Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

"Her Energy Kind of Went into a Different Place": A Qualitative Study Examining Supervisors' Experience of Promoting Reflexive Learning in Students

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

"Her Energy Kind of Went into a Different Place": A Qualitative Study Examining Supervisors' Experience of Promoting Reflexive Learning in Students

Article excerpt

For family therapists in training, a key learning outcome is the development of reflexive abilities. This study explores the experience of three experienced training supervisors as they address this learning outcome with students. Transcripts of semi-structured interviews were analyzed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. The Supervisory Relationship emerged as a single overarching theme that contained and contextualized three further themes: Promoting Learning, Dimensions of Power, and The Self of the Supervisor. One theme is reported here, Promoting Learning, with an illustrative example of experiential learning in a student that demonstrates the overriding significance of The Supervisory Relationship. The findings are discussed in the context of current literature and research regarding supervision and training. This study adds richness and detail to material published on supervisory experience, and documents supervisory "micro-skills" relevant to the development of reflexive abilities in students.

Existing reviews of research investigating family therapy training and supervision are not numerous. In an early review, Knistern and Gurman (1979) observed that "after reviewing the literature on family therapy training, we have to confess our field's collective empirical ignorance about this topic" (their italics, p. 83). They nevertheless inferred several student factors from family therapy research that they believed would influence training outcome. These included experience level, structuring and relationship skills, and positive relationship with patients. They noted the primary practices utilized in family therapy training: didactic, supervisory, and experiential, commenting that the latter practice is composed of personal therapy, sensitivity training and role-playing, and working with one's own family. They comment that although personal training is extensive in psychotherapeutic training generally, it is less of a requirement in family therapy training. They suggest that experiential work with one's own family as a component of training is probably unique to family therapy:

Its use varies from the construction and discussion of one's own family tree, to roleplaying of one's own family problems, to visits home to further self differentiation. We know of no completed studies which have attempted to assess directly the impact of such procedures, nor of any studies which indirectly support such a practice, (p. 88)

Street's (1988) review categorized existing research into personnel studies (related to characteristics of students and trainers); context studies (connected with the setting in which training is offered or graduates are expected to practice); theoretical model studies (concerned with choices about which models are taught); skills studies (investigation of skills to be taught); methodology studies (investigating teaching methods employed); studies of student changes during training; and therapy outcome studies (related to families treated by the student). He concluded that the main advance in the preceding decade had been the development of measures to assess student changes during training.

Similarly, Knistern and Gurman (1988) discussed a number of measures developed to assess learning and change in students, including the Family Therapy Assessment Exercise (Breunlin, Schwartz, Krause, & Selby, 1983), the Family Therapist Rating Scale (Piercy, Laird, & Mohammed, 1983), and the Family Concept Assessment (Tucker & Pinsoff, 1981). At the time, they concluded that no study had attempted to link change in students directly to positive therapeutic outcome in families they had treated. Nonetheless, they suggested the following:

To the degree that we know which therapist behaviours lead to positive outcomes, we can indirectly evaluate the success of training programmes by measuring the degree to which these behaviours increase during training, (p. 371)

More recently, Avis and Sprenkle (1990) have elaborated how research might address such evaluation by mapping out a six-stage process: outcome research on family therapy; identification of therapist variables associated with positive outcome; translation of variables into specific skills; delineation of training goals and objectives based on desired therapist skills; development of training methods based on goals and objectives; and testing effectiveness of training in producing desired therapist skills. …

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