Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Core Competencies in Social Constructionist Supervision?

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Core Competencies in Social Constructionist Supervision?

Article excerpt

Family therapy is moving increasingly toward evidence-based practice and competency-based training. This article explores what might seem to be an unlikely link between social constructionist supervision, which is based on dialogic and fluid processes of meaning-making, and the increasing reliance on discrete core competencies in the education and training of family therapists. We propose an alternate approach to competencies for supervision with therapists in training that, among other things, invites accountability and provides evaluative props. The approach we propose is based on a set of orientations that we hope reflect the dialogic and contextual nature of social constructionist practice and supervision. These orientations consist of reflexivity and attention to power, fostering polyphony and generativity, collaborative stance, and focus on client resourcefulness. Ideas and questions for supervisors and therapists in training to address the orientations are articulated.

The social constructionist ideas currently reshaping the practice of family therapy are also relevant for supervision. However, if, as postmodernists assert, there is no privileged, expert position, how can supervisors evaluate their trainees? Flemons, Green, & Rambo, 1996, p. 43

Evidence-based couple and family therapy (CFT) practice is characterized by attempts to identify, typically through empirical investigation based on measurable outcomes, effective ways of providing therapy (e.g., Sexton et al., 2007; Wampold & Bahti, 2004). From a training perspective, there has been a corresponding shift from examining what goes into developing a competent therapist (e.g., coursework, clinical hours) to assessing learning outcomes or core competencies, based on the accumulated knowledge of the profession and demonstrated by students exiting training programs. In 2002, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) formed a task force to delineate core competencies (CC) for the practice of CFT (Chenail, 2009; Gehart, 2009; Nelson et al, 2007). Nelson et al. (2007) and Miller, Todahl, and Platt (2010) described in detail the development of CC in the field of CFT.

Competency-based CFT supervision is a probable, though not unquestionable, wave of the future, particularly in more managerial, evidence-based service environments (Lonne, McDonald, & Fox, 2004; Nelson et al, 2007). It may be argued that the drive to impose a competency-based paradigm on therapist education may signal a challenge to the democratic consensual framework that has guided counseling professions over the years (Dominelli, 1996; Miller et al, 2010). Despite this and other concerns, like others who have argued for a rapprochement between evidence-based and postmodern practice (e.g., Jacobs, Kissil, Scott, & Davey, 2010; Larner, 1994), we became curious if and how a social constructionist approach to supervision would fit in a competency- and evidence-based professional world. In social constructionist supervision, the evidence-based practice assumption that there are "correct" ways of functioning as a therapist is replaced by a focus on jointly developing or co-constructing meanings with therapists in training that might be useful in their work with families and their professional development (Anderson & Swim, 1995; Flemons et al., 1996; Gardner, Bobele, & Biever, 1997). In constructionist supervision, lived experiences of therapists are privileged through the exploration of their stories and ideas about competent and helpful (to their clients) practice. The dominant knowledge and skills viewed as accounting for effective and ethical practice constitute one possible resource informing supervisory discussions rather than the sole basis of supervision.

In this article, we offer some orienting ideas with respect to "competent" social constructionist practice. Arguably, constructionist practice, similar to other approaches to CFT, needs some "bottom lines" that could be practiced and evaluated in ways specific to the therapeutic setting and community. …

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