ERIC Identifier: ED372354
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Cryder, Annette Petro - And Others
Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Supervision of Marriage and Family Counselors. ERIC Digest.
The adage "training shapes practice" describes the work of most marriage and
family supervisors. Taking this metaphor one step backward, most marriage and
family supervisors also believe that "theory shapes training." In terms of
theory, the defining hallmark of marriage and family supervision during its
brief history has been a systemic orientation (Smith, 1993). Other
distinguishing features include a reliance on live forms of supervision, and the
viewing of ethical issues within larger familial, cultural, and societal
contexts (Smith, 1993).
THE COMPLEX FAMILY SYSTEM AND ITS INFLUENCE ON
A family system is often described as constantly evolving and
self-regulating. During counseling, systemic change occurs via interactions
among family members and via interactions with other systems (e.g., the
supervisor, the counseling team, social service agencies, legal systems, and
others) (Pirrotta & Cecchin, 1988). Furthermore, each client family can be
understood as a special group of people sharing a unique history, and featuring
unique operating rules and social behaviors.
For these reasons, marriage and family supervisees face a particularly
complex and powerfully dynamic counseling situation in which they may experience
a high level of anxiety (Pirrotta & Cecchin, 1988). Commonly used
supervisory approaches, described below, may be thought of as avenues to
effectively manage both the complexity and power of the family system, and any
resulting supervisee anxiety (Pirrotta & Cecchin, 1988).
Anxiety also may occur when supervisees face counseling situations that
parallel their own family backgrounds. Typically, rather than helping
supervisees resolve family of origin concerns, marriage and family supervisors
focus on helping supervisees develop clinical skills (AAMFT, 1993). Accepted
practice among marriage and family supervisors is to provide competency-based
supervision that is "clearly distinguishable from personal psychotherapy"
(AAMFT, 1993, p. 17). This practice speaks to the general belief that with a
solid repertoire of clinical goals and skills, supervisees can manage both their
own emotions and issues and those of the families they counsel.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY SUPERVISORY MODALITIES AND THEIR BENEFITS
Marriage and family supervisors regard live supervision as
particularly effective, because the supervisor can assist both the supervisee
and the family by altering the course of counseling as it occurs. Modalities
include telephone interventions, consultation breaks with trainees, and
supervisor-as-co-counselor. Other conventional supervisory methods include
delayed video or audiotape review, and verbal reports.
One goal of videotape review is to help trainees improve what Tomm and Wright
(1979) described as perceptual and conceptual skills. After watching part of a
videotaped session, supervisees might be asked, for example, to describe family
members' common themes or behavioral interactions, to reflect on interventions
that might work in similar future situations with client families, or to
describe what they have learned about marriage and family counseling from the
session. Using the supervisee's verbal reports also encourages clinical growth.
Verbal reporting allows a mutual questioning process between supervisor and
supervisee that helps the supervisee organize information about client families
into useful frameworks for consideration (West, Bubenzer, Pinsoneault, &
CONTEMPORARY FORCES SHAPING MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
As societal perspectives change, so do marriage and family
counseling and supervision. Because marriage and family supervisors view
families within the larger social context, the field of marriage and family
supervision may be more immediately influenced by changes in the social fabric
than other related disciplines. Emerging forces affecting marriage and family
counseling and supervision include the evolution of social constructionist
ideas, the challenge of the feminist critique, a growing awareness and
recognition of cultural diversity, and the assimilation of current research into
training (Smith, 1993).
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM: IMPACT ON MARRIAGE AND FAMILY SUPERVISION
Many ideas changing marriage and family supervision arose
from a social constructionist perspective. This is the perspective that "realities are created and formed by our views of the world" (West et al., 1993,
p. 136). Imbedded in this view is the assumption that there is no one "correct"
reality; that there may exist a multiplicity of useful opinions concerning how
to live life, and how to view the world. Counseling interventions informed by
social constructionism often involve questioning sequences that illuminate new
perspectives on life and new possibilities for living. Still, despite these more
collaborative supervisory approaches, it continues to be true that supervisors
oversee the work of supervisees, and "should recognize their legal
responsibilities for cases seen by their supervisees" (AAMFT, 1993, p. 12).
REFLECTING TEAM SUPERVISION
One constructionist supervision
method uses a reflecting team of peers. The process often begins with an
interview in which one person questions a supervisee about a counseling-related
case or dilemma while the team silently observes. Afterwards, team members share
a variety of observations and thoughts they believe may help the supervisee in
working with families. Some purposes of reflecting teams include a) having
supervisees actively engage in co-constructing realities through the isomorphic
form-follows-function reflecting process, b) creating a collaborative and
supportive training atmosphere, and c) encouraging the sharing of alternative
perspectives that may help supervisees solve counseling impasses or dilemmas
(Davidson & Lussardi, 1991). Team members' thoughts are shared with the
supervisee in a speculative manner, and are often posed using question stems
such as "I wonder what would happen if..." "Could it be that..." or "How would
things be different if...."
perspective increasingly used in marriage and family supervision emphasizes the
self-defining nature of narratives. This perspective has been most fully
developed by White (1992), who believes that the narratives we construct reflect
and shape our reality and the way we live our lives. During supervision, White
highlights supervisees' useful narratives about their "life as a therapist"
(White, 1992, p. 86). The supervisor (or a reflecting team) helps the trainee in
identifying and expanding "unique outcomes" (White, 1992) in counseling
sessions, those breakthrough times when the trainee did something pivotal that
helped the client family. The supervisor helps the supervisee weave these unique
outcomes into an evolving narrative about the trainee's "preferred way of being
a counselor." Examples of possible questions are "What does this [unique
outcome] say about you as a counselor?" "What do you think the family members
might tell me about how you helped them?" "What does this suggest about the
future direction of your work?" (White, 1992).
Throughout its history, the field of marriage and
family supervision has been shaped by the systemic orientation of its
practitioners. Some prominent features of this orientation are a reliance on
live forms of supervision, a contextual view of client families, and an
educational supervisory role that emphasizes supervisee skill-building.
Promising additions to the field of marriage and family supervision involve
questioning and collaborative team approaches that aid trainees in exploring and
living out their ideal ways of being counselors.
American Association for Marriage and Family
Therapy. (1993). Approved supervisor designation: Standards and
responsibilities. Washington, D.C.: Author.
Davidson, J., & Lussardi, D. J. (1991). Reflecting dialogues in
supervision and training. In T. Andersen (Ed.), The reflecting team: Dialogues
and dialogues about the dialogues (pp. 143-154). New York: Norton.
Pirrotta, S., & Cecchin, G. (1988). The Milan training program. In H.A.
Liddle, D.C. Breunlin, & R.C. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of family therapy,
training & supervision (pp. 78-92). New York: Guilford.
Smith, R. L. (1993). Training in marriage and family counseling and therapy:
Current status and challenges. Counselor Education and Supervision, 33, 89-101.
Tomm, K. M., & Wright, L. M. (1979). Training in family therapy:
Perceptual, conceptual and executive skill. Family Process, 18, 227-250.
West, J. D., Bubenzer, D. L., Pinsoneault, T., & Holeman, V. (1993).
Three supervision modalities for training marital and family counselors.
Counselor Education and Supervision, 33, 127-138.
White, M. A. (1992). Family therapy training and supervision in a world of
experience and narrative. In D. Epston & M. A. White (Eds.), Experience,
contradiction, narrative & imagination. South Australia: Dulwich Centre