Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Toward a Common-Factors Approach to Supervision

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Toward a Common-Factors Approach to Supervision

Article excerpt

Despite the proliferation of supervision models, there is no evidence to suggest that any one model of supervision is in any way superior to any other. Many in the field have called for models that can bridge the various theoretical approaches to clinical supervision, and identify the essential elements of supervision. This article briefly explores the range of existing supervision models, and suggests a rationale for seeking factors common across the various models. The authors highlight the development of a new supervision model that synthesizes current thinking about supervision into three dimensions. The three dimensions are defined, and resulting supervisory roles explored. Implications for supervision practice, research, and training are discussed.


The past several decades have seen rapid growth in the area of marriage and family therapy (MFT) training and supervision (Green, Shuts, & Bacigalupe, 2001; Liddle, Breunlin, & Schwartz, 1988; Todd & Storm, 1997; White & Russell, 1995). Few question the importance of good supervision in the development of competent clinicians. In fact, Everett and Koerpel (1986) noted that "the integrity of a profession is associated directly with the effectiveness of its clinical education and supervision in the training and socialization of new members" (p. 62).

Despite relative agreement on its importance, and the growth of research and writing about supervision, there is still little agreement about how to define the scope and content of supervision (Carroll, 1988; Storm, Todd, Sprenkle, & Morgan, 2001). Carroll (1988) stated that "There are few agreed definitions and certainly no agreed tasks, roles, or even goals of supervision" (p. 387). This lack of clarity and understanding is not unique to the MFT field. Although some models have achieved wide recognition and use. White and Russell (1995) assert that no comprehensive, agreed-upon model of supervision exists in any of the major clinical disciplines.

Additionally, there is little in the way of solid research to support any one model over another (Storm et al., 2001), and the disagreements about what supervision is and should be persist. The field of supervision remains in a condition characterized by a high degree of variation in definitions, tasks, and models. Berger and Buchholz (1993), reflecting on the situation, conclude that "supervisory styles are as varied as the proponents of these [different] models" (p. 87).

Sprenkle (1999) noted that no one model of supervision could claim empirical superiority to any other, and argued for the need to begin examining the facets of supervision that transcend the various models. Similar efforts with clinical work are currently being explored and debated (for a brief but comprehensive review of the common-factors approach in clinical work, see Sprenkle & Blow, 2004). Although the term common factors is relatively new in supervision, the idea itself is not. Ekstein (1964) suggested that supervision has elements that cross theoretical borders and identified a focus on teaching, administration, and clinical work to be three such elements. Goodyear and Bradley (1983) examined the similarities and differences among the five most important supervision theories in the field of clinical psychology at the time (rational emotive, behavioral, client centered, developmental, and psychoanalytic). They believed that by examining supervision from diverse viewpoints they could uncover common practices among the models. After reviewing the five models, they "were struck with the extent to which supervision techniques must be similar across supervisors, regardless of theory" (p. 63).

At least one study found this to be true in practice. Goodyear and Robyak (1982) looked at the differences in beginning and more experienced supervisors, and found that the more experienced supervisors shared much of their emphasis in common, while the less experienced supervisors differed more in ways consistent with their individual theories of supervision. …

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