As family therapists we have been trained to recognize developmental stages that occur in the life experiences of our clients (e.g., Newman, Newman, & Morgan, 2002) and their families (compiled in Carter & McGoldrick, 1998). Much of our clinical work addresses those challenges almost universally experienced at each stage of life's development. We know to watch for a child's signs of independence and the parents' response to these from toddlerhood through late adolescence. We appreciate how parents may struggle to adjust to the "empty nest" when their last child leaves home.
Similarly, as clinical educators and supervisors we must learn the importance of recognizing our trainees' movement along their own personal and professional clinical paths. Their development involves variables ranging from personal maturity and differentiation from their families of origin to learning clinical theory and experiencing therapeutic successes (Nichols, 1988; Tucker, Hart, & Liddle, 1976). As we learn to recognize these developmental stages and trajectories for our trainees, our roles as clinical supervisors will involve, at varying moments, instruction, nurture, critique, prodding, and celebration (Nichols, 1975; Taibbi, 1995).
We can become more effective supervisors by recognizing that all of our trainees pass through a continuum that reflects their personal and professional development. For example, there are students in our master's programs who have never conducted a clinical interview of any kind. They may bring to this role the life experiences of only a 24 year old. There are students in our doctoral programs and training institutes who may have 5 to 10 years of clinical experiences in mental health and agency work, but with no focused experience on working with families. There are clinicians trained solely in traditional psychology or psychiatry who have never had more than one individual client in their offices at a time.