How do you get the most out of supervision in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?
Sometimes we love supervision. It’s everything you dream it could be.
You feel supported, and you know it’s safe to explore frustrating, embarrassing or scary events.
Supervision doesn’t always work so wonderfully.
Have you ever had a bad experience in supervision?
How much do you learn in supervision?
Many practitioners feel like they could get more out of supervision. But, for whatever reason, it’s just not working the way you would like.
Perhaps it’s because:
- Your supervisor comes up with the same ideas you’ve already identified.
- The supervisor talks a lot, sharing their thoughts or talking about their similar cases.
- You get little guidance because your supervisor answers your question with another question.
When your supervision’s not floating your boat, you can be left feeling downhearted. You feel stuck, unsure what to do or whether it’s worth saying how you feel.
The big problem is that you cannot control your ACT supervisor’s actions. Wouldn’t it be great if they could read your mind and enact your wishes without you having to risk upsetting them?
What can you do when you feel unhappy in ACT supervision?
Being an ACT Supervisor, I benefit from exploring this question through the eyes of a supervisor and a supervisee; I have my supervision, of course!
There is one single thing that is vital to getting what you want from supervision: preparation.
If I haven’t prepared for supervision, then I’m not clear enough about what I want. There is a slight chance I’ll go away from supervision with something useful, but the chances significantly increase when I’ve taken adequate time to prepare what I want to target.
How can you prepare for supervision?
You probably have one or two ways you prepare for supervision. I tend to approach it by looking over my diary to identify the clients currently on my caseload. I find it helpful to do this first, rather than impulsively taking the first client that comes to my mind; the reason is that it allows me to tune into the big picture. I consider all of my clients, what they might need and what I need.I am the person carrying a caseload, so it’s a compassionate move to choose my supervision agenda with my needs in mind.
I also like to consider how long I’ve been working with a client and whether I’ve taken them to supervision previously. So, for example, if I’ve had many sessions with a specific client and haven’t taken them before to supervision, I might take that client because it seems fair to do so.
Once I’ve decided which clients to consider, I like to draw out a short and straightforward functional analysis. For example, I ask myself a series of questions, including:
- What does the client want from therapy?
- What behavioural patterns prevent them from realising their dreams?
- What thoughts does their mind unhelpfully fuse with, i.e. rules and self-as-content?
- What interventions I have tried.
- What they say or do that leaves me feeling stuck.
These five questions give me a helpful structure through which to prepare for my supervision.
As a supervisor, one of my tasks is to help my supervisees clarify the answers to these questions. It’s often evident when practitioners have not prepared because they unclearly present their cases—for example, launching into a narrative about the problem rather than taking their time to describe the person and why they’re coming to therapy.
When I did my CBT training, the lecturers taught me I needed to identify a supervision question. I believe that it can help, and I’m aware that it’s not always easy to clarify the question. So I’m open to supervisees not having a solid supervision question, and I’d always encourage some preparation to increase the chances you getting what you need.
Another good question to ask yourself is how you would like to explore the problem. For example, it could include:
- Share an illustrated Functional Analysis
- Ask a conceptual question
When asking about theory, I recommend you relate the question to a specific context. Context never goes away, so aim to bring a case example that has prompted your question.
It’s helpful to fill the gaps in your knowledge and to root your interventions in behavioural principles. It means you can give a rationale for what you do, clearly linking theory with practice.
How do you get more out of ACT supervision?
Despite adequate preparation, your supervisor can sometimes do stuff that you find unhelpful. Although it can feel uncomfortable, it’s handy to address it sooner rather than later (or not at all!).
Here is how you can raise a complicated issue with your supervisor:
1. Ask yourself: How much do they know about ACT, and can their knowledge and skills support what I want to learn?
a. If yes, then move on to question.
b. If no, then you’ll need to look for a different supervisor.
2. Identify what the supervisor does that you don’t find helpful.
3. Please identify what you would like the supervisor to do more of that they are not doing.
4. Write down the description of a request for your supervisor to do more of something new.
5. Once you’re clear about what you would like, decide when you’ll mention it to them.
Getting more out of supervision can be tricky. Both you and your supervisor have a responsibility to ensure that it’s working. To make it more meaningful, explore how well you prepare for supervision and improve your process if required.
If you want your supervisor to change the way they participate, clarify what you want from them and ask for it fairly and directly. You have a right to ask for what you want, and when you say it in ‘I’ terms rather than ‘you’ terms, it will more effectively communicate that something needs to change.
Take care and keep going.
Would you like to read more ACT articles?
For more articles about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, you can follow Jim Lucas’s newsletter – Future Now