ERIC Identifier: ED372347
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Sumerel, Marie B.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Parallel Process in Supervision. ERIC Digest.
The concept of parallel process has its origin in the psychoanalytic concepts
of transference and countertransference. The transference occurs when the
counselor recreates the presenting problem and emotions of the therapeutic
relationship within the supervisory relationship. Countertransference occurs
when the supervisor responds to the counselor in the same manner that the
counselor responds to the client. Thus, the supervisory interaction replays, or
is parallel with, the counseling interaction.
Transference and countertransference are covert behaviors. Identifying their
occurrence requires an acute and on-going awareness of one's own issues and the
events that trigger the issues. But awareness of oneself is only the first step.
Using the awareness as an intervention in facilitating growth in the counselor,
and thus helping the client, is the ultimate goal.
TYPES OF PARALLEL PROCESS
Originally, parallel process was
perceived to begin only as transference, when the counselor acted out the
client's issues in supervision. Searles (1955) made the first reference to
parallel process, labeling it a reflection process. He suggested that "processes
at work currently in the relationship between patient and therapist are often
reflected in the relationship between therapist and supervisor" (p. 135).
Searles believed that the emotion or reflection experienced by the supervisor
was the same emotion felt by the counselor in the therapeutic relationship.
Although Searles recognized that the supervisor's reactions also might be
colored by his/her past, this was not the focus of the reflection process.
Several hypotheses exist for why the counselor may exhibit the reflection
process. First, the counselor may look inward for similarities between
himself/herself and his/her client as a means to develop a therapeutic strategy
that is appropriate, thus tapping into the same issue as that of the client.
Secondly, counselors may overidentify with their clients and be uncertain of how
to proceed with therapy (Russell, Crimmings, & Lent, 1984). Wanting the
supervisor to feel the same feelings they had experienced with the client, the
counselor unconsciously recreates the problem experienced in the therapeutic
relationship in an effort to get the supervisor to model appropriate responses
or make suggestions for resolution of the problem (Mueller & Kell, 1972).
Doehrman (1976) believed that Searles' (1955) reflective process was too
limited in scope. In a classic study, she found that parallel process could be
bidirectional. In fact, all four therapists in her study identified with their
supervisor to the point of playing (or paralleling) their supervisor with their
clients. In psychoanalytic terms, this form of parallel process is
countertransference. Several scenarios can be drawn to relate how this may
occur. First, the supervisor may believe a discussion of the supervisor's or
counselor's emotions are not appropriate for supervision but should be addressed
in the counselor's personal therapy sessions. The supervisor, however, responds
unconsciously to the counselor's emotions and the counselor responds in the same
way with the client, thereby creating the parallel process. Secondly, the
supervisor may impose his/her values on the counselor who then imposes the
values on the client. Third, supervisors who are inexperienced and have not
accepted their role as teacher/supervisor may act out their discomfort with the
counselor in the supervisory relationship. The counselor, then, exhibits
discomfort in the therapeutic relationship with the client. Finally, the
supervisor may become impatient with the counselor in the supervisory
relationship. The parallel occurs when the counselor exhibits the impatience
he/she felt with the supervisor in the therapeutic relationship with the client.
HOW SHOULD SUPERVISORS RESPOND TO PARALLEL PROCESS?
authors (e.g., Doehrman, 1976; Loganbill, Hardy, & Delworth, 1982;
Stoltenberg & Delworth, 1987) believe that it is important to the quality of
supervision to respond to the parallel process when it is observed. They have
asserted that examination of parallel processes encourages counselor growth. In
fact, Doehrman (1976) found that only when the parallel process was resolved did
the clients improve.
Supervision need not be only a teaching process that emphasizes theories and
techniques (Ekstein & Wallerstein, 1972). Supervision can provide an
experience for counselors to learn how to use themselves in the counselor/client
relationship. By discussing the parallel process in supervision, the counselor
will become aware of how oneself is involved in the therapeutic and supervisory
WHEN SHOULD SUPERVISORS RESPOND TO PARALLEL
Authors of developmental models (Loganbill et al., 1982;
Stoltenberg & Delworth, 1987) suggest that the timing for discussing
parallel process issues is important. They indicate that beginning counselors do
not possess the self-awareness and insight needed to deal with transference and
countertransference issues. Unaware of how they may impact the therapeutic
relationship, they are more concerned with learning techniques and skills. When
transference issues are discussed, beginning counselors may become defensive and
experience an increase in anxiety. Doehrman (1976), for instance, reported that
the only entry-level counselor in her study was not able to gain insight into
the transference and countertransference issues in supervision and, therefore,
McNeill and Worthen (1989), however, indicated that discussion of parallel
process issues could occur with entry level counselors. They suggested that the
interventions should be simple and concrete, and focus primarily on
self-awareness issues. Giving specific examples that are obvious in the
supervisory and therapeutic relationships helps the counselor understand the
dynamics that are occurring. The specificity reduces the counselor's anxiety and
provides a framework in which learning and self-awareness can occur.
More advanced and experienced counselors, on the other hand, have developed a
capacity to understand and absorb self knowledge gained through transference and
countertransference reactions in their therapeutic relationships (Loganbill et
al., 1982; McNeill & Worthen, 1989; Stoltenberg & Delworth, 1987).
Advanced counselors are less defensive with regard to their issues and identity
becoming the focus in supervision and, therefore, are more inclined to discuss
how these issues are affecting the therapeutic relationship. They have developed
therapeutic skills and techniques and have the capacity to address more advanced
and conceptual issues such as parallel process.
Even though advanced counselors are more interested in discussing the
transference and countertransference issues, however, supervisors can
overemphasize the parallel process to a point that is exhausting for the
counselor (McNeill & Worthen, 1989). Therefore, how and when the parallel
process interventions are used is important to their success in facilitating
growth and self-awareness in the counselor. Supervisors must exhibit caution, as
there is a proclivity to cross the line from a supervisory relationship to a
therapeutic relationship when parallel process issues are discussed.
Doehrman (1976) found a form of parallel process
in each of the supervisory relationships she studied, therefore implying that it
is a universal phenomenon. She posited that the supervisor should always be
aware of how the therapeutic relationship and client issues are presented by the
counselor in the supervisory session. If the parallel process is not worked
through in supervision, both the supervisory and therapeutic relationships will
Doehrman, M. J. (1976). Parallel Processes In
Supervision And Psychotherapy. Bulletin Of The Menninger Clinic, 40, 1-104.
Ekstein, R., & Wallerstein, R. S. (1972). The Teaching And Learning Of
Psychotherapy. (2nd Ed.). New York: International Universities.
Loganbill, C., Hardy, E., & Delworth, U. (1982). Supervision: A
Conceptual Model. The Counseling Psychologist, 10(1), 3-42.
Mcneill, B. W., & Worthen, V. (1989). The Parallel Process In
Psychotherapy Supervision. Professional Psychology, 20, 329-333.
Mueller, W. J., & Kell, B. L. (1972). Coping With Conflict: Supervising
Counselors And Psychotherapists. Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Russell, R. K., Crimmings, A. M., & Lent, R. W. (1984). Counselor
Training And Supervision: Theory And Research. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent
(Eds.), Handbook Of Counseling Psychology (Pp. 625-681). New York: Wiley.
Searles, H. F. (1955). The Informational Value Of The Supervisor's Emotional
Experience. Psychiatry, 18, 135-146.
Stoltenberg, C. D., & Delworth, U. (1987). Supervising Counselors And
Therapists: A Developmental Approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.