Workshop Review: Therapeutic Supervision Training With Robin Shohet. Ballymore, Co Westmeath September 2009

Reviewed by Jill Baird

Robin Shohet is well-known as a supervision trainer both in England and Ireland, as well as working in the areas of team development and change in organisations. This three day workshop was presented as a part of ongoing training in Creative Supervision, run by Eileen Prendiville at Children’s Therapy Centre, as well as being open to other professionals. The basis of the work was in looking at appreciative inquiry through experiential exercises using Robin’s Seven-Eyed Process Model of Supervision.  A clear and useful handbook was provided with an outline of each part of the Model, containing also comments, references and reflections, as well as chapters on The Key Issue in Supervision of Counsellors, Approaches to Supervision and Paralleling in the Supervision Process.

The Seven-Eyed Model comprises:

Mode One – observation in the form of ‘I see’, ‘I imagine’, and ‘I feel’;

Mode Two – how to work with interventions;

Mode Three – the relationship between client and supervisee and their intersubjective world;

Mode Four – counter transference (including transference, projection and projective identification);

Modes Five and Six – parallel process, or how the therapeutic relationship is mirrored in the supervisory relationship;

Mode Seven – the context, a systemic appraisal of the situation for client, supervisee and supervisor.

Thirteen therapists from a variety of disciplines attended and immediately an almost palpable sense of relaxation invaded the room at Robin’s invitation to proceed slowly. As we practised each of the modes in small groups of three or four, comprising observer(s), supervisor and supervisee, we were asked to consider the questions:  ‘What did I appreciate?’ and ‘What did I find difficult?’  and it is surprising how well this re-phrasing brings us away from the judgmental labelling of good or bad, allowing us the freedom to make mistakes as we struggle to confine ourselves to the particular instruction.   It is not so easy to blank off all of our previous learning to focus in this way, and certain modes were easier for some than for others.

The interspersion of discussions in the larger group allowed us to reflect, not only upon the work we had just been practising, but on the wider issues of supervision, not only practical, but philosophical and spiritual too. To have an arena with this kind of scope was personally very stimulating and subjects ranged from love through our approach with goodwill, to the idea of being ‘good enough’, which was introduced early on by Robin saying that he would accept that each of us was a ‘good enough therapist’. In this, fears were allayed; the stressful need to strive for perfection diminished. We were encouraged to bring a spirit of enquiry to all and every one of our beliefs, regardless of how dearly held and to feel safe to recognise and express underlying feelings towards clients without fear of consequences, so that they would no longer affect our relating.

Use of imagery was included, and it is amazing what can be gleaned from picturing oneself on a desert island with those with whom we are experiencing difficulty. We discussed how, through the recognition of expectations – all of those ‘shoulds’ – and by observing what is in front of us, we can come to an acceptance of what is really going on, and acceptance is paradoxically, where change begins. He also felt that acceptance was healthier than trying to forgive, as it would lead to a more genuine letting go. Robin did not let us become over-involved in the ‘story’ – that of our client, or our own – but encouraged us to move through it to the hidden truths beneath, working with the dynamic of our responses within the relationship.

Being somewhat prone to leaping into the hot-spot as guinea pig, I found myself often in the role of supervisee in the large group exercises, through which I was able to process a good deal of work, and in doing so, felt very well held by Robin and the group. I confess however that much of this seeming bravery stemmed from a fear of playing the supervisor, and having to practice these new techniques in full view. Nevertheless, I felt by the end that I had gained a good start on my supervision training, emerging with a good deal of reflection under my belt, as well as guidelines and steps to use in practice. For me, the weekend was a harmonious experience, leaving me feeling essentially more confident as a would-be supervisor and more honest about areas of myself and my work. On a later re-reading of the handout I also realised how much I had been able to embody through the experiential nature of the workshop.

Jill Baird works as an Art Therapist in HSE Mental Health Day Hospitals in Limerick.