Critical Incidents in Practicum Supervision: Supervisees' Perspectives

By Trepal, Heather C.; Bailie, Jillian et al. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Critical Incidents in Practicum Supervision: Supervisees' Perspectives


Trepal, Heather C., Bailie, Jillian, Leeth, Christopher, Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Trainees (N= 25) were asked to describe a critical incident occurring during practicum supervision that contributed to their growth as a counselor. Categories of themes and resulting subthemes emerged and included (a) positive/supportive (feedback, observation/vicarious learning, and normalizing), (b) neutral (re-evaluation), and (c) negative/harmful (lack of support and unprofessionalism). Results and implications of the study are discussed.

Practicum is typically the first opportunity students have to put their theoretical knowledge to use in a professional setting. Numerous authors have underscored the importance of practicum in counselor training and development. For example, Ryan, Toohey, and Hughes (1996) argued that the practicum experience is seen by both educators and students as a vital part of a counselor-in-training's education. Students view practicum as a time to practice and apply the theories and skills they have learned. Practicum also provides students an opportunity to experience and test how well they fit into the field of counseling. Fiels-based experiences enhance the students' career prospects, by giving them exposure to professionals in their area. Many students report that this practical learning is the most important part of their education and feel it is where they gain the most knowledge (Daresh, 1990).

As mandated by the profession through accreditation guidelines and ethical codes, (American Counseling Association, ACA, 2005; Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, CACREP, 2009) students must receive supervision while providing counseling services. In addition CACREP standards emphasize specific weekly individual and group supervision requirements for practicum (CACREP 2009, Section ??. F). Thus, supervision is an integral part of the practicum experience.

Authors have devoted attention to the particular role of supervision and its effects on counselor development. The supervisory relationship and the interactions inherent in such an ongoing task can have an effect, both positive and negative on counselor development (Ladany, Hill Corbett, &c Nutt, 1996). While practicum supervision is typically a positive experienee for students, this is not always the case. Supervisors who are "poor, uneven" or have a "lack or experience" can drastically change the outcome of a student's practicum, thus making supervision a very important part of this initial practical learning experience (Ryan et al., 1996, p. 360). Although research exists on practicum students and their experiences of supervision, extant research examining perceptions of the effects of supervision on development as counselors is scant.

Critical incidents and Counselor preparation

Critical incidents, or the critical incident technique (CIT), have been cited as an exploratory tool and qualitative methodology that give participants an opportunity to select and describe specific "developmental turning points" relative to counselor development (Skovholt & McCarthy, 1988, p. 69). The QT has been utilized to examine a number of aspects of supervision (Ellis, 1991; Heppner & Roehlke, 1984; Rabinowitz, Heppner, & Roehlke, 1986) and counselor development (Furr, & Carroll, 2003; Howard, Inman, & Altman, 2006).

The critical incident technique has been used to study aspects of supervision, primarily focusing on the experiences of the supervisee. For example, Heppner and Roehlke (1984) examined practicum students and interns perceptions of critical incidents from individual supervision sessions over the course of a semester, Critical incidents were categorized as selfawareness, professional development, competency, and personal issues affecting counseling. In addition, the authors found some support for a developmental progression in the supervision process, Beginning and advanced practicum students described more incidents related to support and self-awareness.

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