Using Cognitive Interventions with Counseling Practicum Students during Group Supervision. (Innovative Methods)

Article excerpt

The authors argue that students in counseling practicum courses experience many self-defeating thoughts and anxieties. These worries can impede their performance as new counselors and can have a negative impact on the supervision process. The authors outline innovative methods used by cognitive therapists to address this anxiety. In addition, a model is presented for counselor educators to use cognitive restructuring techniques as a supervision tool.


First-year practicum students often indicate that they have many fears and worries about their initial counseling experiences (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992). If this anxiety becomes excessive, it can impede the skills development of the practicum student and impair his or her functioning as a counselor. When excessive anxiety lingers past the practicum experience, counselors might become at risk for burnout. The ability to handle the anxiety and stress related to practicum and initial counseling experiences is a crucial skill that is needed by practicum students. Cognitive therapists (Beck & Emery, 1985; Ellis & Grieger, 1986) identified interventions that can be used to alleviate stress and anxiety problems. These techniques can be used effectively with practicum students (Dodge, 1982). The purpose of this article is to outline an innovative strategy for identifying practicum students' common self-defeating thoughts and to provide cognitive intervention strategies for addressing these thoughts.

Anxiety in Supervision

Bernard and Goodyear (1992) identified personalization skills as a major area of development for counselors. Personalization skills relate to the personality and emotional traits of the counselor. Being patient with resistant clients and managing anger if clients are confrontational are examples of personalization skills. The ability to manage and to cope with anxiety is another personalization skill. Counselors need to learn how to keep their own personal issues (e.g., performance anxiety) from interfering with the counseling relationship. This can be achieved by applying the principles of cognitive therapy in the training of counseling practicum students. The supervisor is not acting as the practicum student's therapeutic agent but is instead simply working on ways of managing the cognitive stressors that are related to training.

Bernard and Goodyear (1992) suggested that anxiety is pervasive among both supervisors and supervisees. They reported that there is no apparent need to avoid anxiety altogether, especially because moderate levels of anxiety probably improve counselor performance (p. 176). However, unchecked anxiety can negatively influence the counselor's speech rates, the accuracy of his or her perceptions, and his or her ability to provide appropriate affective feedback. Bernard and Goodyear also noted that anxiety can lead the supervisee to play supervision games that distort and impede supervision. For example, an anxious practicum student might be too critical of his or her performance in the hope that the supervisor will give only positive feedback. If supervisors can find effective ways to combat anxiety early in the process, the need for such games diminishes.

A distinction must be made, however, between irrational self-criticism and realistic self-appraisal. A practicum student may experience anxiety because he or she is actually ineffective with clients. In such cases, the anxiety is warranted and is a warning that supervisees need to change their behavior. Practicum supervisors need to address these worries with a clear remedial plan and increased supervision. Cognitive interventions would not be appropriate in these instances.

Neophyte counselors are rarely able to avoid anxiety during early counseling sessions (Yager & Beck, 1985). The anxiety involved in demonstrating counseling skills stems from rational and irrational beliefs about the counseling process, uncertainty about necessary skills, and anxiety related to the change process. …