When I was a therapist in training, the world was very complicated to me. My worldview was overly-positive — until I gained more experience and found a good fit with a supervisor.
The most important part of supervision for me at the time was a mentor who would process my cases with me, encourage me to be mindful of my clients’ needs, and support the multiplicity of experiences I knew I would encounter in a clinical setting.
For many supervisees, finding a good supervisor who is experienced and meets all of their needs takes a lot of time, patience, and research. Now, Douglas Guiffrida has written Constructive Clinical Supervision in Counseling and Psychotherapy. The book highlights the benefits of the constructivist counseling approach to promoting supervisee development and learning. According to Guiffrida, supervisions is a “dynamic encounter in which the supervisee is constantly opening and closing to experiences, ideas, and new ways of thinking. When supervisees are open, they expand their understandings by becoming accepting of new ways of thinking and being. These experiences of opening are often followed by periods of closing off, even retracting.”
The book provides background information on the constructivist approach and the benefits of conceptualizing the supervisor-supervisee relationship and client caseloads. Guiffrida highlights that the constructivist approach understands “that change is difficult and that we, as humans, are fundamentally conservative creatures who strive for continuity and structure.” He emphasizes the philosophical and existential components of the constructivist approach, as well as its benefits over other approaches to supervising clinicians in training.
As Guiffrida writes, the constructivist approach prompts supervisees to develop personal insight, their own worldview, their own clinical style and technique, and their own belief system. He writes, “Rather than trying to get supervisees to learn and understand the supervisor’s ways of viewing client problems and interventions, constructive supervisors engage supervisees in a process of critical self-reflection,” which in turn “allows supervisees to openly express their thoughts, feelings, and inclinations regarding their clients in ways that facilitate critical examination of the strengths, limitations, and origins of these beliefs.”
In other words, the constructivist approach allows trainees to home in on their own strengths and keeps the supervisor from imposing their own developed worldview on the trainee. It allows a trainee to be independent and figure things out for themselves.
This is indeed how some of the best therapists came about. As a therapist in training some years ago, I often struggled with trying to integrate my own worldview and style with the worldview and style of my previous supervisors and professors. While I highly regarded them and respected their knowledge, I recognized that I needed room to explore my own worldview, beliefs, and developing style without feeling pressured to mimic or imitate a style that was being taught to me.
In fact, in therapy sessions many clinicians struggle with being comfortable with their own style. They strive to follow in the footsteps of the most famous psychotherapists such as Carl Jung, Virginia Satir, John B. Watson, and even Sigmund Freud.
This book highlights the importance of supervisors being mindful of how they are facilitating the growth and maturity of their supervisees. A supervisor holds a great amount of power because they have a level of experience and understanding of the field that their trainee does not. They have been given the time to explore their beliefs and views on things. And so, the constructivist approach aims to empower the supervisee by making the supervisor aware of their own personal needs to be “needed” or to “teach” and impose their own values.
Guiffrida also makes it clear that supervisees or trainees should not feel guilty about being anxious or uncertain about their work. The field of clinical psychotherapy is very challenging, and our clients often mean a lot to us once we get to know them. As professionals we certainly do not want to misguide them or harm them — and the fear of that is probably what causes the majority of the anxiety a trainee or supervisee experiences.
The constructivist approach aims to help trainees get comfortable with a moderate amount of anxiety and uncertainty. It normalizes the experience of anxiety and does not seek to reduce or minimize it. In fact, Guiffrida writes, “Rather than attempting to alleviate anxiety, constructive supervisors encourage and teach their supervisees to embrace anxiety as a necessary condition to their professional development.”
Guiffrida also provides activities to help facilitate a supervisee’s growth and development. And when it comes to delivering difficult feedback to supervisees, the author covers that, too. Overall, the book is a short, engaging, and easy read that can add a great deal of insight to the new or seasoned supervisor looking for a different way to educate professionals in training.
Constructive Clinical Supervision in Counseling and Psychotherapy
Routledge, January 2015
Paperback, 164 pages