Psychotherapy Supervision in the 1990s: Some Observations and Reflections

Article excerpt

C. EDWARD WATKINS, Jr., Ph.D.

This paper identifies and discusses 10 broad-based themes or conclusions that could be drawn about the field of psychotherapy supervision now. These conclusions focus on various facets of clinical supervision theory, research, and practice; in so doing, they bring to light current supervision issues, problems, advances, and needs that seemingly merit our attention and consideration.

Psychotherapy supervision is a recognized means by which students and professionals alike can learn about the art and craft of psychotherapy.(1) Training programs--be they in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, psychiatry, social work, or some other mental health specialty--all generally rely upon psychotherapy supervision to help in preparing their students to become therapists (e.g., see Rodenhauser's study).(2) Indeed, clinical supervision is a key element in that process by which psychotherapy is taught and learned.(3-4) This appears to hold true regardless of specialty area, level of training (doctoral or subdoctoral), theoretical orientation, or work setting.

As a field of practice and inquiry, psychotherapy supervision has certainly matured over the years; with all the attention devoted to supervision research, theory, and practice in the last two decades alone, it would surely seem that interest in, and scrutiny of, the psychotherapy supervision experience is now at an all time high.(1,4-13) But considering the importance of psychotherapy supervision to the training process, considering the continuing, seemingly escalating interest that we see in studying supervision as well as in building clinical supervision models, and considering the valuable quality-control, quality-assurance function that supervision has long served and continues to serve, what exactly can we say about the status of psychotherapy supervision now (in terms of its theory, research, and practice)? What conclusions--broad-based or otherwise--might we be able to arrive at about the field of clinical supervision at this particular point in time?

Specifically, I would like (a) to identify and discuss 10 broad-based conclusions that could be drawn about where the field of psychotherapy supervision is now and (b) in so doing, to also give some consideration to directions in which it seemingly needs to move in the years ahead. The 10 conclusions or statements that I present here are by no means exhaustive or all-inclusive, and I do not present them as such; they do, however, bring attention to some issues, problems, trends, or advances in the field of clinical supervision that are highly salient and merit emphasis.

To assist me in arriving at these 10 conclusions, I drew on three primary sources: (a) my own readings of the therapy supervision literature; (b) my own observations of and efforts to track the clinical supervision field over time; and (c) my own theory, research, and practice efforts in the supervision area. However valuable or limiting those sources might be, they at least seem worth identifying here. Second, how broad in scope is the view on psychotherapy supervision that follows? For the subsequent material, I drew on the supervision literature that has emerged from clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and psychiatry. While some of the following conclusions may also apply to supervision in other specialties (e.g., marriage and family therapy, social work), my focus again was on clinical/counseling psychology and psychiatry. I chose this focus because I felt most familiar with and most current about clinical supervision work in those specialty areas.

TEN BROAD-BASED CONCLUSIONS ABOUT PSYCHOTHERAPY SUPERVISION

1. Psychotherapy supervision is a service that many therapists consider quite relevant to both their professional practice and professional identity; it also is an activity to which a good number of therapists, regardless of work setting, devote a fair portion of their work time. …