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Clinical Supervision: Skill Building and Empowering Supervisees
Relationship as a Secure Base in Counseling Supervision
In their work with counseling supervisees, Pistole and Watkins (1995) found that the establishment of a secure supervisory alliance "serves to ground or hold the supervisee in a secure fashion" (p. 469). The function of the relationship provides supervisees with security or safety by letting them know (a) "they are not alone in their counseling efforts, (b) their work will be monitored and reviewed across clients, and (c) they have a ready resource or beacon-the supervisor-who will be available in times of need" (p. 469). Similar to Pistole and Watkins's (1995) discussion, the following cases illustrate specific patterns of attachment I have observed when working with counseling supervisees and illustrate how secure supervisor and supervisee attachments were established. The purpose of each of these relationships was to provide supervisees with a stable foundation on which they could base their learning. Although recent studies (Blustein et al., 1995; Feeney & Noller, 1990; Klohnen & Bera, 1998; Lopez, 1996; Simpson et al., 1992) have documented the connection between early childhood and adult attachments, each of these case examples was based on current observable behaviors during a semester-long practicum experience. At no time were the supervisees' early childhood experiences brought into the supervision context. Names and gender have also been changed to protect confidentiality.
Case Example 1: Secure Attachment
William was enrolled in a practicum course and was assigned to me for supervision. He was active in student organizations, studious, and genuinely interested in his clients. His practicum experience unfolded as a model semester until William was assigned two female clients. I noticed that William, while appearing oblivious of his mannerisms, interacted with these two clients in a condescending manner. We had developed an excellent supervisor-supervisee relationship earlier in the semester, due in a large part to William's genuineness and openness to feedback. For example, William had approached me throughout the semester when unsure of his intervention strategies and counseling style. Our supervision sessions had progressed in an open and productive manner. When confronting William about my concerns regarding his relationship with his female clients, he initially seemed to be hurt; he then asked me to clarify. By reviewing his tapes and previous statements, we were able to pinpoint several instances of gender conflict during his sessions. Some of my feedback was not what William wanted to hear, but he remained open to correcting the problem.
In his following sessions, William addressed gender differences with his female clients, asking them for their impressions of previous meetings. This feedback helped William to rethink how he approached his female clients and to change some of his mannerisms and language to better facilitate the client-counselor relationship. William seemed to have a working model of help as accessible, which allowed him to seek extra supervision when it was needed. Moreover, when changes in his counseling style were warranted, he was open to exploring the changes that were needed and showed confidence in reshaping his role in the therapy room.
Case Example 2: Anxious-Resistant Attachment
Although Patty regularly asked for feedback about her sessions, she often became tearful or despondent. She sought out, at inopportune times, any and all previous instructors, repeatedly asking the same questions that she had posed earlier in supervision. I focused on establishing a supportive relationship with Patty. This included developing clear boundaries regarding appropriate disclosure in and out of supervision, what constituted an emergency, and my own time limitations. Initially, Patty expressed anxiety and frustration with these guidelines. For 2 months, I continued to provide her with our regularly scheduled supervision and also remained accessible throughout the week if she believe had a real emergency. I noticed that as the weeks passed, Patty began to realize that my office hours remained stable and that she could easily reach me by telephone or e-mail. She also began to relax and focus more on her clients, ceasing to badger student colleagues and instructors with minor concerns.
Although I might have categorized Patty as a high-maintenance practicum student, eventually she was able to develop confidence in her own abilities and to be open to constructive feedback. Moreover, whereas Patty may have held a working model of "help as inconsistent," it is possible that the development of a stable relationship provided her with a foundation on which she could develop confidence in her supervisor and in herself as a professional. This hypothesis is consistent with the literature (Collins & Read, 1990; Kenny & Rice, 1995; Lopez, 1996) discussing the potential for modifying an adult's working model of self and others.
Case Example 3: Anxious-Avoidant Attachment
Reflection Exercise #10
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 35
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