ERIC Identifier: ED372344
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Bradley, Loretta J. - Gould, L. J.
Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Supervisee Resistance. ERIC Digest.
Implicit in the definition of supervision is an ongoing relationship between
supervisor and supervisee; the supervisee's acquisition of professional role
identity; and, the supervisor's evaluation of the supervisee's performance
(Bernard & Goodyear, 1992; Bradley, 1989). Although the goal of helping the
supervisee develop into an effective counselor may appear simple, it can be
anxiety-provoking experience. Supervision-induced anxiety causes supervisees to
respond in a variety of ways, with some of the responses being defensive. It is
these defensive behaviors, which serve the purpose of reducing anxiety, that are
referred to as resistance.
Although the purpose of this Digest is to describe supervisee resistance and
identify ways to counteract it, we want to stress that supervisee resistance is
common. While resistance can be disruptive and annoying, the supervisor must
keep in mind that resistance is not synonymous with "bad person" or "bad
behavior." Instead, resistance occurs because of the dynamics of the supervision
process and, in fact, can be an appropriate response to supervision (e.g.,
supervisor conducting therapy instead of supervision). In other instances,
resistance is a response to anxiety whereby it becomes the supervisor's role to
deal with anxiety so that the need for resistance will be reduced or perhaps
Supervisee resistance, consisting of verbal and nonverbal
behaviors, is the supervisee's overt response to changes in the supervision
process. Liddle (1986) concluded that the primary goal of resistant behavior is
self-protection in which the supervisee guards against some perceived threat.
One common threat is fear of inadequacy; although supervisees want to succeed,
there is a prevalent concern of not "measuring up" to the supervisor's
standards. Other supervisee resistance occurs because supervision is required.
Supervisees may not accept the legitimacy of supervision because they perceive
their skills to be equal, if not superior, to their supervisor's. Supervisee
resistance may be a reaction to loss of control and can evolve into a power
struggle between supervisor and supervisee. Supervisees may fear and be
threatened by change, and consequently, respond with defensive behaviors. The
fact that supervision has an evaluative component can provoke anxiety because a
negative evaluation by a supervisor may result in dismissal and/or failure to
receive necessary recommendations. Supervisee resistance also may result from
the supervisor failing to integrate multicultural information into the
supervision sessions. Regardless of form, resistant behaviors are coping
mechanisms intended to reduce anxiety.
Resistance often takes the form of "games"
played by supervisees who either consciously or unconsciously attempt to
manipulate and exert control over the supervision process. Although all
supervisees do not play games, many do. Kadushin (1968) defined four categories
of supervisee games. Manipulating demand levels involves games in which the
supervisee attempts to manipulate the level of demands placed on him/her. Often
the supervisee uses flattery to inhibit the supervisor's evaluative focus.
Redefining the relationship occurs when the supervisee attempts to make the
relationship more ambiguous. For example, in the game of self-disclosure, the
supervisee would rather expose himself/herself instead of counseling skills.
Reducing power disparity occurs when the supervisee focuses on his/her
knowledge. In this game, the supervisee tries to prove the supervisor "is not so
smart." If successful, the supervisee can mitigate some of the supervisor's
power. In controlling the situation, the supervisee prepares questions to direct
supervision away from his/her performance. Other means for controlling
supervision include requesting undue prescriptions for dealing with clients,
seeking reassurance by reporting how poorly work is progressing, asking others
for help to erode supervisor authority, or selectively sharing information to
obtain a positive evaluation. A more hostile and angry form of control involves
blaming the supervisor for failure.
In describing supervisee games, Bauman (1972) discussed five types of
resistance. Submission, a common form of resistance, occurs when the supervisee
behaves as though the supervisor has all the answers. Turning the tables is a
diversionary tactic used by the supervisee to direct the focus away from his/her
skills. "I'm no good" occurs when the supervisee pleads fragility and appears
brittle; the attempt is to prevent the supervisor from focusing on painful
issues. Helplessness is a dependency game in which the supervisee absorbs "all"
information provided by the supervisor. The fifth type of resistance projection,
is a self-protection tactic in which the supervisee blames external problems for
his/her ineffectiveness. More thorough discussions of supervisee (and
supervisor) games are presented by Bernard and Goodyear (1992) and Bradley
Although resistance is a common
occurrence in supervision, counteracting resistance is not simple. Two major
factors influence methods used for counteracting resistance. First, the
relationship is critical. A positive supervisory relationship grounded by trust,
respect, rapport, and empathy is essential for counteracting resistance
(Borders, 1989; Mueller & Kell, 1972). The second factor in counteracting
resistance is the way the supervisory relationship is viewed. Supervisors
viewing the relationship as the focal point in supervision usually advocate full
exploration of conflicts. In contrast, supervisors viewing therapeutic work as
the primary supervisory focus advocate a more limited exploration of conflicts.
Viewing resistance as a perceived threat, Liddle (1986) advocated that the
conflict be openly discussed. First, she stated the focus should be on
identifying the source of anxiety (or threat). Next, the focus should be on
brainstorming to locate appropriate coping strategies for dealing with the
conflict. Kadushin (1968) stated that the simplest way to cope with supervisee
resistance exhibited in games is to refuse to play. He concluded it is more
effective to share awareness of game-playing with the supervisee and focus on
the disadvantages inherent in game-playing rather than on the dynamics of the
Bauman (1972) discussed several techniques for managing supervisee
resistance. Interpretation, the most direct confrontation, includes describing
and interpreting the supervisee's resistance. Although less confrontive,
feedback is also a form of direct confrontation. Clarification uses restatement
to aid the supervisee in understanding his/her behavior. Generalizing resistance
to other settings takes the focus away from the supervisory relationship and
helps the supervisee recognize his/her maladaptive behaviors. Ignoring
resistance is recommended only if the behavior can be eliminated without
confrontation. Role-playing and alter-ego role playing, although more
threatening, may be helpful in identifying the cause of resistant behavior.
Audiotaping supervision sessions is helpful for managing resistance. Bauman
noted that the success of a technique is dependent on the personalities of
supervisor and supervisee and on the interaction between them. If confrontation
is deemed inappropriate, Masters (1992) suggested positive reframing for
reducing resistance. Positive reframing includes: empowering the supervisee,
increasing the supervisee's self-esteem, and modeling effective methods of
coping with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Regardless of purpose, resistance in
supervision is a common experience and will be encountered irrespective of the
supervisor's skill level. The supervisor who believes he/she can proceed through
the supervision process without encountering resistance is setting an
unrealistic expectation. Although usually annoying, supervisee resistance should
not be perceived as a negative encounter or maladaptive behavior. On the
contrary, an effective supervisor who is knowledgeable about the dynamics behind
supervisee resistance can redirect the resistance to create a therapeutic
supervision climate. In essence, the ability of the supervisor to take
resistance and turn it into a supervisory advantage may be the hallmark for
determining success or failure in supervision.
Bauman, W. F. (1972). Games counselor trainees
play: Dealing with trainee resistance. Counselor Education and Supervision, 11,
Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (1992). Fundamentals of clinical
supervision. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Borders, L. D. (1989). A pragmatic agenda for developmental supervision
research. Counselor Education and Supervision, 29, 16-24.
Bradley, L. (1989). Counselor supervision: Principles, process, and practice
(2nd ed.). Muncie, IN: Accelerated Development.
Liddle, B. (1986). Resistance in supervision: A response to perceived threat.
Counselor Education and Supervision, 26, 117-127.
Kadushin, A. (1968). Games people play in supervision. Social Work, 13,
Masters, M. A. (1992). The use of positive reframing in the context of
supervision. Journal of Counseling and Development, 70, 387-390.
Mueller, W. J., & Kell, B. L. (1972). Coping with conflict: Supervising
counselors and psychotherapists. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Loretta J. Bradley, Ph.D., is professor and coordinator of the Counselor
Education program at Texas Tech University, Department of Educational
Psychology, COE, Box 41071, Lubbock, Texas 79409.