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Book Review: On Being a Supervisee: Creating Learning Partnerships, 3rd Edition

by Michael Carroll & Maria Gilbert

Published by Turning Point Institute (2020)
reviewed by Paul Daly

Don’t impose on me what you know,
I want to explore the unknown
and be the source of my own discoveries.
Let the known be my liberation, not my slavery.

from The Student’s Prayer – Umberto Maturana,
quoted in Carroll & Gilbert, 2020: 10.

This is a book I would have loved to have known about when I was training to be a therapist because at the time I remember consulting books for supervisors to get a sense of what approaches they might take. I never imagined that there was a book such as this written specifically for supervisees which reaches out to help them get the best out of supervision. It does this in five ways: (i) helpful guidance on the roles, responsibilities and learning processes of the supervisee, (ii) reflective exercises that help the reader to personalise and take ownership of the various elements of the supervisor-supervisee relationship, (iii) case examples, (iv) review and discussion questions at the end of each chapter and (v) 21 appendices that contain multiple resources.

This book - or manual - as the authors describe it - is aimed primarily at student therapists though it is the intention of the authors, Michael Carroll and Maria Gilbert, that experienced therapists may find it helpful in reviewing how they take part in the supervisory relationship. The book has recently been republished in its third edition by Turning Point Institute.

The subtitle of the book is a key to its central message of creating learning partnerships. The book’s aim is to “empower supervisees to take responsibility for their supervision and for their learning and to persuade supervisors to allow them to do so” (13). However, the authors are alive to the reality that some organisations will work on the expert-beginner model of supervision, “often concentrating on articulating weaknesses as a way of progressing personal and professional development” (16). In such a scenario the supervisee is invited to be proactive in negotiating what he or she wants and needs from supervision.

The authors view supervision as a forum for reflection, a forum for accountability and a focus on experiential learning. They describe in detail Clarkson and Gilbert’s bands of supervision which can be the focus in any supervisory session:

1. Assessment and Treatment Planning
2. Strategies and Intervention Techniques
3. Parallel Process (Reflection on the Transference/Countertransference Dynamic)
4. Theory (Teaching and Integration)
5. Ethics and Professional Practice. (43-46).

The aim is for supervisees to develop their own ‘internal supervisor’, which integrates what they have learnt from their own observations, reflections and reading with what they have learnt from their supervisor (54-55).

The heart of the book is the learning process because, for the authors, learning is the “central aspect of supervision (not monitoring or assessing or evaluating or giving feedback) -all important dimensions, but not its key purpose” (19). Therefore, many of the concepts in the book are taken from learning theory as well as from the field of therapy. The authors helpfully apply the four stages of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle to examples of different supervisees who are feeling stuck (21). Jane is so stressed she is unable to do her work as a therapist and is stuck at the Activity Stage. Jack is so worried about getting it right he can’t allow himself to consider areas of his work where he is not doing so well and is stuck at the Reflection Stage. Jill is stuck in the Learning Stage by not allowing herself to be vulnerable and in a place of not knowing so she can’t ask for what she needs in her learning. Jim comes up with great ideas but they never seem to get applied because he moves too fast and tries to do too much and he is stuck in the Implementation Stage (21).

Seven chapters of the manual are devoted to supervisee skills. I particularly like the chapter on learning from experience in which accommodative learning, where the learning is accommodated according to old ways of learning, is contrasted with assimilative learning, where we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to the new experience and to transform our ways of thinking. The following chapter unpacks the process of reflection and helpfully describes six levels of reflection from a number of different perspectives, illustrating each of them well with a case example. This chapter also outlines blocks to reflection including stress, tiredness, ‘premature cognitive commitment’, unconscious or unspoken expectations, living in survival mode, shame, and lack of creativity.

The authors state that it is important to have an agreed understanding of confidentiality in the supervision partnership and they describe four kinds: absolute, limited, discretionary, and negotiated (40-41). The norm in supervision is “limited confidentiality”, where it is clear “where, when and to whom disclosures are made” (41).

There are chapters on choosing a supervisor, the roles and responsibilities in supervision, preparing and presenting, giving and receiving feedback, emotional awareness, group supervision and dealing with conflicts. The appendices are a treasure trove of resources and include a sample supervision contract, session evaluation form, case example presentation, Inskipp and Proctor’s ‘7 Eyed’ Diagram, Peter Honey’s Learning Styles, and a model for ethical decision making, among many others.

Because the main focus of the book is on the learning processes of the supervisee there is less emphasis on accountability, though it is mentioned or implied in different sections and there is discussion of some ethical issues. The book is written in an accessible style, is well structured and easy to navigate and is designed for private study or to be used as part of a group learning process. There is support and challenge for the supervisee on every page and it has certainly enriched my understanding of supervision.

In the middle of the review process I was sad to learn of the death of one of the authors, Professor Maria Gilbert. On behalf of the editorial team at Inside Out I would like to offer our condolences to Professor Gilbert’s family, friends, colleagues and students.

Paul Daly is an IAHIP accredited psychotherapist working in private practice and community-based therapy in Dublin.

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