In praise of Supervision

Originally supervision seemed to be the closest thing to being hung, drawn and quartered in public, and exposed as the shamefully ignorant and incompetent practitioner I feared being deep down. This was when I first found out I had to join a regular supervision group as part of the therapy training course I was on.

As you can gather from the title of this article, that is no longer my idea of supervision. Now I see supervision as a wonderfully supportive treat for myself, and I have come to appreciate how it helps me stay clear and effective in my practice. My view of a supervision has shifted from critical inspection to the supportive hand in the small of my back which empowers me to step forward with trust and joy.

Supervision is the chance to get "SUPER vision", to change perspective on what has happened in a session or series of sessions, on what you and your client did and said. It is "the opportunity to acknowledge emotions, suspicions, hunches, doubts and much else that was partly or wholly suppressed at the time" in the presence of a benevolent and experienced other.

Of course this shifting perspectives is not restricted to external supervision : we do it as we shift roles during a session, when we reflect on a session, or when we sit down to write up our notes. The more we learn to develop our inner supervisor, the more this shifting of perspectives becomes part of our own ongoing daily practice.

A good external supervisor can really help us develop this inner supervisor. Therefore treating yourself to a supportive, competent, supervisor, whom you trust and respect, and who will gently and firmly help you to clarify your practice, is an enormously helpful gift to yourself.

I've been in individual supervision, in group supervision with a supervisor, and in peer group supervision. I've been in body-oriented and in more analytical supervision. And I've learned from it all. The important thing is to establish a pattern of supervision for yourself, preferably including a regular (maybe monthly, maybe fortnighly) set-up, with a supervisor or a group which you feel both comfortable with and stretched by.

What exactly you need, only you can tell. I believe that in supervision, like in growing up, we have different developmental needs. Maybe the stages of supervision are somewhat similar to the stages of bonding described by Keleman : from uterine unbroken connection to mouth-breast feeding, to adolescent exploration and then to adult respect and friendship.

So we may need more straight emotional holding as we start, some person or group that supports our first anxious steps. As we 'grow up' more in our work, the quality of supervision needs to change, and become more questioning and challenging, while supporting us in our work with clients. Later on, I believe, our supervision needs to encourage our ability to live with multiple levels of meaning, multiple roles, and with uncertainty.

I see supervision as an ongoing need - we do not finally reach maturity and then are so good that we don't need it anymore. Rather we need help to be human and fallible and not get carried away with fantasies of omnipotence. "The more conscious a psychotherapist becomes, the more unconscious he becomes; the more light is cast upon a dark corner of a room, the more the other corners appear to be in darkness."

Of course, every client is also a supervisor for us, in the sense that clients give us information on their own and our unconscious processes - if only we can listen and learn. Learning to take seriously and value our own inner voices and feelings and hunches, to use all that transference and countertransference provokes in us, and to use it by appropriately becoming transparent with our clients is the gift of developing respect and trust in our inner supervision.

Books can help too - and all the books I have quoted in this article are really usefull for a good look at our practice. Continuing to learn and to train, and to be vulnerable, also helps. The last 10 days of the trainers training I recently did with Jack Painter and Willem Poppeliers (Breath and Life) felt like an intensive 10 day supervision group, and I thoroughly loved being both challenged and supported by good friends and colleagues.

So, if my experience inspires you - find a supervision context that stimulates you : I can only recommend it.

by Silke Ziehl

This article was published in Bodymind News in 1994



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