but we’re also quietly aware of ways we fail to ‘walk the talk’. Bringing that self-awareness into the supervisory frame is always beneficial, because where we are in some sense ‘lapsing’ or ‘falling short’ is precisely where we invigorate the natural impulse to grow and develop. In this respect, gently declaring our personal pieces of hypocrisy in supervision becomes self-motivating, not self-shaming.
We talk a lot about our clients in supervision sessions but how often do we talk about our supervision in client sessions? Hardly ever, it seems. In fact most clients probably know almost nothing about supervision other than what’s stated briefly in the counselling contract. In my experience, it’s extremely rare for anyone to ask about supervision. So in any given piece of work, it’s highly likely that both the practitioner and the client are totally silent on the matter – albeit for very different reasons. One professional rationale for the silence is that the content of supervision sessions is confidential between the parties undertaking the supervisory contract; the client is not a signatory to that specific contract, so what goes on in supervision is strictly speaking not their business. It makes sense in terms of strong containment, but the more I think about this set-up, the more intriguing it gets.
I wonder if the practice of supervision itself isn’t a discreetly specialised form of hypocrisy. The high level of confidentiality within the consultation process allows for, and even legitimises, the application of double standards. The therapy space and the supervision space are held to be distinct. Different dialogical rules apply in each. Whatever we do and say in one place is not witnessed in the other. Confidences can become confused with secrets. Dual relationships can result in clinical collusion. And who really knows what goes on behind closed doors anyway? Things can get weird. No wonder we have such a carefully crafted set of commitments to accountability within the Ethical Framework. We might have set ourselves a nice trap there: the greater the ethical language we use to describe our professional obligations in supervisory relationships, the more we lay ourselves open to the charge of hypocritical posturing.
The traditions and conventions of supervision have evolved primarily to minimise the risk of harm, mainly to clients and also to practitioners. As a profession we’re somewhat compromised in this regard since we have almost no research-based evidence that supervision is intrinsic to the achievement of that worthy aim. We feel that it helps more than we know that it does.
Engaging in supervisory work is not unlike an act of faith: we believe in its goodness without being able to prove it other than doing it steadfastly in the belief that it’s good. The reality is that as signed-up, card-carrying members of BACP we are required to believe in it. This potentially exposes us to two particular states of active hypocrisy: practising supervision while not believing in it (completely cynical), and practising supervision while never admitting our doubts about it (secretly sceptical).
If you know how it feels to embody the second type of hypocrisy, you’ll also know the best ethical move to make is to become openly doubtful. Actually, this applies to all of us: our least worst hypocritical position is frank and fearless scepticism. Then we can honestly call ourselves good ethical hypocrites.
*I like the fact that the word comes to us directly from hypokrites, the old Greek word for ‘actor’. It literally means ‘speaking from underneath’ – in ancient Greece actors wore masks to indicate the character they were portraying, and acted or spoke from underneath or behind the mask. This theatrical origin is still evident in the modern use of ‘hypocrite’ to mean someone who is not what they seem: they’re a ‘bad actor’ in the sense of a person apparently acting in good faith but in reality only pretending to.
Jim Holloway is a senior accredited counsellor and supervisor, a Cambridge Supervision Training Associate, and a co-author of Practical Supervision: How to become a supervisor for the helping professions (JKP 2014). He contributes to 3menwithablog.com, a collaborative blog about therapy.
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