to transformative supervision
for the helping professions:
by Nicki Weld with foreword by Jan Fook
Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012
ISBN 978-1-84905-254-2 (pbk)
Reviewed by Donal Kiernan MIAHP, MACI
As the profession of supervisory practice expands across multi-professional domains, the arrival of this practical book adds value to this expansion. A well-structured and clearly written work with a core theme of transformative change throughout the book, it invites the reader into an expansion of their learning processes and styles. Whilst invitational, it is challenging in a thought-provoking way that comforts the novice, yet will disturb the comfort zone of any supervisor. It places the supervisee at the centre of the supervisory process, valuing their experiences and the challenges of growth and change that percolate throughout the process. The structure of the book is clearly laid out with the endorsing foreword by Jan Fook, Director of the School of Social Work at Dalhouse University, Nova Scotia, Canada. Whilst Weld has returned to her native hinterland of both New Zealand and her social work ethos to ground this text, it in no way detracts from it.
This book has eight chapters that individually stand alone or collectively, clearly addressing aspects of the supervisory process in the relational encounters that humanise supervision as distinct from a mechanistic process. The introduction and conclusion weld together the strands of each chapter and the core themes of this book like a strong wire rope that can be taut or coiled. These core themes are transformative learning, reflexive practice, observable action, and very useful questions and techniques that enhance the skills repertoire of the practising supervisor.
The introduction sets out Weld’s goals, which she presents as ‘amplifying insight’, addressing the transformative potential of supervision through narrative approaches and highlighting the importance of relationship. In this, she seeks to transcend the purely bureaucratic, technical and materialistic motivations for supervision. She highlights the importance of supervision not becoming politically entrenched, but rather a transformative process. She speaks of the core principles of respect, dignity, kindness, and integrity as a foundational basis of transformative change. She sets these principles firmly in the human relational context for transformative learning and reflective practice. Solidly grounding her theoretical presentation in these core principles, she ably links them to the concept of connectedness as necessary for self-actualisation. Drawing on support from other authors, she provides a clear diagram of her definition of working supervision. Returning to her main theme through this diagram, she links matters of meta-cognition, reflective practice, emotional awareness, theory and cognitions to evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence. She speaks to the butterfly effect of supervision, as the ripple effect moves from client to therapist, therapist to supervisor, and from supervisor to supervisor and onward, gradually becoming part of the supervisory narrative at a local and global level.
In opening her thesis, Weld adds a fourth function to the established formative, normative and supportive functions of supervision. This is the transformative function. She establishes the benefits of this function as leading to personal and professional change, reflective practice, observable action, building insight to self-awareness, which leads to the meta-stance of a critical reflective practitioner. She further says that transformative work takes reflective practice to a place of observable action whereby the change that occurs results in a shift of behaviour and thinking. She sees the transformative function as a learning process that at times compels the person to engage with a new form of reflection and action. However, she cautions us about the challenges facing the integrity of the role of supervision, saying we need to protect it from becoming a line management function, whilst recognising that “we are unlikely to work in a profession if we cannot align its ethical framework with our own, at least initially” (71). We need to honour our ethical responsibilities to standards and practice. Weld then introduces us to the concepts of openness, honesty and humour as tenets of being human, facilitating empathic passionate presence, attentiveness, commitment and self-disclosure where appropriate. She addresses creative connectedness as facilitating an open mind in the presence of each encounter. Addressing the role of supervision, she speaks of Theory U which requires a slowing down and engagement in the supervisory process on an emotional, mental, physical and spiritual level, by paying attention to that which may be brought to the encounter. As much of our communication is non-verbal, it follows that someone who is in a state of openness is more likely to provide a safe open place, which elicits reciprocity in the other.
(Theory U is an awareness-based method for changing systems that challenges us to learn from the future, or indeed from disruption. This theory operates from the perspective of an evolving human consciousness. It addresses one’s blind-spots of leadership. It asks what does it take to apply the power of mindfulness to the transformation of the collective system? The core of Theory U is the distinction between the ways that action and attention emerge into the world. Theory U draws our attention to our blind spots, addressing the interior conditions from which we operate. As we become aware of the influence of our blind spots, we then adjust our inner focus from which we operate, adjusting to the situation we face. It is a relational context that affects the quality of listening, learning and leading. This ties neatly to Weld, where she states: “Transformative work takes reflective practice to a place of observable action whereby the change that occurs results in a shift of behaviour and thinking, moving a person in a new direction” (18). Theory U is the brainchild of Otto Scharmer Ph.D. and Senior Lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.)
Developing her theme, Weld promotes the supervisor adapting a hawk-eye stillness that focuses on the supervisor’s powers of observation, with the lens firmly positioned on the supervisee, in order to capture the essence of the supervisee’s story. Highlighting the importance of human connectedness, she proffers the view that “people often want a connection to a human being” (40) and not to be seen as something to be fixed. Developing this perspective, she offers a number of tools to aid the supervisor in promoting self- awareness and insight. It is here that she also names courage as a supervisory requirement, allied to being open to presenting or receiving the unexpected. She critically names observation as a key tool that allows us to slow down, focus, look, see and notice what is happening before us. She talks of ‘tuning in’, meeting what people want as a connection to a human being, not just a functional mechanistic process, but rather seeing them as people in their own right. She posits that validation can be shared, or owned, and that it is important for the supervisor and supervisee in learning and growth. Validation may well be achieved through presenting an unexpected yet relevant moment of connection and insight that may strengthen the person and the process. Further elaborating, she says that for “supervisors this is about being brave enough to offer our observations and ideas even when they might seem a bit left field” (44).
Indeed, in the chapter devoted to the application of our observations in the relationship, she offers 10 techniques to improve the quality of the engagement. One of these addresses the difficulty of moving into a reflective stance and she recommends that the supervisor ask the supervisee to find one word that captures the essence of their thinking or behaviour. She says that the key to applying our observations is to always stay worker-centred and to act in their best interests as we understand them.
Emotions are explored in their role, importance and usefulness in the supervisory relationship, whilst drawing on prominent theorists for knowledge of emotional intelligence, emotional awareness and the emotional centre of our limbic system. Cleverly, she links emotions to intuition and the five tasks of emotional intelligence which are perception, management, marshalling, understanding and adapting. She places these creatively within the Kolb learning style. This is a four-stage model developed in the mid-1980s and is applicable to all learners. These are the Converger (Practical Approach), Diverger (Observational), Assimilator (Theoretical) and Accommodator (Doer). Stating it very clearly, Weld says that it is critical that we explore the emotional reactions of those we supervise. She goes on to state that emotional awareness is, then, a fundamental requirement of successful interpersonal relationships. She addresses the concept that our emotions give us direction and are the voice of our intuition. In the arena of emotional intelligence she relies on the texts of Goleman, Salovey, Gardner and Mayer. She sees emotional intelligence as key to interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, especially being able to identify our emotional response and name it. She frames the tasks of emotional intelligence as perceiving, managing, marshalling, developing and adapting.
Intuition is well addressed where the benefits and shortcomings of supervision are crystallised, placing it in the neurobiological function of the rapid sensing of non-verbal cues. Here again she provides a simple checklist to harness intuition. Intuition is about listening to your gut experience and the feelings connected to that experience, and checking to see does it match the words, facial expression or posture of the speaker. A way of getting the felt sense of the person opposite you is to body mirror their posture and note the feelings you are experiencing, the tacit knowledge you are gaining. Weld addresses the issues of the supervisor’s personal constructs that seek evidence that confirms their deeply held belief system and makes sense of their mental models. Weld also addresses the issue of our cultural and familial upbringing. From this author’s perspective, she is speaking of our biases, hot buttons, influencing feelings linked to our historical past. She addresses practice-based evidence that we acquire from working experience. She goes on to say what “workers need is to be consciously exploring their practice based evidence and linking this to evidence based practice to best inform personal practice theory” (73). She challenges the reader to “worry more about unquestioned answers, than unanswered questions” (79), setting this out as a good supervisory premise. Sounding a note of caution about intuitive knowledge, which by its very nature is rapid, she endorses the application of careful scrutiny and analytical reasoning being applied to it. In enhancing intuitive reasoning, she clearly outlines five suggestions to support us in its application. It is where you ask yourself the question “What would a wise man or woman say to me about how to respond to or think about this issue?” (78).
The issues of stress, working and supervisory arenas are attended to, whilst not ignoring the issues of teamwork, supports and resources required for individual and organisational development. Stress is a key factor in many organisations and roles. Uncertainty and anxiety are common bedfellows and, indeed, in the interpersonal field may lead to burnout. She effectively addresses a number of core issues for organisational stress and personal style, indeed making a clear distinction between mentoring and supervision. She says mentoring helps teaching and showing, whilst supervision helps develop reflection and deepen learning. Resilience is a key tenet of transformative change that involves both personal intra- and inter-personal protective processes that help manage environmental influences and impacts.
She also addresses the contextual and environmental issues of globalisation, noise pollution, economic forces, materialism and the emerging ‘I’ society. She names “violence and its implications for everyone” (105) in the relational arena. The fallout of despair and depression from violence are matters that need transformative change. Modern media beams a representation of violence into our very homes, where eventually we become fatigued from requests for help. Violence is an intrusive harsh presence, grounded in fear and powerlessness. Her personal journey through depression gives her an authentic voice, in stating that she sees depression as an emotional and psychological condition that then has biological involvement, causing an alteration to serotonin levels in the brain. However, she clearly articulates that depression is a sign that we are out of balance, with ourselves.
Weld creates an exciting challenge for supervisors to become transformative leaders. Relying on other authors, she explores the roles of leadership, selecting four that best fit the role of supervisor, which are Authoritive (Visionary), Affiliative (Person-centred), Democratic (Consensus) and Coaching (Teaching). Good “leadership has key components of respect; dignity; care; curiosity; openness; courage and vision” (122), the heart of all good relationships and essential for good supervisory practice. Supervisors need to be transparent and truthful and very fair, owning their own emotions, history and blind spots. Supervisors must practice what we preach, in other words walking the talk.
In conclusion, this book has named topics that often remain in the shadows of supervisory practice, such as violence, humour and fear. Interestingly it doesn’t directly name spirituality as important, yet it is present. The reliance on other authors is distracting as Weld’s own experience and knowledge seem understated. Yet she does not reference the seminal work of Jack Mezirow, Edward W. Taylor and associates: Transformative Learning in Practice (2009), where they support her thesis with the following: “Fostering transformative learning is purposeful in the sense that it is about teaching for change, not simply about understanding as a purely cognitive insight, but where there is a desire for learners to act within and on their world in more empowering ways.” (277). Weld creates an emerging theme throughout the book of stillness, compassion and resilience. The human dimension, the storytelling, permeates this text as the clarion call to continued growth, both personal and professional. The main themes of transformative change and reflexive practice are well held by the writer. This is a well-structured book that provides competent tools and guidance for practice supervisors to become more competent and skilled. It is a pragmatic book rather than an academic one, yet reaches its target audience in what it offers. It is educational and courageous, a book to re-read and enjoy, a contribution to the development of cross- professional supervision. I quietly recommend this book to you, whilst experiencing excitation within myself.
Donal Kiernan MIAHIP, is also a member of Addiction Counsellors of Ireland and a practising clinical supervisor. He holds postgraduate Diplomas in Addiction Studies (Trinity College Dublin), Child Protection and Welfare (Trinity College Dublin), Mediation Studies (UCD) and a Masters in Supervisory Practice (DCU). He is certified in Critical Incident Stress Management by the Institute of Technology, Carlow, Ireland. He further holds a QQI level 6 Certification in Training Delivery and Evaluation.