Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Being and Becoming a Psychotherapy Supervisor: The Crucial Triad of Learning Difficulties

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Being and Becoming a Psychotherapy Supervisor: The Crucial Triad of Learning Difficulties

Article excerpt

More than 40 years ago eminent psychiatrist Richard Chessick penned a classic, highly prescient psychotherapy supervision paper (that appeared in this journal) in which he identified for supervisors the crucial triad of learning difficulties that tend to confront beginning therapists in their training. These are

(a) dealing with the anxiety attendant to the development of psychological mindedness;

(b) developing a psychotherapist identity; and

(c) developing conviction about the meaningfulness of psychodynamics and psychotherapy.

In this paper, I would like to revisit Chessick's seminal contribution about the teaching and learning of psychotherapy and extrapolate his triad of learning difficulties to the process of teaching and learning supervision. The process of being and becoming a psychotherapist has been likened to a developmental journey, and similarly being and becoming a supervisor is increasingly recognized as a developmental journey that is best stimulated by means of didactic and practical experiences (i.e., supervision coursework, seminars, or workshops and the supervision of supervision). In what follows, I would like to explore how Chessick's crucial triad of learning difficulties can be meaningfully extrapolated to and used to inform the supervision training situation. In extrapolating Chessick's triad, beginning supervisors or supervisor trainees can be conceptualized as confronting three critical issues:

(a) dealing with the anxiety and demoralization attendant to the development of supervisory mindedness;

(b) developing a supervisory identity; and

(c) developing conviction about the meaningfulness of psychotherapy supervision.

This triadic conceptualization appears to capture nicely core concerns that extend across the arc of the supervisor development process and provides a useful and usable way of thinking about supervisor training and informing it. Each component of the triadic conceptualization is described, and some supervisor education intervention possibilities are considered.

KEYWORDS: supervisor development; supervisor training; supervision of supervision; supervisor education; supervisor identity


Some years back, midway through a psychotherapy supervision seminar that I was leading, an advanced doctoral student made the remark: "This is all so, so different." She was reacting to the material that we had been covering in the seminar. At first, I did not understand her statement at all, but then it hit me: After years of having been exposed to psychotherapy theory, interventions, and research and having engaged in years of supervised psychotherapy practice, she, for the very first time, was seeing the whole venture from the other side - realizing that there was a world of supervision theory, interventions, and research about which she had had not one iota of awareness. It had never occurred to her that supervision was actually a substantive body of practice and research in its own right. In developing this awareness and being hungry to learn more, she was at the very beginning of making the vision shift that is required to be and become a supervisor.

Psychotherapy supervision has long been regarded as a crucial component (if not the crucial component) of psychotherapy education: It is a primary means by which (a) the traditions, practice, and culture of psychotherapy are taught, perpetuated, and transmitted; (b) therapist skill and competence are developed and enhanced; (c) therapist identity is nurtured, becomes solidified and established; (d) patient welfare is protected; and (e) the gate to professional practice is monitored and guarded (Bernard & Goodyear, in press [2014]; Falender & Shafranske, 2012; Hess, Hess, & Hess, 2008). In the grand scope of psychotherapy education, the place of supervision in preparing new, budding therapists seems unparalleled in its recognized importance and impact across disciplines. …

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