ERIC Identifier: ED372352
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Benshoff, James M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Peer Consultation as a Form of Supervision. ERIC Digest.
The importance of extensive, high-quality counseling supervision has become
increasingly recognized as critical to learning, maintaining, and improving
professional counseling skills (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992). Yet, for many
professional counselors, the availability of regular counseling supervision by a
qualified supervisor is very limited or frequently nonexistent. Even counselors
who receive ongoing supervision of their counseling practice may not have the
type, frequency, or quality of supervision they desire. Peer
supervision/consultation (Benshoff, 1992; Remley, Benshoff, & Mowbray, 1987)
has been proposed as a potentially effective approach to increasing the
frequency and/or quality of supervision available to a counselor.
PEER CONSULTATION DEFINED
Arrangements in which peers work
together for mutual benefit are referred to as peer supervision or peer
consultation. Peer consultation, however, may be the more appropriate term to
describe a process in which critical and supportive feedback is emphasized while
evaluation is deemphasized. Consultation, in contrast to supervision, is
characterized by the counselor's "right to accept or reject the suggestions [of
others]" (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992, p. 103). Yet, the terms "peer
supervision" and "peer consultation" both can be used to describe similar
nonhierarchical relationships in which participants have neither the power nor
the purpose to evaluate one another's performance.
The basic premise underlying peer consultation is that individuals who have
been trained in basic helping skills can use these same skills to help each
other function more effectively in their professional (or paraprofessional)
roles. Peer consultation experiences can offer a number of benefits to
counselors (see Benshoff & Paisley, 1993), including:
Decreased dependency on "expert" supervisors and greater interdependence of
Increased responsibility of counselors for assessing their own skills and those
of their peers, and for structuring their own professional growth;
Increased self-confidence, self-direction, and independence;
Development of consultation and supervision skills;
Use of peers as models;
Ability to choose the peer consultant; and,
Lack of evaluation.
PEER SUPERVISION/CONSULTATION MODELS
Although several peer
supervision/consultation models have been proposed, some are more closely
related to traditional supervision experiences, incorporating expert leaders or
supervisors in the process (e.g., Wagner & Smith, 1979). Spice and Spice
(1976) proposed a triadic model of "true" peer supervision in which counselors
work together in triads, rotating the roles of commentator, supervisee, and
facilitator through successive peer supervision sessions. This model relies on
the counselors themselves to assume tasks and responsibilities normally
performed by counseling supervisors.
In the SPCMs, peers work together in dyads to provide regular consultation
for one another (usually on a weekly or biweekly basis). SPCMs include many
traditional supervision activities such as goal-setting, tape review, and case
consultation. Other activities include discussion of counseling theoretical
orientations, examination of individual approaches to working with clients, and
exploration of relevant counseling issues.
The SPCMs provide a clear and detailed structure for each session that is
designed to keep peer consultants focused on specific consultation tasks, yet
also allow for modifications to fit individual needs and styles. For example, a
detailed, step-by-step process is described for critiquing counseling tapes.
Counselors are encouraged to use these instructions as a starting point for
developing their own approaches to reviewing tapes and providing relevant and
meaningful feedback to their partner.
In contrast to traditional models of counseling supervision, the emphasis in
peer consultation is on helping each other to reach self-determined goals rather
than on evaluating each other's counseling performance. This lack of evaluation
and the egalitarian, nonhierarchical relationship that is created between peer
consultants offers opportunities for different types of experiences than may be
had with designated counseling supervisors. Peer consultants must assume greater
responsibility for providing critical feedback, challenge, and support to a
chosen colleague. In so doing, however, they also must assume greater
responsibility for examining and evaluating their own counseling performance.
Feedback from those who have participated in peer consultation consistently
reflects a sense of empowerment that comes from setting one's own goals, making
the process of peer consultation work, and finding structure and direction for
themselves within the framework of the model (cf., Benshoff & Paisley,
In choosing a peer consultant, counselors can consider several factors.
Probably the most important consideration, however, is the compatibility of
schedules and the commitment to meet on a regular basis. Counselors may wish to
choose a peer consultant who works in a similar work setting or may wish to get
a different perspective from a counselor in another type of counseling setting.
Similarly, counselors may wish to choose a peer consultant who shares a similar
theoretical approach to counseling or someone with a different theoretical
approach who can help to broaden their perspectives on client issues. To be
successful, the peer consultation process requires counselors to be motivated,
to commit to meeting with each other on a regular basis, and to be open to
giving and receiving critical feedback (as well as support) on counseling
RESEARCH ON PEER CONSULTATION
A growing body of empirical
evidence supports potential contributions of peer consultation. Seligman (1978)
found that peer supervision helped to increase counselor trainees' levels of
empathy, respect, genuineness, and concreteness. Wagner and Smith (1979)
reported that counselor trainee participation in peer supervision resulted in
greater self-confidence, increased self-direction, improved goal-setting and
direction in counseling sessions, greater use of modeling as a teaching and
learning technique, and increased mutual, cooperative participation in
Several studies have been conducted using SPCMs (see Benshoff, 1992). In one,
participants overwhelmingly (86%) rated peer supervision as being very helpful
to them in developing their counseling skills and techniques and deepening their
understanding of counseling concepts. Two aspects of peer supervision were cited
as being especially valuable: (1) feedback from peers about counseling approach
or techniques, and (2) peer support and encouragement. Another study using an
SPCM with counselor trainees suggested that, while the model may be useful for
counselor trainees regardless of level of counseling experience, participation
in peer consultation may have a greater impact on factors such as
self-confidence and comfort level (which were not assessed) than on actual
counseling effectiveness. A third study, in which types of verbalizations used
by peer consultants (beginning counselors) were examined, confirmed that peer
consultants were, in fact, able to use basic helping skills to provide
consultation to their colleagues. School counselors who used an SPCM (Benshoff
& Paisley, 1993) were overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic about the
value of structured peer consultation, citing the structure that the model
provides as being particularly important. Paraprofessionals (college resident
assistants) expressed similar enthusiasm for their peer experience, and felt
that they received valuable support, new ideas, and assistance with
problem-solving from their peer consultants (Benshoff, 1993).
Research provides accumulating support for the
value of peer consultation/supervision experiences for professional counselors.
Although counselors have been enthusiastic about their experiences, it has been
difficult to identify appropriate outcome measures for peer consultation. Future
researchers should continue to attempt to identify and quantify the unique
contributions of this type of experience for counselor development. In addition,
peer consultation models should be compared to traditional counseling
supervision experiences to determine the relative contributions of each to the
continuing development of professional counselors.
Benshoff, J. M. (1993). Students helping
students: A collaboration between Counselor Education and Residence Life. The
College Student Affairs Journal, 13, 65-70.
Benshoff, J. M. (1992). Peer consultation for professional counselors. Ann
Arbor, MI: ERIC/CASS.
Benshoff, J. M., & Paisley, P. O. (in press). The Structured Peer
Consultation Model for School Counselors. Journal of Counseling and Development.
Benshoff, J. M., & Smith, A. W. (1994). The Structured Peer Consultation
Model for Resident Assistants. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (1992). Fundamentals of clinical
supervision. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Remley, T. P., Jr., Benshoff, J. M., & Mowbray, C. (1987). A proposed
model for peer supervision. Counselor Education and Supervision, 27, 53-60.
Seligman, L. (1978). The relationship of facilitative functioning to
effective peer supervision. Counselor Education and Supervision, 17, 254-260.
Spice, C. G., Jr., & Spice, W. H. (1976). A triadic method of supervision
in the training of counselors and counseling supervisors. Counselor Education
and Supervision, 15, 251-280.
Wagner, C. A., & Smith, J. P., Jr. (1979). Peer supervision: Toward more
effective training. Counselor Education and Supervision, 18, 288-293.