For Psychologists and all Mental Health Practitioners
In the professions concerned with mental health, supervision is regarded as an important and beneficial activity and is required of all mental health practitioners by their professional associations.
Supervision is one of the crucial processes in the ongoing professional development and personal growth of a mental health practitioner.
Supervision is a collaborative endeavour between two or more professionals, the broad aims of which may be seen as the enhancement of clinical practice, the improvement of administrative functions related to practice, and the provision of personal support to the practitioner. The ultimate aim of course is to improve the service that you are providing to your clients.
The Nature, Purpose, and Benefit of Supervision
Supervision is based on the concept of an experienced practitioner helping a less advanced practitioner to become more proficient in their practice, or alternatively of colleagues supporting each other to develop proficiency in practice through the process of peer supervision.
The nature of clinical supervision is such that the supervisor prepares, over time, to become adept at supervision. This process requires that the supervisor grows into the supervisory role and sustains it through continuing education and through guidance from others, as well as through mastery of the cultural competencies, legal and ethical issues, and best practices that must become part of the skill-set of the supervisee. This process is not dissimilar to that of any mental health practitioner who grows in their role as a therapist, in that it requires an ongoing commitment to professional and personal development.
The purposes of supervision are: (1) to assist the supervisee to understand their client at the content and the process levels, (2) to assist the supervisee to increase their understanding of their client (actual and countertransferential), (3) to understand the client/therapist dynamics – both clinical and theoretical, (4) to examine the supervisee’s interventions and their consequences, (5) to explore ways of working therapeutically and to compare and contrast models of psychotherapy, (6) to support and challenge the supervisee.
Whilst there is general agreement that clinical supervision is of benefit to the practitioner and ultimately to the client, there is little agreement on the goals, expectations and techniques of supervision.
Supervision from A Gestalt Therapy Perspective
Although supervision is not therapy, some of the principles that inform Gestalt Therapy apply to the Gestalt Therapy supervisory process.
In order to understand human behaviour and the behaviour of clients, Gestalt Therapists’ theoretical frame of reference and methodology is underpinned by the foundations of field theory, phenomenology, and dialogue.
The experiential nature of Gestalt Therapy training ensures that the practitioner learns the theory, methodology, and the art of psychotherapy through intimate contact with other people. It is not a methodology that can be learned by reading a book, listening to a lecture, writing essays, or watching a video. These methods can only be regarded as useful adjuncts to the intimate and contactful nature of experiential psychotherapeutic training.
This training method transfers to the supervisory relationship in that the relationship between the client and the therapist and the therapist and the supervisor are figural, intimate, and contactful. The importance of the experiential and contactful nature of Gestalt Therapy supervision can be better understood by examining the theoretical foundations of the therapeutic method.
Human beings and their behaviour cannot be understood in isolation from their environment. In order to understand our clients, we need to see them in context. Part of the context is the environment or wider field which includes the client’s history as well as their relationships and day to day life.
An integral part of the therapeutic process is attending moment-by-moment to the ways in which the client makes meaning, in the present, of the field/their environment.
Attending to the way in which our clients make meaning and organise information in the here and now is known as the phenomenological method.
A core principal of the method is that we must approach the world (phenomena) with an open mind in order to seek out the essence. In order to maintain an open mind to the phenomena of our clients, we must suspend (or bracket) our usual preconceived notions, assessments and assumptions.
Bracketing our usual opinions and preconceived notions requires that we be aware of them in the first place.
Gestalt Therapy supervision emphasises increasing the capacity for self reflection and heightened self awareness of the supervisee. This is achieved by providing a respectful and supportive learning environment where the supervisee can increase his or her understanding of their own psychological process (phenomenology) and how it may impact their therapuetic abilities, as well as increasing their capacity to attend to the psychological process of their client.
The relationship between the therapist and the client is the basis for healing and growth. The development of the capacity for genuine relationship and dialogue forms the core of the healing process.
Open engagement and true dialogue requires of the therapist (a) presence – that their own experience and phenomenology is brought to the encounter, (b) inclusion – that they attempt to embrace the experience of the client – joining with the client while maintaining one’s self, (c) commitment to dialogue – surrendering to an interpersonal process allowing what happens ‘between’ two people to emerge rather than attempting to control the contact and the result.
Paradoxical Theory of Change
One of the ways in which Gestalt Therapy theory differs from other theories of psychotherapy is in its proposal that change occurs when one is fully who one is rather than attempting to be who or what one is not.
Change can occur when we abandon what we would like to become and accept what we are. The premise is that we must stand in one place in order to have firm footing to move, and that it is difficult or impossible to move if we don’t have that footing.
When we allow this for ourselves, change becomes a natural consequence of our increasing awareness of self and other and this increases our capacity for choice and ultimately change.
For the therapist, the emphasis in Gestalt Therapy is upon increasing the awareness of the client and encouraging them to be fully who and where they are in any given moment and not upon trying to change the client.
These same principles apply from a Gestalt Therapy supervision perspective, where the supervisor does not attempt to change the supervisee, rather the supervisor encourages the supervisee to be fully who they are in the supervisory learning process.
Supervision is a process during which the supervisor and supervisee are collaborating and learning about the client, about psychotherapy, and about themselves.
The Supervisory environment is a supportive one where trust and authenticity can develop between the supervisor and supervisee. It is a space where the supervisee can bring their clinical and administrative concerns, reflect upon and develop their clinical skills, increase their professional and theoretical knowledge, and increase their confidence and clinical competence.
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Spence, S., Wilson, J., Kavanagh, D., Strong, J., Worrall, L., (2001). Clinical Supervision in Four Mental Health Professions: A Review of Evidence.
Hostrup, H., (2010). Gestalt Therapy: An Introduction to the Basic Concepts of Gestalt Therapy.
Resnick, R., Estrup, L., (2000). Supervision: A Collaborative Endeavour.
Clarkson, P. (2011) (3rd Ed.). Gestalt Counselling in Action.
Beisser, A. (1970). The Paradoxical Theory of Change.