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Wk 3 – Article Analysis
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When there are multiple models from which to choose, it is important to understand how each differs and what current research has found regarding their strengths and limitations. This assignment will allow you to analyze the efficacy of different models of supervision so you can determine a model that may be best for you.
Conducta search through the
University Library
for 3 articles regarding the efficacy of different models of supervision.
Writea 700- to 1,050-word analysis of the articles.
Includethe following:
· Describe each model, along with its basic tenets.
· Summarize the literature regarding the efficacy of the models.
· Explain why you would choose 1 model over another in a supervision relationship based on different supervisory needs.
Includea minimum of 3 peer-reviewed sources.
Formatyour analysis according to APA guidelines.
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Systemic Processes in Triadic Supervision
Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, Texas, United States
During a four-year research project that grew out of their teaching
and supervision, three counselor educators used a constructivist
grounded theory approach to address a gap in the literature on
triadic supervision. The authors collaborated with 2 research assis-
tants and 28 research participants to examine triadic supervision
through analysis of individual and focus group interviews,
observation of videotapes of triadic supervision, and ongoing
discussions. Analysis and interpretive theorizing resulted in the
identification of the following basic processes present in triadic
supervision: systemic engagement, synergy, recursiveness, presence
of the supervisor, and community. Description of each process,
considerations about use of triadic supervision, and implications
for teaching and practice are discussed.
KEYWORDS counselor education, supervision, triadic supervision
Supervision is a critical part of counselor training. It is required both as
part of the educational process and as central to post-degree internship in
pursuit of licensure. Clinical, as opposed to administrative, supervision
involves mentoring of the junior professional by a seasoned, more mature
professional as the junior person integrates formal theories into practice,
hones skills, refines ethical decision making, and solidifies professional
identity while providing services to clients (Bernard & Goodyear, 2004;
Bradley & Ladany, 2001; Holloway, 1995; Todd & Storm, 2003). The impor-
tance of supervision as part of both the educational and post-degree require-
ments leading to licensure is elucidated when one considers supervision
requirements as laid out by credentialing bodies and state counseling
Address correspondence to Marvarene Oliver, Texas A&M University, Department of
Counseling and Educational Psychology, 6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi, TX 78412. E-mail:
The Clinical Supervisor, 29:51–67, 2010
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0732-5223 print=1545-231X online
DOI: 10.1080/07325221003730285
licensing boards (Magnuson, Norem, & Wilcoxon, 2000). Professionals utilize
knowledge that is considered unique and specialized, which makes it diffi-
cult for the average person to understand the implications of putting that
knowledge into practice (Bernard & Goodyear, 2004); thus, supervision by
experienced practitioners and educators assumes a particularly important
role in training and is required in virtually all mental health disciplines.
Supervision also serves as a primary part of gatekeeping into the professions.
In recent years, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related
Educational Programs (CACREP) (2001, 2009) has allowed triadic super-
vision, here defined as two supervisees meeting together with one super-
visor, to be used as the equivalent to individual supervision. Similarly, the
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), while
not using the term triadic supervision, considers up to two supervisees meet-
ing with one supervisor to count as individual supervision. Most research
noting supervision standards prior to 2001 does not address the use of triadic
supervision as a method of individual supervision (Bernard & Goodyear,
2004; Prieto, 1996), and there remains a dearth of literature addressing effec-
tiveness, comparability, or processes in triadic supervision as opposed to
individual supervision. The purpose of this study was to address the lack
of literature or research specifically dealing with this supervision modality
and to understand the processes which occur in triadic supervision. To
accomplish this goal, we analyzed individual and focus group interviews,
observed videotapes of triadic supervision, and conducted ongoing discus-
sions with doctoral internship students who provided supervision to
master’s-level practicum students.
Very little research has been done on triadic supervision; however, Sturdivant
(2005) provides a thorough literature review including the scant information
concerning triadic supervision as well as broader considerations about
supervision. Recent research about triadic supervision is included both as
an update to that review and to provide context for the current study.
Nguyen (2003) considered efficacy of individual and triadic super-
vision in a study which involved 47 master’s-level counseling students
receiving supervision. This study examined two specific formats, split focus
and single focus, for provision of triadic supervision, and compared them
to each other and to individual supervision. Split focus was defined as 30
minutes of an hour-long supervision session being allocated to each super-
visee. Single focus was defined as alternating weeks of supervision
devoted to one supervisee with the other supervisee present. Both were
found to be as effective as individual supervision, with single focus and
split focus having somewhat better results on some measures. Bakes
52 M. Oliver et al.
(2005) also studied individual and triadic supervision, and examined super-
visory working alliance as measured by the Supervisor Working Alliance
Inventory for each modality. Seventy-six supervisees receiving individual
or triadic supervision and 47 supervisors providing individual or triadic
supervision participated. A number of differences between individual and
triadic supervision were identified. Of particular interest for the current
study is the finding of differences in the perception of working alliance
by supervisors and supervisees based on the modality of supervision, with
triadic supervision receiving the higher rating. This finding appears to be in
conflict with findings of earlier studies. The author suggests that differences
found between individual and triadic supervision may mean that CACREP
standards concerning triadic supervision should be revised, particularly in
terms of time requirements, and called for research concerning theory
development for triadic supervision.
In an earlier study dealing with working alliance, Newgent, Davis, and
Farley (2004) noted that triadic and individual supervision were preferred to
group supervision. This study, which included 15 doctoral students enrolled
in a supervision course and providing supervision, indicated that supervi-
sors viewed individual and triadic supervision as having similar effects on
working alliance, supervisor leadership style, relationship dynamics, and
satisfaction. Results suggested that the structure of triadic supervision
includes considering how much each supervisee is involved and if each
supervisee acts as a co-supervisor. In their study, the structure of the triadic
supervision experience was predetermined by the researchers, and thus did
not examine what occurs when triadic supervision is left to the supervisor
and supervisees.
Sturdivant (2005) examined counselor supervision professionals’
perceptions of triadic supervision. Participants interviewed were eight
supervisors, including three faculty members and five doctoral students,
all in CACREP-accredited counseling programs. Results of this study
included identification of several themes, including vicarious learning,
feedback=multiple perspectives, vulnerability-support-intimacy, and time
saving. Other findings indicated that triadic supervision is seen as beneficial
to supervisees and supervisors, a finding Sturdivant contended alone to be
sufficient rationale for continued research concerning triadic supervision.
He further noted that supervisors need to practice within the bounds of
their training. With little research or theory development concerning triadic
supervision, it is difficult to contend that supervisors receive adequate train-
ing in this modality of supervision. Another study (Hein & Lawson, 2008)
also examined perceptions of supervisors who provide triadic supervision.
Six doctoral students who were providing supervision were included in this
qualitative study. Results yielded two primary categories of responses,
including ways in which triadic supervision increases or decreases demands
on the supervisor. These authors note that skills required in triadic
Triadic Supervision 53
supervision are not required in individual supervision and suggest they may
not be taught in supervisory training.
Recently, Stinchfield, Hill, and Kleist (2007) outlined an adaptation of
the reflecting team model for triadic supervision, which grew out of literature
concerning reflective processes in family therapy. Their article reported initial
findings arising from a qualitative inquiry about process and experience with
the reflective model of triadic supervision and called for research to deter-
mine the efficacy and utility of this approach. In addition, these authors indi-
cated the need for ongoing conversation regarding triadic supervision.
Providing a different perspective, Gillam and Baltimore (2006), in a podcast,
compared triadic supervision with group supervision and described the
dynamics of these two modes of supervision as similar. Lawson, Hein, and
Getz (2009) proffered a format for triadic supervision that centers around
practices to enhance administrative, clinical, and relationship aspects of
triadic supervision.
While each of these studies provides valuable information regarding
triadic supervision, only Stinchfield and colleagues (2007) examined the
processes occurring in triadic supervision, and their work is based on a parti-
cular theoretical construct. Several of the studies validate the need for better
understanding of triadic supervision and for theory development. Adequacy
of training of supervisors, the ability to ethically work within the bounds
of training, and findings of studies just cited call for an examination of the
processes that occur in triadic supervision.
We initially became interested in triadic supervision as we discussed our own
supervision of doctoral and master’s students and the differences in process
and actions we experience when providing individual and triadic super-
vision. We agree with Boyer’s (1990) position that research can grow out
of teaching as surely as teaching grows out of research and its application.
In this case, the supervisory component of our teaching led to observations
and questions about what is known and not known about triadic super-
vision. In addition, two of us have extensive academic and clinical back-
grounds in marriage and family therapy and systems theory, and were
approved supervisors in AAMFT prior to the advent of supervision course-
work in counselor education programs. Thus, the ways in which we
explained to ourselves what we do in triadic supervision was not adequately
addressed in either individual or group supervision models, which further
increased our curiosity.
The problem identified was that no clear understanding or description
of what occurs in triadic supervision existed, even though triadic super-
vision, whether by terminology or by practice, is accepted as meeting the
54 M. Oliver et al.
requirement for individual supervision by some accrediting bodies and
within some professions. While it is sometimes accepted as meeting individ-
ual supervision requirements, triadic supervision is also sometimes viewed
as a form of group supervision. The purpose of the study was to gain under-
standing of what occurs in triadic supervision. The overarching research
question was, ‘‘What happens in triadic supervision?’’ The first year of the
study was an investigation of the experiences of doctoral student supervisors
and master’s practicum student supervisees who participated in triadic
supervision (Oliver, Nelson, & Ybanez, 2008). The results of the first year
of the study subsequently led to an investigation of the processes of triadic
supervision. This article explicates those processes.
Our desire to understand triadic supervision led to the decision to use
qualitative methodology, which focuses on the meaning of human experi-
ence and encourages reflective thinking (Patton, 2002). Our research was
intimately involved with our academic responsibilities as instructors and
supervisors. Basic procedures involved observing videotapes of triadic
supervision and interviewing doctoral-level supervisors in training and
master’s-level supervisees. Constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006)
was selected as a guide to conduct the study. A constructivist grounded
theory is described as not emerging from data but constructed from data
by past and present connections with individuals, worldviews, and research
orientations. Like Charmaz, we approached our work focused on seeking
understanding rather than explanation and viewing theoretical understand-
ing as interpretive.
Doctoral-level student supervisors and master’s-level supervisees in
triadic supervision were invited to participate. A total of 28 research parti-
cipants, including 10 supervisors and 18 supervisees, volunteered to be
interviewed individually and=or contributed videotapes of triadic super-
vision. Other than ethnicity and gender, no demographics were collected
about participants who were interviewed. Since two of the researchers regu-
larly taught master’s practicum, we did not want to be able to identify any
student from their interviews and demographics. Our own experience in
teaching and supervising four doctoral cohorts over the three and a half years
of the project formed the foundation for the research project. Finally, two
doctoral research assistants who completed a doctoral-level qualitative
research class conducted the individual interviews and gave input to the data
base about their own observations and perceptions. The constructivist
grounded theory approach of Charmaz (2006) was congruent with our view
of participants and students as co-learners and the value we placed on their
contributions to the research.
Triadic Supervision 55
Year One
Understanding the lived experience of supervisors and supervisees in triadic
supervision was the main objective for this initial phase of the research. A
semi-structured format was selected for the Caucasian female research assist-
ant who had been trained in qualitative research methodology to interview
the 5 supervisors (3 Hispanic and 2 Caucasian females) and 15 supervisees
who volunteered to participate. Interviews were guided by the following
conversational topics: experiences with triadic supervision, strengths and
drawbacks of triadic supervision, organization of time to meet needs of
supervisees, interaction among the supervisor and two supervisees, and
perceived differences among individual, triadic, and group supervision.
The research assistant taped and transcribed all interviews. Strauss and
Corbin’s (1998) constant comparative method was used as a guide to read,
analyze, and compare the data as we openly coded units of meaning in a
line-by-line analysis of the transcripts before reaching consensus on axial
categories and preliminary themes.
Participants were also invited to contribute videotapes of triadic super-
vision to form a second source of research data. All participants in each
video had to sign a release for the videotape to be accepted. A total of
12 videotapes, with 3 different supervisors and 8 supervisees, were made
available, and we watched the tapes, took independent notes, compara-
tively analyzed the tapes, and collaboratively reached consensus on what
we had observed.
A third source of data was obtained by the second author from a focus
group interview conducted with a supervision group of nine doctoral intern-
ship students (one African male, one Caucasian male, four Hispanic females,
and three Caucasian females), all of whom were providing or had provided
supervision. The semi-structured format using the same conversational topics
was used once again to guide the group discussion with a concluding
discussion focused on an examination of the preliminary themes gained from
the individual interviews.
After the data from the video observations and the individual and
focus group interviews were compiled, compared, and analyzed, we
refined our initial interpretations and presented the results for reflection
and discussion to the doctoral internship class for further discussion, reflec-
tion, and member checking. Researcher notes formed the documentation
for both group interviews. Findings revealed a number of practices and
themes. Some of those are similar to those important to individual and
group supervision, such as flexibility of agenda and approach by the super-
visor. Other findings appeared to be unique to triadic supervision pro-
cesses, including time use and supervisor encouragement of systemic
processes (Oliver et al., 2008).
56 M. Oliver et al.
Year Two
Year two efforts concentrated on theory refinement through continued dis-
cussion, readings, and study of triadic supervision during weekly master’s-
and doctoral-level practicum and internship classes, and triadic supervision.
Bi-monthly meetings of the researchers were devoted to organizing and
synthesizing the results. We presented and discussed our interpretations at
both a state and a national professional conference. Late in year two of the
study, the first two authors held a focus group interview with a doctoral
internship group consisting of one Caucasian male, five Caucasian females,
and five Hispanic females, all of whom had not been previously interviewed.
All were providing or had provided individual and=or triadic supervision,
and some had also received triadic supervision. Both preliminary themes
from year one and refined thematic categories from year two were presented
for discussion. In addition, students were invited to share their own experi-
ences with triadic supervision and offer additional insights which were
incorporated into the data base.
This was a year of discussion, analysis, and reflection. We reached
consensus to conduct theoretical sampling through further interviews with
doctoral student supervisors and additional videotapes of triadic supervision
during the next academic year. Theoretical sampling allowed us to refine and
further develop categories as well as examine the relationships among them.
These reflections led to an additional query. We planned to ask supervisors
to describe how triadic supervision proceeds from the beginning to the end
of a session in the next phase of the project.
Year Three
The objective of year three was to invite doctoral student supervisors to con-
firm themes through theoretical sampling (Charmaz, 2006) and to answer
more specific inquiries about how triadic supervision proceeds in session.
A doctoral research assistant (male Caucasian) trained in qualitative research
interviewed nine supervisors (one Caucasian male, five Hispanic females,
and three Caucasian females) using the original conversational topics with
one new query: Describe a triadic supervision session. What happens first?
What next? How do things proceed from one thing to another? Using open
and axial coding of the constant comparison method (Strauss & Corbin,
1998), researchers reanalyzed transcripts from the first set of individual inter-
views and proceeded to analyze the second round of interviews for the first
time. We sought additional participants to provide videotapes of triadic
supervision. Four additional videotapes of triadic supervision provided by
different doctoral-level supervisors and master’s-level supervisees were
Triadic Supervision 57
obtained and similarly studied by the three researchers. No new properties
were identified. Data appeared to be saturated.
Year Four
Researchers met weekly to conceptualize overarching theoretical processes
derived from data analysis, researcher notes, and memos related to identified
themes and categories. Discussions persisted until consensus was reached
and a theoretical basis was formed that included all meanings discovered
during the research. Member checking of final results was completed with
a doctoral internship class of 11 females (6 Hispanic and 5 Caucasian), most
of whom had previously contributed to the study through individual or focus
group interviews and who were in their last semester of supervising
master’s-level practicum students. In addition, the researchers contacted
and requested the two research assistants who had conducted the individual
interviews during year one and three to read and react to the researchers’
theoretical interpretation of the data. Finally, three supervisors who partici-
pated in the first year of interviews and videotaping volunteered to read,
react to, and offer suggestions regarding the results. These individuals are
all graduates with whom we had ongoing contact. All are female and Cauca-
sian. One went directly from the master’s program into a doctoral program,
and two had a number of years of experience in school or community mental
health settings prior to their doctoral studies. Although no new interpreta-
tions or themes were identified, this phase resulted in additional comments,
understandings, and observations about the theoretical interpretations. Basic
theoretical meanings were consistent over the course of the study, but were
modified, refined, and enhanced as a result of ongoing researcher collabor-
ation. In addition to member checking, trustworthiness was achieved
through prolonged engagement and through multiple sources of data and
triangulation of data (Patton, 2002).
As a final part of the research, we engaged in interpretive theorizing in order
to conceptualize meanings and processes in triadic supervision. We propose
that there are several overlapping and overarching systemic processes
reflected in triadic supervision. These include systemic engagement, synergy,
recursiveness, presence of the supervisor, and community.
Systemic Engagement
The first of these processes is the principle of systemic engagement—that is,
the arrangement of supervisor working with two supervisees provides
58 M. Oliver et al.
connection and relatedness such that the arrangement itself forms a unity or
whole. Ways of achieving this engagement may vary among supervisors or
according to the supervisees involved in the supervision in that it may be
as subtle as how the supervisor uses eye contact to invite both people into
connection or as overt as asking for engagement. When supervisors engage
in this way, they find ways to do what bell hooks (1994) talks about when
she discusses redirecting attention from her voice to one another’s voices.
However, the most salient examples of systemic engagement occur when
involvement among the supervisor and supervisees is such that flow of infor-
mation, spontaneous discussion, role-play, teaching moments, consultation,
and personal reflection on the part of supervisor and supervisees seem to
arise naturally out of the interaction among the three.
As one supervisor put it, ‘‘That struck a chord with me. We were
completely interactive. We still have that relationship to this day.’’ Another,
who described the triadic supervisory role as facilitative, said,
I’m very collegial . . . I ask them ‘‘What did you like? What did you not
like?’’ . . . It just comes out once they start talking about (a difficult client),
and usually the other one will be like, ‘‘Well, why?’’ And they’re funny
because they, they start, they practice right there . . . it’s not planned . . . it
just happens.
After thinking about what happens in individual and triadic supervision, yet
another indicated, ‘‘It isn’t really like that . . . starting with one . . . and then
you talk to the other . . . . What happens is they end up giving each other
feedback, and I try to facilitate.’’ Systemic engagement as a way of under-
standing what happens in triadic supervision is different from, though not
necessarily contrary to, the work of Nguyen (2003) and Newgent and collea-
gues (2004), since both of those studies specified the structure of supervision.
In this study, triadic supervision structure was not pre-determined. Thus, the
possibility of systemic engagement was not determined by structural factors
of supervision nor limited to particular structures within supervision.
For the supervisor, in some respects, the interaction resembles having
a couple in the room: ‘‘It’s almost like having a husband and wife . . . and
having to deal with the relationship between the two of them . . . . You’re
aware of tension or issues between them.’’ From our observations and the
comments from supervisors and supervisees, we thus theorized that one part
of the supervision process is in providing the container or crucible for the
relationship between the supervisees. Supervisees learn that listening
respectfully and thoughtfully is as important as speaking, which is something
they are simultaneously learning to do in their counseling sessions. In
addition, supervisors deal with their own relationship with each supervisee.
Dealing with ruptures in any of the relationships is part of what must occur,
with the primary responsibility for being attentive to and working sensitively
Triadic Supervision 59
to repair such ruptures being the supervisor’s. Another facet of triadic super-
vision that is similar to working with couples is that the supervisor has the
opportunity to observe dynamics of supervisees that may not be seen if
working with one supervisee alone. This became clear as supervisors were
attentive to how and when supervisees interacted with each other as well
as with the supervisor, how and when disruptions occurred (or did not)
within the relationships, and how repairs were managed. Supervisors also
reported that triadic supervision allows a different perspective about ‘‘what
an individual supervisee might not understand because of (heightened
awareness of) different developmental levels’’ of supervisees.
Triadic supervision is also synergistic. For the purposes of this study, synergy
refers to the process whereby the impact of three individuals coming
together for supervision is greater than the impact of each individual working
alone and perhaps greater than the impact of any two individuals working
together. Synergy in triadic supervision can been seen, in part, through the
systemic engagement just outlined. It cannot be completely captured by
that, however, and may rather be a by-product of systemic engagement.
When working well, triadic supervision produces ideas and learning that
appear to be fuller than what would occur on the part of any individual
member of the triad. This occurs in individual supervision, as well; however,
when triadic supervision functions ideally, supervisors and supervisees alike
describe it as ‘‘rich, very rich’’ because of the multiplicity of perspectives and
experiences that seem to feed one another and grow into yet other perspec-
tives. As one supervisor described it, ‘‘In triadic supervision, 1 þ 1 þ 1 ¼ 5.’’
Another supervisor offered,
I really enjoy it. I think I prefer that (triadic) over all others, because I feel
like individual . . . I think that just one person wouldn’t really be able to
help . . . maybe they could sometimes, but not in all aspects, so I think
it would be nice to have a different opinion of what’s going on.
Another supervisor stated,
. . . it was very different (from individual) . . . what I really liked about
triadic supervision . . . was that they were able to give advice to each other
or help the other person out if they . . . if supervisee one had a question in
this area, and supervisee two knew a little bit about that area, then they
would talk to supervisee one . . . so I thought that was very beneficial for
not only myself, but for them as well . . . they really did give each other
really good information.
Another supervisor said, concisely, ‘‘I’m learning from them just as . . . we’re
learning from each other.’’ This conclusion is consistent with Sturdivant’s
60 M. Oliver et al.
(2005) findings about the importance of feedback and multiple perspectives.
Supervisees are active participants in rather than passive consumers of super-
vision, which once again agrees with what hooks (1994) describes in her
work about teaching.
A third principle of triadic supervision is that it is, in some sense, recursive.
Observations of triadic supervision, comments from participants, and our
own experiences as supervisors and researchers led us to conclude that inter-
action among supervisor and supervisees impacts each of the people in the
room, which then impacts the next interaction, which then impacts each of
the people in the room and so on. This impact also occurs directionally—that
is, what occurs in supervision impacts supervisee=counselor work with
clients, and clients impact the supervisee=counselor, which then impacts
triadic supervision. In addition, triadic supervision, in the process of being
studied, impacts the researchers, all of whom also provide individual and tri-
adic supervision. The researchers, after analyzing their findings, impact
supervisors when the researchers present information to focus groups in
which supervisors who are participants in the research and others who are
not comment on those findings. Awareness and knowledge gained by super-
visors in the focus group process then flow back to supervisees and ultimately
back to clients, and so on. This recursive process of folding back over on itself
occurs in multiple directions and multiple times. The idea of a recursive
perspective in terms of understanding supervisee growth was addressed by
Rigazio-DiGilio (1997) in her discussion of integrative supervision. The
principle described here recognizes that the recursive process impacts not
only supervisees, but clients, supervisors, and trainers of supervisors as well.
As described by focus group members, triadic supervision provides ‘‘the best
of both worlds’’ (referencing individual and group supervision) and is the
‘‘catalyst for fire in the discussion in group supervision . . . and in focus group
discussion’’ about triadic supervision. In addition, focus group members
who both counsel and supervise reported that triadic supervision ‘‘affects
how I think about what I do’’ in both counseling and supervision.
Presence of the Supervisor
The presence of the supervisor is another contributor to the process of triadic
supervision. This is not surprising, in that such presence is also important in
individual and group supervision as well as in counseling. One supervisor
expressed how important it is
. . . to be fully present . . . it makes me make sure that I’m fully present
when I’m supervising . . . showing respect, being genuine . . . really to be
Triadic Supervision 61
able to, even though you haven’t been in their situation, to try to have
that empathic response, and try to really understand . . . especially in
triadic supervision, because it makes you very aware of, you know, that
there are three people in the room instead of two.
The work of Rogers (1995), Friedman (1985), and many others who have
emphasized the importance of the therapeutic relationship, as well as
research emphasizing the importance of relationship in supervision (Bernard
& Goodyear, 2004; Borders & Brown, 2005; Campbell, 2000; Haynes, Corey,
& Moulton, 2003; Holloway, 1995; Muse-Burke, Ladany, & Deck, 2001), was
confirmed yet again in this study. The supervisor’s ability to demonstrate
genuineness and congruence as well as to model a non-anxious presence
in the supervisory process enables the creation of an ambiance that
encourages supervisee reflection on one’s own and the co-supervisee’s
work; fosters sharing of information, concerns, values, experiences, and
the like; builds self-efficacy; and encourages risk taking to develop skills or
to practice openly within the supervision sessions.
While supervisory style may be more or less open to the supervisees’
agendas (as opposed to the supervisor’s), more or less directive or structured,
or more focused on a particular role of the supervisor, the ability to be fully
present to the process is crucial to triadic supervision and may be more
difficult in this setting, particularly for novice supervisors, than in individual
supervision. A telling comment made by one supervisor, while talking about
triadic supervision where one supervisee was initially very difficult, was,
I thought, ‘‘okay, this is where I have to really learn about
relationships’’ . . . I was sitting there thinking, ‘‘how am I going to develop
this relationship . . . what am I going to do?’’ . . . and this other poor brand
new person over here was all nervous and scared . . . . I thought, ‘‘what a
Finally, community appears to be a hallmark of triadic supervision. The word
community is used in a variety of disciplines and has many connotations
(Chinn, 2008). For this reason, naming this principle was difficult and was
ultimately a product of discourse with focus groups. Initially, collaboration
was considered; however, community provides a truer sense of what is
intended, as it implies deeper relationship and involvement. Indeed, as
one supervisor suggested, ‘‘the sense of community arises from collabor-
ation’’ and ‘‘collaboration is needed to bring community.’’ For the purposes
of this analysis, community has defined itself through the words of study
In his work about teaching, Palmer (2007) contends that ‘‘learning . . .
demands community—a dialogical exchange in which our ignorance can be
62 M. Oliver et al.
aired, our ideas tested, our biases challenged, and our knowledge expanded,
an exchange in which we are not simply left alone to think our own thoughts’’
(p. 79). Similarly, supervisors and supervisees in this study indicated that
triadic supervision seems to allow supervisees to ‘‘have the freedom to make
mistakes,’’ to ‘‘not be perfect,’’ to ‘‘not know’’ and ‘‘self-disclose,’’ and thus
‘‘give the others the freedom to do the same.’’ This freedom may first
be modeled by the supervisor, but may also be brought to the interaction
by a supervisee. In triadic supervision, community can be seen as part of
synergy and as part of systemic engagement, yet is not precisely either one.
Community is fostered by the supervisor, particularly in early stages of
supervision, through the posing of questions designed to solicit input from
both supervisees about whatever material or case is being presented. How-
ever, this often moves to a process where the speaking, listening, and
responding begin to occur naturally among the three or may be actively pur-
sued by supervisees, rather than originating with the supervisor. How the
supervisor encourages and honors community will differ from supervisor to
supervisor and perhaps from session to session within the same triad. For
instance, a supervisor may ask throughout or at the end of a case presentation,
‘‘What are you thinking about this?’’ or ‘‘Do you have ideas about this?’’ or
‘‘What is your reaction to this?’’ The supervisor may use a process similar to
the reflecting team described by Stinchfield and colleagues (2007) for triadic
supervision. Alternatively, the supervisor may ask the presenting supervisee
to reflect with the listening supervisee about what has been presented, with
the supervisor remaining silent, only joining the conversation as the reflection
winds down. Whatever the approach, we saw that the result is that both
supervisees and the supervisor join forces in providing ideas, suggestions,
comments, concerns, solutions, or more questions about what is presented
in supervision. In this way, community overlaps with synergy.
Another important feature of community is shared responsibility. Some
supervisors and supervisees initially described this as accountability; how-
ever, as focus groups continued, the sense of this element became more
clearly that all members share responsibility for the tasks of supervision, even
to the point of supervisees making sure their co-supervisees attend and are
prepared for supervision. One supervisor who also participated in triadic
supervision as a supervisee explained it precisely, stating:
When you are in supervision together you develop a sense of responsi-
bility for each other. You also hold each other accountable for what you
say and then subsequently for what you do. The supervisor can be
fooled, but your fellow classmates know whether or not you are living
up to your responsibilities.
Shared responsibility certainly may be a part of systemic processes; however,
it is in the understanding and implementing of a sense of community that
shared responsibility comes to fruition.
Triadic Supervision 63
Based on observations of triadic supervision, interview data, and our own
experiences with triadic supervision, we believe there are some situations
where triadic supervision is either not the best choice or should not be
offered. Primary among those occurs when a supervisee has personal
issues of such a nature that he or she cannot function well in a triadic
system as described or those issues interfere with the benefit and learning
experience of any potential co-supervisee. Such a supervisee may require
consistent one-to-one supervision for a period of time before being
able to benefit from and not disrupt triadic supervision. However, it can
be argued that supervisees who cannot participate effectively in triadic
supervision may have difficulties which should properly be addressed
in their own personal counseling. As a corollary to this, novice supervi-
sors, particularly those with limited clinical experience, may not have
well-established skill sets and the experience to effectively manage diffi-
cult triads in such a way that systemic engagement, community, and the
like are achieved.
In addition, we observed that at times, even in triadic supervision with
skilled and experienced supervisors, individuals need one-to-one time with
the supervisor. This can occur for a variety of reasons. For example, a super-
visee may have personal concerns impacting counseling work that he or
she does not want to share with the co-supervisee. A supervisee may wish
to discuss particular cases alone because the co-supervisee personally knows
a client. Relational disruptions between the supervisor and supervisee may
need to be addressed one-to-one. Evaluative functions of supervision are
often better addressed individually, particularly in cases where remediation
is necessary. It may just be that the supervisee needs additional reassurance,
and individual supervision may be perceived as more conducive for this type
of support.
The processes articulated in this article may have significance as a concep-
tual framework for educators who teach and supervise supervision, as
well as for those who are being trained in supervision. Working with
two people in the room can be exponentially more difficult than working
with one person in the room, whether the work is counseling or super-
vision. This complex supervision relationship can be taught in such a
way that newly trained supervisors understand the interrelated and
systemic nature of the identified processes before actual supervision is
started. Our findings along with the findings of others indicate that some-
thing different, which may require additional skills, happens in triadic
64 M. Oliver et al.
supervision. For example, assisting supervisors in working effectively with
relationship disruptions between supervisees becomes essential when tri-
adic supervision is used. Providing supervisors-in-training with a broad
model for understanding processes of triadic supervision, including
concepts of systemic engagement, synergy, presence of the supervisor,
recursiveness, and community as they apply to triadic supervision, may
foster more confidence and competence as they begin work utilizing this
modality. Beginning supervisors may experience a similar challenge to that
experienced by supervisees: selecting an appropriate theoretical model of
supervision that works with not only one supervisee, but also with two.
Indeed, facilitating understanding of these processes, regardless of the
theoretical model supervisors-in-training use, may allow supervisors-
in-training to more firmly ground themselves in a particular supervision
model precisely because they have a way to think about processes
occurring in triadic supervision.
A broad model for understanding triadic supervision may provide one
way to examine various theoretical models of individual supervision as they
are applied to triadic supervision settings. Researchers might consider, for
example, whether a particular supervision model provides a way for these
processes to unfold, and if it does not, whether it could or should be modi-
fied to take full advantage of the triadic modality. This research may also
have implications for experienced supervisors. As an explication of funda-
mental processes, it may be useful to supervisors as they evaluate and reflect
on their supervision.
Triadic supervision is a form of supervision that, in addition to being both
cost- and time-effective for universities, faculty, supervisors, and supervisees,
appears to have much to offer in the development of counseling skills. There
remains a need for research concerning theoretical approaches which ensure
effective practice in the delivery of triadic supervision. In addition, research
concerning the translation of models used in individual supervision to triadic
supervision is needed. Resulting information concerning developing theor-
etical models of triadic supervision would, in turn, inform the teaching and
practice of supervision.
We believe the model currently proposed has utility for examining
specific theoretical approaches as those approaches are used in triadic super-
vision. Application of this model may also provide a beginning for new
theoretical approaches to triadic supervision. In addition, research examining
the validity and the importance of the processes identified in this study
from a variety of theoretical perspectives may provide further refining or
redefinition of this model.
Triadic Supervision 65
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Triadic Supervision 67
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The Clinical Supervisor, 32:244–259, 2013
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0732-5223 print/1545-231X online
DOI: 10.1080/07325223.2013.851633
Address correspondence to Philip Clarke, Department of Counseling, Wake Forest
University, P.O. Box 7406, Winston-Salem, NC 27109, USA. E-mail:
The Motivational Supervisor:
Motivational Interviewing As a Clinical
Supervision Approach
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, United States
University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, United States
Motivational interviewing (MI) is an evidence-based clinical inter-
vention used to elicit motivation for client behavior change. MI as a
supervision style involves the same spirit, processes, and techniques
used to cultivate supervisee development and change. This article
describes the application of MI components to clinical supervision,
detailing the processes of engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning.
A case example depicting MI supervision is provided.
KEYWORDS motivational interviewing, clinical supervision,
theory-based supervision
Supervision is a fundamental component in counselor training and the pro-
fessional development of beginning and experienced counselors. Supervisors
assume a complex role that differs from teaching, consulting, or counseling
(Bernard & Goodyear, 2004; Bordin, 1983) as they attend to supervisee
growth and development as well as promote the welfare of clients. In this
unique position, supervisors are charged with specific tasks such as fostering
effective supervisory relationships, attending to supervisee anxiety and
resistance, and proffering feedback.
A strong working alliance between supervisor and supervisee is an
essential ingredient to the process of change. Bordin (1983) applied three
The Motivational Supervisor 245
aspects of the therapeutic working alliance to supervision, including mutu-
ally agreed upon goals, understanding of each partner’s tasks, and the bond
between partners. It is in and through the working alliance that the goals of
supervision are reached (Bordin, 1983). Goals, however, can be blocked by
supervisee anxiety and resistance (Borders & Brown, 2005; Jordan & Kelly,
2011; Pearson, 2000). Counselors experience anxiety about a number of
aspects of the counseling process, such as competence, supervision, and
preparation ( Jordan & Kelly, 2011) as well as navigating the dialectics of
independence and dependence, and self, efficacy, and self-doubt (Ronnestad
& Skovholt, 1993). Supervisee resistance refers to reactionary methods
employed as means of protection from a variety of sources of anxiety in the
supervisory relationship (Abernethy & Cook, 2011; Pearson, 2000). Borders
(2009) suggests usinga subtle supervisory approach when navigating the
obstacles of anxiety and resistance in supervision rather than a direct style
that may invite defensiveness. According to the Association for Counselor
Education and Supervision Best Practices in Clinical Supervision guidelines
(2011), “the supervisor provides a balance of challenging and supportive
feedback …” (p. 4). Researchers have found “task-oriented” supervision
approaches characterized by specific objectives and feedback to significantly
predict supervisee self-efficacy (Fernando & Hulse-Killacky, 2005).
The authors propose that motivational interviewing (MI) has the poten-
tial to address these key tasks by providing a means to successfully foster
strong supervisory relationships, address supervisee anxiety and resistance,
as well as deliver feedback. Specifically, MI is “… designed to strengthen
personal motivation and commitment to a specific goal by eliciting and
exploring the person’s own reasons for change within an atmosphere of
acceptance and compassion” (Miller & Rollnick, 2013, p. 29). This transtheo-
retical counseling approach can be integrated into a supervisory model that
combines key aspects of supervision into a unified framework for interacting
and facilitating interventions with supervisees. Coupled with the evidence
supporting the efficacy of MI in cultivating change, it is believed that moti-
vational interviewing is well suited for implementation in supervision.
Motivational interviewing (MI) is an evidence-based framework for facilitating
behavior change that originated as an intervention for persons with alcohol
issues by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick (Miller, 1983). Resolving ambiv-
alence through evoking client arguments for changeis the target of MI. The
ambivalent individual simultaneously holds reasons for and against change
and MI counselors listen empathically with a focus on the client’s own rea-
sons favoring change (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). The MI approach can be used
as an independent counseling style, a precursor to another modality, or
246 P. B. Clarke and A. L. Giordano
integrated within a different method or theoretical orientation (Hettema,
Steele, & Miller, 2005). Brief motivational methods also provide a structure for
offering feedback to clients in a manner consistent with the tenets of MI
(Bien, Miller, & Tonigan, 1993; Ingersoll, Wagner, & Gharib, 2002). Furthermore,
motivational enhancement therapy and brief motivational approaches are
considered adaptations of MI for use in treatment studies, brief interventions,
and varying roles of treatment (Burke, Arkowitz, & Dunn, 2002).
Since its inception, MI has been applied across a variety of clients pre-
senting concerns ranging from eating disorders management (Wilson &
Schlam, 2004) to suicide prevention (Zerler, 2008). The effectiveness of MI
has been supported by many empirical pursuits (Lundahl & Burke, 2009). For
example, a meta-analysis examining the efficacy of MI interventions revealed
MI to be superior to advice-giving or brief interventions whether utilized by
persons in the medical or mental health fields (Rubak, Sandbaek, Lauritzen,
& Christensen, 2005). Moreover, the positive effects of MI approaches on
behavior change with addictions and lifestyle intervention populations seem
to remain over time as evidenced by a meta-analysis of 97 studies with assess-
ments ranging from 3 months to 1 year after the intervention (Lundahl, Kunz,
Brownell, Tollefson, & Burke, 2010). Adaptations of MI also yield noteworthy
effect sizes such asreductions in drinking frequency (d = .35) and drug use
(d = .56), and increased positive lifestyle changes (d = .53) (Burke, Dunn,
Atkins, & Phelps, 2004). On the whole, MI has an evidence base supporting
its effectiveness and mechanisms of change.
MI Training and Supervision
The efficacy of MI as a clinical intervention to promote client change prompt-
edan exploration of the literature regarding MI training processes. The devel-
opment of the Motivational Interviewing Step: Supervisory Tools for Enhancing
Proficiency (MIA:STEP), a standardized manual for training clinicians in MI,
represents a significant advancement in the field (Martino et al., 2006). In
addition, Miller and Moyers (2006) identified eight stages necessary for the
acquisition of MI including learning the MI spirit, active listening, and respond-
ing to client statements regarding change. Authors of several empirical articles
examined the training and supervision of counselors learning to implement
MI as a counseling intervention (Madson, Loignon,& Lane, 2009; Miller, Yahne,
Moyers, Martinez, & Pirritano, 2004; Mitcheson, Bhavsar, & McCambridge,
2009). For example, Miller and colleagues (2004) completed a comprehensive
analysis of MI pedagogy comparing the efficacy of several experimental MI
training experiences on participants’ abilities to use MI. The researchers con-
cluded that learning to use MI through self-directed study using training
materials resulted in minimal MI attainment, workshops produced learning of
MI that declined over time, and longitudinal supervision centered oncontinued
education of MI engendered long-term retention of MI.
The Motivational Supervisor 247
Contrary to the quantity of literature examining MI training practices,
few researchers have explored implementing MI into the supervisory
relationship. The goal of the aforementioned studies was to aid supervisees
in the effective application of MI rather than employ MI strategies with the
purpose of evoking supervisee motivations for change. However, Madson,
Bullock, Speed, and Hodges (2008) integrated “MI as a supervisory style”
with addictions counselors (p. 350). The authors described the use of MI
techniques within the supervisory roles of educator, supporter, consultant,
and evaluator with counselors. Yet this application of MI was limited to use
within role-based supervision with addictions counselors rather as theory-
based supervision that incorporates solely MI in its principles and practices
with counselors in general. Clarke and Giordano (2013) referenced the use
of MI as a means to address cases of parallel process among supervisees.
This appears to be the first application of MI as a general supervisory
approach to foster supervisee change processes. The focus of the article,
however, was related to the specific supervisory pitfall of parallel process.
The authors seek to expand this line of research by presenting MI as a
theory-based supervisory approach that provides a framework for the major
supervisory processes of building the working alliance, eliciting supervisee
motivation for change, and delivering feedback.
Before applying the MI spirit and various elements of MI to the super-
visory process, it is important to note that there are times when the MI
supervisor must take a directive approach. Similar to situations that require
MI counselors to take a more prescriptive style, such as when the client is
in danger of harming himself or herself or others (Miller & Rollnick, 2013),
there also are times when the MI supervisor must assume an authoritative
stance for the good of the supervisee. Also, if safety or ethical issues
emerge, supervisors are charged with fulfilling their responsibilities
promptly and decidedly. Therefore, the following sections describe the
utilization of MI in developmentally appropriate supervisory situations in
which it is fitting to elicit motivation from the supervisee to support lasting
MI is grounded in a spirit that is essential to employing the MI style, princi-
ples, and techniques (Miller & Rose, 2009). The spirit of MI used in clinical
settings also is applicable and effective in supervisory relationships. The MI
spirit consists of four components: partnership, acceptance, compassion, and
evocation (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). The term partnership provides a mantra
that the helper is not to impose solutions upon the client; rather, goals are
developed and pursued collaboratively. The MI counselor’s primary action is
guiding more than directing or following (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). Partnership
248 P. B. Clarke and A. L. Giordano
can apply even to those situations in which the supervisor is teaching new
clinical skill. By following the formula elicit-provide-elicit, supervisors can
inquire as to what the supervisee would like to learn, provide information
regarding the skill, and elicit the supervisee’s reaction (Miller & Rollnick,
2013; Rollnick, Butler, Kinnersley, Gregory, & Mash, 2010). In this way, the
MI supervisor creates a spirit of collaboration allowing the supervisee to feel
both supported and autonomous, an optimal environment for professional
A spirit of acceptance is derived from the humanistic principles of abso-
lute worth, accurate empathy, autonomy, and affirmation (Miller & Rollnick,
2013). In summation, MI counselors embody the notion that persons are best
served when they are listened to, validated, and affirmed, for who they are,
what they want, and where they want to be in life (Miller & Moyers, 2006).
This is relevant to supervision, particularly in addressing supervisee anxiety.
By communicating that the supervisee has absolute worth, validating his or
her emotional experiences, identifying and affirming strengths, and support-
ing supervisee autonomy through the developmental process, supervisors
create an optimal atmosphere diffuse anxiety.
A spirit of compassion guides the MI counselor to work selflessly and
not utilize the approach to manipulate clients into counselor-directed change
(Miller & Rollnick, 2013). Similarly, the MI supervisor’s job is not to train per-
sons to counsel in the exact manner of the supervisor. Instead, a spirit of
compassion drives the supervisor to work for the good of the supervisee and
the client, rather than fulfilling a supervisor’s need to be needed. Furthermore,
compassion informs the MI supervisor of the anxiety-provoking and vulner-
able nature of learning and developing one’s skills and that persons arrive at
supervision seeking well-intended support. Finally, the fourth element of the
spirit of MI, evocation, refers to eliciting the client’s own assets and motiva-
tion for change. Supervisees possess a multitude of abilities that will enable
them to navigate ambivalence and struggles with clients and their own
personal and professional development. Following the MI spirit of evocation,
supervisors will listen for strength-based change language regarding super-
visees’ self-awareness, client conceptualization, and intervention skills (Miller
& Rollnick, 2013). Overall, when supervisors embody the spirit of MI, they
create an accepting environment for developing the working alliance and
inviting supervisees to explore and resolve ambivalence regarding their
Emerging out of the spirit of MI are four processes that intentionally facilitate
the process of increasing motivation for change among clients (Miller &
Rollnick, 2013). The processes of engaging, focusing, evoking, and planning
The Motivational Supervisor 249
are useful for creating a person-centered style that can be incorporated
throughout supervision. Rather than conceptualizing the processes as stages
to be worked through linearly, they are best conceptualized as building
blocks. Once a process is implemented, it is sustained throughout the
counseling or supervisory relationship.
The engaging process involves establishing rapport and meeting clients with
an MI spirit through active, open-minded, and nonjudgmental listening, and
affirming the client’s strengths and desires (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). Engaging
is particularly important in MI supervision given research that supervisees
report more positive supervision experiences when they perceive their
supervisors as more empathetic (Britt & Gleaves, 2011). If engaging is con-
ceptualized as the engine of the change process, OARS would be the gaso-
line. OARS, an acronym referring to open questions, affirming, reflective lis-
tening, and summarizing, encompasses the practical “how-to” skills used to
engage clients and supervisees (Miller & Rollnick, 2013; Rosengren, 2009).
With regard to supervision, open questions are utilized in forming a super-
visee-centered working relationship by allowing supervisees to provide
elaborate responses inviting reflection rather than short answers. Affirmations
are supervisor statements in which he or she offers an observation about a
supervisee’s strength by highlighting a specific positive attribute or skill. An
MI supervisor might state, for example, “I really appreciate your attentive-
ness to multiple perspectives when we discuss stressors that are affecting
your client’s life.”
Reflective listening is the MI counselor’s method of feeding back to the
client the essence of the content, feeling, or meaning they detect in the cli-
ent’s comments. A specific type of complex reflection used during engaging
is the double-sided reflection, which is particularly effective at capturing a
sense of ambivalence experienced by the client (Miller, 1995). When applied
to the supervisory process in which a supervisee feels both excited and
scared at the idea of working with clients with multiple traumas, the supervi-
sor may reflect, “You’re feeling two ways about working with John. On one
hand you’re concerned you might not be experienced enough to help this
client, but on the other hand, you’re eager to work with clients who have
endured trauma.”
Summarizing is the final OARS component and is, in essence, another
form of complex reflection (Anstiss, 2009). When summarizing, the coun-
selor amalgamates the key insights, topics, and themes from a segment of the
counseling process (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). In MI supervision, summaries
similarly capture key content, supervisee affect, meaning, and insight that are
embedded in supervision material. In the third edition of the MI text, Miller
and Rollnick (2013) described a fifth core skill in addition to OARS;
250 P. B. Clarke and A. L. Giordano
informing and advising. Providing information and offering advice is done
in the right quantities and only after attaining permission. This additional
skill is particularly relevant to supervision as information and advice-giving
is often appropriate and encouraged. The elicit-provide-elicit formula
previously referenced is how Miller and Rollnick (2013) propose giving
information or advice in an MI fashion.
Focusing is the process of counselor and client co-constructing desired coun-
seling outcomes with the intention of reaching clear treatment targets (Miller
& Rollnick, 2013). Many times, supervisees are unclear as to appropriate
supervision goals or may not be aware of counseling skills that need to
improve. In these instances, the FRAMES model may be a useful supervisory
intervention to focus the session.
Feedback is needed in several supervisory scenarios, including for-
mative and summative evaluations that take place at the midpoint and
conclusion of academic semesters, directive feedback when a supervisee
needs to be instructed specifically how to proceed with a client, when a
supervisee requests feedback, when the supervisor reviews tape sessions,
or following live supervision. The FRAMES approach is an MI adaptation
that couples features of MI with the delivery of feedback. FRAMES stands
for feedback, responsibility, advice, menu of options, empathy, and self-
efficacy (Bien et al., 1993; Ingersoll et al., 2002; Miller, 1999; Miller &
Sanchez, 1994). This brief motivational approach, which has been used by
medical doctors and mental health personnel in short-term helping situa-
tions, is particularly useful when the provision of information in a direc-
tive format is most effective (Britt, Hudson, & Blampied, 2004). When
FRAMES is applied to counseling, feedback consists of offering informa-
tion to the client based on formal and/or informal assessments of the
presenting concern (Miller & Sanchez, 1994). In supervision, the supervi-
sor offers her or his perspective on aspects of the supervisee’s perfor-
mance (after asking the supervisee’s permission) and then invites the
supervisee to process subsequent thoughts and feelings about the feed-
back (Britt etal., 2004; Ingersoll etal., 2002). In the context of counseling,
the FRAMES component of responsibility refers to emphasizing the auton-
omy of the client in order to increase intrinsic motivation to change (Miller
& Rollnick, 2013). The same principle applies in supervision in which the
responsibility for integrating or not integrating the feedback is placed on
the supervisee. For example, a supervisor may state, “As the one in the
counseling room, you are tasked with choosing whether or not to
implement my feedback when working with your client.”
Since FRAMES is a brief motivational approach, advice is used. When
providing feedback, supervisors may offer suggestions (with permission) as
The Motivational Supervisor 251
to how supervisees can improve their skills, expand their conceptualization
of clients, or engage in deeper levels of self-awareness. Next, co-constructing
a menu of options occurs in counseling when the counselor and the client
collectively brainstorm and expand a list of possible solutions to a present-
ing issue (Bien etal., 1993). Applied to supervision, the goal is to increase
internal motivation to change and supervisee empowerment by encouraging
the supervisee to make a choice from several options. Counselors using
FRAMES are empathic, validating, and reflective of the client and any change
talk in order to reduce defensiveness and increase motivation (Miller, 1999).
MI supervisors offer feedback with empathy, and work to convey under-
standing of the supervisee’s experience both in the counseling session as
well as in supervision. For example, a supervisor may say, “Working with this
client must feel overwhelming at times, but it seems important to you to find
ways to be most effective and attend to treatment goals.” Finally, fostering
self-efficacy is critical in brief motivational counseling since making behav-
ioral changes may provoke a client’s insecurity in his or her ability to make
these changes. In supervision, the supervisor can support self-efficacy by
providing encouragement, affirmation, asking the supervisee about previous
counseling victories, and constructing a plan to increase confidence (Miller
& Sanchez, 1994).
Thus, MI provides a means for both direct and indirect approaches to
providing feedback in order to assist with focusing the supervision session
(Madson etal., 2008). The motivational style of feedback delivery is consis-
tent with the spirit of MI and maintains supervisee engagement during the
process of focusing.
The MI counselor’s goal during the evoking process “… is having the person
voice the arguments for change” (Miller & Rollnick, 2013, p. 28). Evoking is
a multifaceted method in which the counselor attends to and aids the client
in elaborating on change talk. There are several types of client statements
which constitute change talk. Expressing a desire to change, perceiving the
ability to change, providing reasons for change, and describing a need to
change are possible forms of change talk (Miller, 1999; Venner, Feldstein, &
Tafoya, 2006). Each type of change talk is relevant to the context of supervi-
sion. The following statements illustrate different types of change talk that
could transpire in a supervision session:
• “I definitely want to feel more comfortable working with older adult cli-
ents.” (desire);
• “I used to feel uncertain about using an empty chair technique with clients,
but now that I have been taking some positive risks in my sessions, I feel
more confident that I can do it.” (ability);
252 P. B. Clarke and A. L. Giordano
• “I am not being helpful to my client if I continue to dominate the direction
of my sessions with her. I am just replaying negative experiences she has
outside of counseling.” (reasons)
• “I need to take supervision more seriously and must come prepared to
discuss cases. It’s important for me to pass practicum.” (need for change)
MI supervisors must be prepared to recognize and respond to change
talk at any point in the supervision process (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). As
supervisors hear supervisees engage in change talk, it should be reflected,
reiterated, and explored to elicit further motivation to change. In the
event that supervisee change talk is not forthcoming, statements support-
ing change also can be evoked by developing discrepancy, a notion based
on cognitive dissonance (Miller & Rollnick, 2002, 2013). In the clinical
setting, developing discrepancy entails fostering client reflection regard-
ing how their actions are incongruent with their goals and values. A
useful way to set the stage for developing discrepancy in the supervision
setting is to establish clear, co-constructed supervision goals at the onset
of the supervision experience. This allows supervisees to more easily
identify incongruence between their behaviors and previously established
Another means to assess ambivalence and evoke change talk is by
using the importance ruler, an informal measure of the client’s perceived
importance of change behaviors (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). With regard to
the supervisory experience, the MI supervisor can ask supervisees to rate
on a scale from 0 to 10 how important it is for her or him to change a
target behavior. Follow-up questions such as “Why are you at a five and
not a three?” or “What would it take for you to shift from a five to a six?”
elicit change talk from the supervisee (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). The con-
fidence ruler mirrors the importance rule by assessing for perceived con-
fidence in making a change. Supervisees of all developmental levels expe-
rience uncertainty, yet self-doubt is particularly present with beginning
and intermediate counselors ( Jordan & Kelly, 2011; Ronnestad & Skovholt,
1993). Statements reflecting perceived belief in one’s ability to make a
change are referred to as confidence talk (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). In
addition to the confidence ruler, supervisors can elicit confidence talk
from supervisees by reviewing past successes in order to identify strengths
and skills. For example, a supervisor may comment, “If it’s okay with you,
let’s talk about what you recently learned about yourself when you over-
came your anxiety about working with suicidal clients, and how that might
apply to this situation.”
MI supervisors also should attend to any supervisee sustain talk, or
statements supporting no change, with intentional strategies to cultivate the
return to change talk (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). Approaches such as straight
reflections can be used to decrease supervisee defensiveness by validating
The Motivational Supervisor 253
their experience. Double-sided reflections are useful in that they first acknowl-
edge the supervisee’s sustain talk and then link it to relevant change talk
articulated by the supervisee earlier in supervision (e.g., “You’re frustrated
that you have to be evaluated regularly on your counseling skills and you
also desire to improve your intervention and conceptualization abilities”).
Another response to sustain talk is coming alongside, which occurs when
the supervisor speaks from the sustain talk side of ambivalence to elicit
change talk from the supervisee. An example of this particular skill is pro-
vided in the case vignette later in this article.
In the final MI process, planning, change talk shifts from language about
the importance of change, to statements specifying change plans and incli-
nations to change including commitment, activation, and taking steps (CAT)
(Miller & Rollnick, 2013). Commitment language entails the client’s verbal
pledge to change. Activation talk occurs when the client is nearing a com-
mitment to change, but has not yet made a distinct vow to do so. Miller and
Rollnick (2013) reported clients may make statements such as, “’I’m willing
to …” or “I am ready to …” (p. 162). When clients express taking steps
toward change, they describe specific aspects of their change plan.
When MI supervisors begin to hear this type of change talk, it signals
readiness to begin constructing a change plan (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). OARS
should be used to reflect and summarize CAT statements in order to solidify
motivation toward accomplishing supervision goals. For example, upon
hearing her supervisee commenting, “I have promised myself that I will use
more reflections during my sessions” the supervisor replies, “You sound
committed to improving your active listening skills. Let’s talk about some
specific actions steps that will help you attain this goal.”Change plans in
supervision may entail the submission of additional tapes for review, utilizing
live supervision, developing a target number of demonstrated behaviors in
the next counseling session, or role-playing particular skills in supervision. In
accordance with the MI spirit, change plans are co-constructed by both the
supervisor and supervisee in an environment of acceptance and compassion.
The following case example depicts the use of MI as a supervisory
approach. Although the transcript is fictional, it was constructed based on
the work of the second author. In this example, the supervisee, Jessica, is
in her second semester of internship at a general counseling practice serv-
ing adult clients. One of Jessica’s goals for the semester is to be more
authentic with her clients by relying on her in-session reactions and feel-
ings to inform her work. The example is based on a supervision session
254 P. B. Clarke and A. L. Giordano
following the submission of a tape in which Jessica is working with an
adult male, Josh, who presents with a history of impulsivity, poor decision
making, and emotional instability. Jessica has seen this client for several
weeks and is frustrated with her work, stating that she feels lost and pow-
erless in their sessions.
Sup: You sound weary when you talk about
this particular client.
(Engaging; reflection)
Jessica: I am. I feel like he comes in, takes
over, and I am just along for the ride. I am
not sure what he needs and I get lost in his
stories. But I don’t think there is anything I
can do. He is so resistant.
Sup: I am sure it is difficult to feel powerless
in your counseling sessions. What is it like to
get lost in his stories?
(Engaging; accurate
empathy; open question)
Jessica: Well, I try to follow them … but
sometimes they just don’t add up, you know?
It is like he is exaggerating parts of them or
maybe just making them up as he goes
along … either way, I end up wondering
whether or not they actually happened.
Sup: You are doubting the truthfulness of
what he is saying, yet you are unsure what
to do about those doubts.
(Engaging; focusing;
double-sided reflection)
Jessica: Exactly. I don’t want to be mean, but
I just don’t believe him a lot of the time … but
I don’t know what to do, so I just go along
with him, feeling frustrated the whole ses-
sion. I wish he would just be honest!
(Focusing; developing a
clear topic of the supervi-
sion session)
Sup: A part of you is afraid of offending the
client, so you continue tracking his stories,
and yet another part feels inauthentic as you
appear to believe something you don’t.
(Evoking; double-sided
re flection capturing both
sides of ambivalence)
Jessica: Yeah, I guess inauthentic is the right
word. I hadn’t really thought of it like
that … but he makes me feel that way. I am
doing what I need to do … and if he is dis-
honest there is no changing that.
(Sustain talk)
Sup: So it may be that your client is respon-
sible for making you disingenuous … and
even now you are powerless to do anything
about it.
(Evoking; coming along-
side and speaking from
the sustain talk perspec-
tive to elicit change talk.)
Jessica: Well, I don’t know if I am powerless.
It probably isn’t completely his fault. I guess
there might be something I could be doing
differently … .
(Beginning of change talk)
The Motivational Supervisor 255
Sup: I hear you acknowledging that your
role in this relationship is also important and
your contribution does impact what hap-
pens in session … that sounds empowering.
[Jessica nods in agreement.] You know, as
you talk about this client, I can’t help but
think of your supervision goals, particularly
the one around relying on your in-session
(Evoking; reflection;
developing discrepancy
between present behavior
and goals)
Jessica: [sigh] I wasn’t even thinking about
that goal, but now that you bring this up I
guess it really does apply. I have a lot of in-
session reactions with this client … I don’t
even know what to do with them, but I’d
like to do something to be more authentic.
(Change talk [desire])
Sup: So you have been aware of your feel-
ings and reactions in session, yet you are
unsure how to utilize them in a therapeutic
way … and you would like that to be
(Evoking; reflecting
change talk to encourage
Jessica: Right. As of now, I just sit there and
stew … and the session goes nowhere … . I
don’t want to keep doing that.
(Change talk [desire])
Sup: Let me ask you Jessica, on a scale from
0 to 10, with 10 being extremely high, how
important is it for you to use your in-session
reactions to inform your work and be more
authentic with your client?
(Evoking; importance
Jessica: Well, I guess like an 8 or 9. I don’t
want to continue to leave each session frus-
trated, and I honestly don’t think I am help-
ing him very much by pretending I believe
his stories.
(Change talk [desire and
reasons for change])
Sup: So it is very important for you to make
a change. I wonder, how confident do you
feel that you could make this change in your
clinical work? Let’s use the same scale, from
0 to 10.
(Evoking; confidence
Jessica: I don’t know … like a 3 or something.
Sup: Okay, so it is important to you, but you
really aren’t sure you would be able to do
things differently even if you tried. I wonder,
why is this rating a 3 and not a 1?
(Evoking; follow-up
questions to elicit change
Jessica: Well, I guess I don’t feel completely
incapable. I mean, I’ve learned new things
before … .
(Confidence talk)
Sup: What is coming to mind? (Evoking; open question)
256 P. B. Clarke and A. L. Giordano
Jessica: Last semester I didn’t think I could
reflect meaning … but after we worked on it
for a while I was actually able to start doing
it in session.
(Confidence talk; review-
ing past success)
Sup: So you identified an area for growth,
practiced it in supervision, and felt confident
to try it out in session. What else?
(Evoking; reflection;
open-ended question)
Jessica: Well … I guess I also learned how to
do a suicide assessment. I used to be terri-
fied of a client having suicidal ideations, but
now I think I can do an okay job responding
to that … .
(Supervisee responds with
additional confidence talk)
As the session continues, the supervisor and Jessica discuss how she was
able to implement changes in her clinical work in the past and, through this
dialogue, increase her confidence level with regard to the present area of
change. Next, they begin the planning process by constructing a menu of
options as to how Jessica might proceed with her client. Jessica chooses among
the options and decides to stop the client when she begins to doubt his truth-
fulness and gently share her reaction using the statement, “Let me pause you
for a moment because I am feeling a bit confused …” and identify the discrep-
ancy in the story. Thus by utilizing MI, the supervisor is able to facilitate the
resolution of Jessica’s ambivalence by eliciting her own motivations for change.
MI supervision is a pragmatic approach for guiding the structure and pro-
cesses of effective supervision. The MI spirit creates an accepting, collabora-
tive, and compassionate atmosphere for supervisees to uncover their own
reasons for change. The MI processes provide a framework for supervision
with corresponding interventions that emphasize key components of super-
vision. MI supervision is versatile in that the approach can be integrated with
role-based supervision models such as the discrimination model (similar to
Madson and colleagues [2008]) or with other theory-based supervision such
as solution-focused supervision (Pearson, 2006). Moreover, the case example
demonstrates how MI supervision can invoke techniques to be implemented
in specific supervisory situations. An added benefit of MI supervision is the
modeling of humanistic principles and MI interventions by the supervisor
that counselors can then utilize with their own clients. Research is needed to
determine whether MI supervision yields improved outcomes regarding skill
development, anxiety and resistance, and satisfaction with supervision with
supervisees at various stages of clinical development. A limitation of MI
supervision is the absence of a framework for matching interventions to
supervisee developmental level. To address this, researchers might consider
The Motivational Supervisor 257
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The Clinical Supervisor, 32:56–69, 2013
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0732-5223 print/1545-231X online
DOI: 10.1080/07325223.2013.778727
Address correspondence to Christopher Bedford, University of St. Thomas, Graduate
School of Professional Psychology-Opus Hall 217, 1000 LaSalle Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
55403, USA. E-mail:
Situational Supervision: Applying Situational
Leadership to Clinical Supervision
University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
This article examines Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson’s (2001)
model of Situational Leadership and adapts and applies it to clini-
cal supervision. The authors propose a model that centers around
four primary supervision styles which are aligned with four pri-
mary readiness levels of supervisees. The article describes the four
supervision styles, contrasts the approach to developmental stage
models, provides advice on assessing trainee readiness, and con-
siders the implications of adopting the wrong supervision approach
or misjudging the readiness level of supervisees. The authors close
with a discussion of shortcomings of the approach and recommen-
dations for future research of the model.
KEYWORDS clinical supervision, situational leadership, student
supervision, supervisor roles
Supervision is a critical component of the professional preparation of coun-
selors and psychotherapists, and plays an essential role in fostering super-
visee skill development and ensuring a standard of client care (Bernard &
Goodyear, 2004; Neufeldt, 2007). Chagnon and Russell (1995) lay out two
basic assumptions about counselor development: first, as competence
increases supervisees pass through different developmental stages, and
second, each of those stages necessitates a different supervisory approach. It
is widely agreed that supervisors must adopt different roles during the course
of supervision (Bernard, 1979; Carroll, 1996; Holloway, 1995; Williams, 1995).
Situational Supervision 57
There is even considerable agreement about what those different roles are.
Although they may go by different names, the roles tend to fall into the
domains of teacher, consultant, counselor, and evaluator (Bernard &
Goodyear, 2004). What seems to be missing is any kind of diagnostic device
or framework that helps supervisors select the appropriate supervisory role
to assist their supervisees. Applying the concepts of Situational Leadership
(Hersey, Blanchard, & Johnson, 2001) to clinical supervision creates a diag-
nostic tool to help supervisors select appropriate interventions and supervise
more effectively.
Hersey and Blanchard developed Situational Leadership in the late 1960s,
and since then it has grown to be one of the most widely taught and used
leadership frameworks in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors
(Northouse, 2004; Papworth, Milne, & Boak, 2009; Yukl, 2006). The model is
based on three factors: the amount of direction (task behavior) that is pro-
vided by the leader, the amount of support (relationship behavior) that is
provided by the leader, and the confidence and competence (readiness
level) that is present in the follower (Hersey etal., 2001).
Task behavior is defined as the “extent to which the leader engages in
spelling out the duties and responsibilities of an individual or a group. The
behaviors include telling people what to do, how to do it, when to do it,
where to do it, and who is to do it” (Hersey etal., 2001, p. 173). Relationship
behavior, on the other hand, is the degree to which “the leader engages in
two-way or multiway communication. The behaviors include listening, facili-
tating, and supportive behaviors” (Hersey etal., 2001, p. 173).
Task behavior and relationship behavior together form two axes on a
2 × 2 grid. The horizontal axis depicts task behavior (the amount of directive-
ness) from low to high, and the vertical axis plots the relationship behavior
(the amount of supportiveness or engagement required) from low to high.
The resulting 2 × 2 grid represents 4 distinct leadership styles. See Table 1.
Readiness is defined as the extent to which “a follower demonstrates
the ability and willingness to accomplish a specific task” (Hersey etal., 2001,
p. 175). It is important to note that readiness is task or situation specific. A
TABLE 1 Leadership Styles
Style Task behavior Relationship behavior
Style 1 (S1) Above Average Below Average
Style 2 (S2) Above Average Above Average
Style 3 (S3) Below Average Above Average
Style 4 (S4) Below Average Below Average
58 C. Bedford and K. M. Gehlert
person may be at a high level of readiness for some tasks and a low level of
readiness for others. As the definition indicates, there are two aspects to
readiness: ability and willingness. Ability has to do with competence: does
the follower have the knowledge and skills to complete a given task?
Willingness has to do with confidence: does the follower have sufficient
motivation, commitment, and confidence to complete the task (Hersey etal.,
2001)? See Table 2.
The key to Situational Leadership is learning to accurately determine
readiness and then matching the follower’s readiness level with the appropri-
ate leadership style. When a follower is at readiness level 1, the leader should
use style 1. Likewise, when the follower is at readiness level 3, the leader
should employ leadership style 3. A discussion about how to assess readi-
ness levels in a clinical supervision session follows.
Hersey and colleagues (2001) named the four leadership styles based
on the types of behaviors they require. When followers do not have the skills
and ability to complete a task and also lack the willingness to engage in the
task (i.e., low competence and low confidence), leaders need to engage in
telling. They need to give explicit directions to followers, guide their behav-
iors, and take a very hands-on approach to managing the task in question.
At this stage the focus is on providing instruction, not overwhelming the fol-
lower, and reducing anxiety about making mistakes (Hersey etal., 2001).
When followers are willing to engage in a behavior but lack the skills to
complete it successfully (i.e., low competency and high confidence), the leader
needs to sell to the follower. Because the follower is trying, leaders need to
sustain the follower’s motivation while also remaining directive enough to
ensure that tasks are completed successfully. This requires more engagement
and two-way conversation between the leader and follower. At this stage lead-
ers need to gauge the follower’s understanding of tasks, field questions from
the follower, clarify misconceptions, and provide deeper explanations and the
rationale for why things are done a certain way (Hersey etal., 2001).
Behaviors executed in these first two quadrants tend to be more leader
driven. That is, the leader is providing the bulk of the direction and setting
the course for how tasks are approached and completed. The next two lead-
ership styles require the leader to step back and allow the follower to chart
the course and set the direction.
TABLE 2 Readiness Level
Style Ability/competence Willingness/confidence
Readiness 1 (R1) Unable Insecure
Readiness 2 (R2) Unable Confident
Readiness 3 (R3) Able Insecure
Readiness 4 (R4) Able Confident
Situational Supervision 59
When followers are able to complete a task but lack confidence or will-
ingness, the leader needs to adopt a participating style. This requires the
leader to encourage and support the follower while limiting the amount of
direction given, because the follower has already demonstrated the ability to
perform the task; more instruction is not necessary. At this stage decision-
making responsibility is typically shared between the two parties (Hersey
etal., 2001).
Finally, when followers have both the confidence and the competence
to complete a task, the leader should take a delegating approach. The leader
should focus on observing and monitoring the follower. Hersey and col-
leagues (2001) suggest leaders at this stage listen more (e.g., engage in less
two-way communication), “provide support and resources … and encourage
autonomy” (p. 187).
With a few adjustments, the Situational Leadership model becomes an excel-
lent framework for clinical supervisors of counselors-in-training. The model
remains the same, but the names of the quadrants are changed to reflect
generally accepted and familiar roles that supervisors play: teacher, consul-
tant, counselor, and evaluator (Bernard & Goodyear, 2004). Moreover, adapt-
ing Situational Leadership to clinical supervision avoids some of the short-
comings of developmental stage models and extends the social role models
in an important way. Namely, the Situational Supervision model provides
guidance about when to adjust roles and which roles to adopt based on
supervisee needs.
While developmental stage models (e.g., Loganbill, Hardy, & Delworth,
1982; Rønnestad & Skovholt, 2003) provide good general guidelines about
counselor development and inform broad supervisory approaches, they do
not account for the variability of task-based developmental advances. In
other words, they do not take into consideration that specific clinical experi-
ences have an impact upon supervisee development. For example, a coun-
selor-in-training could develop great general counseling skills in practicum
but never have the need to hospitalize a client, so when she or he is eventu-
ally faced with that responsibility, she or he may not be prepared to respond
in the way a supervisor might expect someone at the supervisee’s level of
development to respond. Furthermore, developmental stage models typi-
cally do not take into account counselor regression. That is to say, stage
models do not necessarily recognize that trainees sometimes lose confidence
in their abilities, perhaps following an unsuccessful intervention or an epi-
sode of client self-harm. Due to its task-based orientation, Situational
Supervision allows for supervisors to meet supervisees where they are and
60 C. Bedford and K. M. Gehlert
respond to them effectively and helpfully regardless of their level of experi-
ence or developmental progress.
The Situational Supervision model is ultimately a social role model.
Other social role models (e.g., Bernard, 1979) encourage supervisors to
adopt different roles depending on the needs of the supervisee. Bernard’s
(1979) Discrimination Model is a well-known supervision model, which
requires the supervisor to adopt one of three roles (teacher, counselor, or
consultant) to attend to one of three primary aspects of supervision (inter-
vention, conceptualization, and personalization). The model is situation spe-
cific and Bernard is clear that the “supervisors’ roles and foci should change
not only across sessions, but also within session” (Bernard & Goodyear,
2004, p. 97). However, there is little guidance about when to adopt each role
or when to shift foci.
Stoltenberg, McNeill, and Delworth’s (1998) Integrated Developmental
Model (IDM) for clinical supervision is well researched and supported. The
approach requires supervisors to assess and intervene in different ways
depending on the supervisee’s development across eight domains of profes-
sional competencies. The model suggests that development is linear; trainees
begin at level 1 and progress to level 3 (Stoltenberg, 2008). The model rec-
ognizes that trainees can operate at different levels across domains, but the
model does not appear to address supervisees who have differential abilities
within domains. For example, one of the domains is “assessment techniques.”
IDM does not provide much guidance to a supervisor with a trainee who has
level 3 abilities to administer and interpret a Wechsler intelligence test but
level 1 skills to administer a Rorschach. Our Situational Supervision model
provides a framework for selecting the appropriate supervisory style to meet
the present need of a supervisee.
When both confidence and competence are low, supervisors need to
play the role of teacher. This is a common role early in the supervision of
first practicum counselors. These individuals have typically not worked with
clients one-on-one, and they often have only their coursework and a basic
counseling skills class to inform their work. This is their first time providing
therapy, and naturally much of their experience is colored by uncertainty
about what to do and anxiety about a multitude of issues.
When supervisee skills and ability are low, but confidence or willing-
ness to perform are high, the supervisor is advised to take more of a consul-
tant role. These trainees typically do not need encouragement to bolster their
confidence or help to reduce undue levels of anxiety. These individuals need
a supervisor to help them understand not just how to do the work (which
they are taught when readiness is at level 1) but the deeper rationale behind
the work—the why of the task. Often supervisees at this level have a false
sense of ability; they often misunderstand things that occur in therapy (e.g.,
they underestimate the client’s level of engagement in or commitment to
therapy, or they overestimate the need for directiveness). In the consultant
Situational Supervision 61
role, the supervisor corrects these misunderstandings without putting a
damper on the trainee’s enthusiasm or confidence.
Sometimes supervisees have the ability to complete a task or demon-
strate a behavior but lack either the confidence or the willingness to per-
form. Sometimes this lack of confidence or unwillingness is because the
trainee has experienced a setback with a client and is feeling discouraged,
causing her or him to question her or his ability to perform tasks that the
supervisor knows have been performed before. In other instances, trainees
lack willingness to perform tasks because they are repetitive, boring, or
tedious. When a supervisee is high in ability and low in confidence or will-
ingness, the supervisor should take on the role of counselor. This is an
opportunity for the supervisor to help trainees explore feelings of discour-
agement, ambivalence, or boredom and to recapture the level of commit-
ment demonstrated as they were building competence.
When trainees are both confident and competent to perform a particu-
lar task, the supervisor can take on an evaluative role. Much of post-degree
supervision likely happens in this quadrant of the model. Supervisees at
readiness level 4 generally exhibit a high level of skill and comfort in their
role as therapists. They often rely on supervisors for feedback on perfor-
mance and alternative perspectives or conceptualizations of client issues. An
important aspect of this supervisory approach is fostering the supervisee’s
sense of autonomy and mastery.
With the four supervisory styles in mind, it is very important to remem-
ber that the supervisory styles are task based, and hence require the ability
to fluidly adjust supervision styles as different tasks emerge in the course of
a given supervision session. Supervisors need to be vigilant about assessing
their supervisee’s readiness for each task they need to undertake and not fall
back on global evaluations of their supervisee’s overall readiness level. When
supervisors depend on a global assessment of their trainee’s needs and abili-
ties, they are more likely to use only one supervisory style and risk damage
to the relationship and potentially jeopardize client welfare. See Figure 1 for
information on readiness levels.
The following illustrations are examples of assessing and matching the
supervisory style with the trainee’s readiness level when working with novice
counselors who may be seeing clients for the first time.
If a new practicum counselor encounters a client in crisis and faces the need
to hospitalize the person, the anxiety level for the counselor is high and
62 C. Bedford and K. M. Gehlert
confidence to effectively manage the situation is low. Given the level of fear
and hesitation, the supervisee needs direct instruction from the supervisor.
The supervisor should adopt a teaching style. The supervisor takes an active,
directive role with an emphasis on teaching the trainee about the steps nec-
essary to assist the client. The supervisor may even become directly involved
in facilitating the hospitalization given the supervisee’s lack of experience in
this potentially dangerous situation. The supervisor meets the trainee’s needs
by teaching and telling the supervisee how to proceed. Given the urgency of
the situation, little attention is given to the relational aspect (i.e., low sup-
portive behavior) of the supervisory working alliance.
In this situation, the potential hazard lies in the supervisor under-
responding to the trainee’s need and not providing enough direction. If the
supervisor assumes a more laissez-faire stance, the trainee risks losing
FIGURE 1 Situational Supervision model depicting supervisor styles based on level of rela-
tionship and task behavior as determined by the corresponding supervisee readiness levels.
Adapted from Hersey etal. (2001).
Situational Supervision 63
confidence in herself or himself as well as creating a potential rupture in the
supervisory alliance and possibly a negative impact on client welfare. The
supervisee may conclude that the supervisor will not be available when
needed in the future. Moreover, the trainee may be left feeling abandoned or
devalued by the supervisor. Unnecessary anxiety is created in the moment
and later frustration results from the lack of direction offered when needed.
A consulting approach to supervision is required when the supervisee has
low ability to demonstrate a given competency while expressing a high
degree of willingness or confidence in doing so. For example, the first-time
practicum counselor may feel good about her or his ability to develop a
strong working alliance with clients and likely feels confident connecting
with clients and putting them at ease in sessions. The counselor-in-training
may even feel that she or he is doing everything the client needs in order to
improve. In these instances the supervisor may want or need to challenge
the trainee to deepen the counseling relationship to promote therapeutic
change, employ an intervention that the trainee may not have completely
mastered or fully understands despite great willingness and/or confidence to
perform the intervention, or entertain alternative conceptualizations of client
problems and methods of encouraging change. Much of the work that hap-
pens in the consulting style revolves around addressing the trainee’s blind
spots and her or his misconceptions about counseling and therapeutic
change. When facing these types of issues with the counselor-in-training, the
supervisor must be careful to validate the good work that the trainee is doing
with her or his clients while also inviting different ways of conceptualizing
the counseling process. Careful attention is paid to avoid undermining the
counselor’s confidence and enthusiasm while encouraging her or him to
develop new ways of engaging with clients. The supervisor illuminates blind
spots and helps the trainee develop a more complex understanding of the
counseling process by using supportive, high relationship behaviors to gently
move the counselor out of her or his zone of comfort.
Given the need to support the trainee’s confidence while also inviting
new ways of being with the client, a few pitfalls may emerge if the supervi-
sor misjudges the trainee’s level of confidence and ability. Specifically, the
supervisor risks creating anxiety if the trainee perceives that her or his foun-
dational skills are being called into question by the supervisor. If not com-
municated with sufficient trust in the supervisee’s abilities and potential (i.e.,
high relationship behavior), the trainee may experience a decrease in self-
confidence. Conversely, if the trainee is beginning to experience concern
about how to maximize the therapeutic work once a strong working alliance
is in place with the client and the supervisor under-functions in response,
trainee frustration is likely. If the supervisor underestimates the need for
64 C. Bedford and K. M. Gehlert
challenging the supervisee to deepen the relationship, employ new interven-
tions, or think differently about clients, the supervisee may feel stuck in her
or his growth and frustrated by the supervisor’s inability to assist in the
development of skills necessary to assist both the trainee and the client.
The counseling stance is utilized by the supervisor in situations in which the
supervisee demonstrates high ability and low willingness or motivation. A
number of factors can push a trainee into the counseling quadrant, including
but not limited to anxiety levels, poor time management skills, perceived
institutional barriers, and issues with profession identity. For example, when
the trainee is having difficulty managing the demands of paperwork and
agency procedures, a supervisory response that is high on relationship and
low on task focus is appropriate. If the trainee experiences a high degree of
stress regarding paperwork requirements, it may inhibit her or his overall
training experience. The resulting stress impedes the trainee’s ability to accu-
rately assess what is needed to complete the documentation requirements.
The supervisor’s task is to help the supervisee identify ways to manage the
stress and demands of the paperwork without diminishing the training expe-
rience. Rather than being overly directive, the supervisor assists the trainee in
identifying subjective blocks to getting paperwork completed. The supervisor
utilizes the trust in the supervisory relationship to facilitate the trainee in
developing new or improved ways of managing the paperwork struggles.
The supervisory relationship risks rupture in this situation if the super-
visor is overly directive in offering assistance. If the supervisor over-functions
or takes an overly authoritarian approach, the supervisee may be left feeling
disempowered and shamed. This adds an unnecessary element of anxiety to
the novice counselor’s experience. Too much direction from the supervisor
undermines the trainee’s sense of agency in working through her or his
blocks to completing paperwork. When supervisors under-function in this
stance, trainees may feel that their supervisors are not attuned to their stress
level, paying attention to all aspects of their work. Moreover, under-function-
ing supervisors may send the tacit message that staying current with case
notes and other paperwork is not a valued or important part of counseling.
For tasks in which the supervisee demonstrates a high degree of both confi-
dence and ability, the supervisor assumes the evaluating stance. For exam-
ple, if the practicum counselor reports a high degree of confidence and
ability in enacting basic counseling skills with the client, including express-
ing support for and understanding of the client, a minimal amount of inter-
vention is required by the supervisor. The trainee may be confident in her or
Situational Supervision 65
his ability to empathize and express care to the client. The supervisor offers
encouragement and positive reinforcement of the trainee’s success. Minimal
task behavior is needed from the supervisor as the trainee demonstrates
proficiency with basic counseling skills. Similarly, the supervisor does not
need to rely heavily upon the relationship component of the supervisory
working alliance. If the supervisee is able to utilize basic counseling skills
with the client, there is little need to invite an exploration of potential blocks
to doing so.
If the supervisor over-functions in this scenario, there is a risk that the
counselor-in-training will be left feeling less confident in her or his abilities.
The supervisor risks disempowering the supervisee if overly directive or
questioning of her or his skills. The trainee may end up feeling frustrated if
too much attention is given to any aspect of her or his work in which confi-
dence is presumed.
Risks of Misjudging Readiness
As suggested in the preceding scenarios, problems are likely to occur when
supervisors misdiagnose the readiness level of their supervisees. When the
supervision style misses by one degree (e.g., the supervisor uses style 2
when the trainee requires style 3), anxiety is created. Trainees tend to become
frustrated when the supervision style misses their needs by two degrees, and
they become angry when the supervisor’s approach is at the opposite end of
the spectrum (i.e., the supervisor is using style 4 when the supervisee needs
style 1) (R. Barnett, personal communication, September 2010). See Table 3
for information on misdiagnosing readiness levels.
Imagine supervising the first practicum of a counselor-in-training. The
trainee needs to start meeting with clients for the first time but, like many new
therapists, does not feel fully confident or competent to work with clients.
The supervisee must perform her or his first intake with a client and is clearly
positioned at readiness level 1. Using the principles of Situational Leadership,
the supervisor should adopt a teaching approach to help the novice coun-
selor feel at ease and foster a sense of competence and confidence.
If the supervisor took a consulting approach and assumed the trainee
had the willingness or confidence to do the intake but lacked the skill, the
trainee may become anxious and perhaps feel misunderstood by the
TABLE 3 Implications of Misdiagnosing
Readiness level Style 1 Style 2 Style 3 Style 4
Readiness 4 Anger Frustration Anxiety Match
Readiness 3 Frustration Anxiety Match Anxiety
Readiness 2 Anxiety Match Anxiety Frustration
Readiness 1 Match Anxiety Frustration Anger
66 C. Bedford and K. M. Gehlert
supervisor. Likewise, if the supervisor took a counseling approach, which
assumes the supervisee has the skills but lacks the motivation or willingness
to do the intake session, the trainee could become frustrated. The trainee
may feel that the supervisor has overestimated her or his ability or does not
understand where she or he is developmentally. Finally, if the supervisor
takes an evaluative stance with the supervisee, assuming that both the skill
and the commitment to perform the intake are present, the supervisee is
liable to feel angry. She or he is likely to feel that the supervisor is not willing
to guide her or his development, that the supervisor is not cognizant of the
trainee’s skills and abilities or anxiety level. In this instance some trainees
may even question their supervisor’s commitment to client welfare as well as
their competence as a practitioner and supervisor.
For supervisors who apply Bordin’s (1983) goal-task-bond working alli-
ance model to supervision, the value of matching the trainee’s readiness
level is clear: the bond between supervisor and supervisee is strengthened
when the supervisor’s approach matches the trainee’s readiness level and
weakened when the two factors are misaligned. Moreover, that misalignment
may cause trainees to disclose less to their supervisors (Ladany, Hill, Corbett,
& Nutt, 1996; Webb & Wheeler, 1998), which in turn makes it more difficult
for supervisors to properly diagnose readiness levels in the future.
While we suggest that it is important to match the readiness level of the
supervisee, some may argue that a certain level of anxiety or arousal may
enhance supervisee performance and motivation (Bernard & Goodyear,
2004). We believe that a sufficient level of anxiety to promote conscientious
performance of counselors-in-training can be achieved within the supervi-
sory style that matches the readiness of the trainee, making it unnecessary to
introduce artificial anxiety to motivate counselors-in-training.
Shortcomings of the Model
While Hersey and colleagues’ (2001) model is a well-established framework
for leading others and making optimal selections for how to lead others, it is
not without weaknesses. Perhaps the biggest weakness when adapting
Situational Leadership to clinical supervision is that the model is likely to fail
to work if the supervisee engages in impression management. In other
words, supervisors cannot reliably assess supervisee readiness if the super-
visee is not comfortable in honestly expressing herself or himself within
supervision. In fact, if a supervisee successfully convinces a supervisor that
she or he is skilled and confident performing a task she or he is not capable
of or comfortable performing, the supervisor’s response will likely result in
supervisee anxiety, frustration, and perhaps anger as indicated in the previ-
ous section about misjudging readiness. The model cannot supplant the
importance of establishing a strong working alliance that allows the super-
visee to be comfortable being transparent during supervision.
Situational Supervision 67
The model may also have limited application in group supervision set-
tings. Attempting to use Situational Supervision in a group setting may dis-
rupt the group process. For example, in an effort to meet one supervisee
where she or he is, the supervisor may adopt a style that fuels anxiety or
frustration, or anger for another supervisee, or worse, causes other members
of the group to disengage entirely. The model may actually be too situational
for group supervision, and attempting to employ it in a group setting may
distract supervisees from the universality of the experience of being a trainee.
Other models may be more appropriate for group supervision.
In an effort to address these and other unforeseen weaknesses and
challenges, we recommend a rigorous scientific examination of the model.
We suggest that research should examine both process and outcome dimen-
sions. In terms of examining process outcomes, a qualitative study that
examines the experience of the supervisee within the model would be war-
ranted. Of particular interest is the supervisee’s perception of the readiness
matching process and whether accurate matches result in appropriate super-
visory interventions. In addition, a study that examines the supervisor’s
experience in assessing readiness could lend more insight into the potential
benefits and drawbacks of matching supervisee readiness. It may also pro-
vide greater insight and refinement to the four supervisory roles.
Outcome research would also provide helpful information about the
value and utility of the model. Research comparing the outcome of Situational
Supervision to other models, namely developmental stage models, would be
quite valuable. In particular, it would be useful to evaluate differences in
self-efficacy/confidence and agency of trainees based on different supervi-
sory models.
We believe that Hersey and colleagues’ (2001) model of Situational Leadership
provides an excellent means of understanding clinical supervision and pro-
viding guidance for the different roles that supervisors need to play when
working with trainees. The model is straightforward, has proven itself useful
in other venues, and perhaps most importantly is transtheoretical in that it
can be applied to clinical supervision regardless of the supervisor’s theoreti-
cal orientation. The importance of focusing on trainee behaviors and assess-
ing readiness cannot be stressed enough. The model is not linear or devel-
opmental. Supervisees do not start at readiness level 1 and progress over the
course of time to readiness level 4. It is possible for supervisees to move
back and forth between readiness levels in the model. For example, super-
visees may experience setbacks that cause them to lose confidence in their
ability to do something they have previously done successfully (e.g., they
move from readiness level 4 to readiness level 3). For the model to be
68 C. Bedford and K. M. Gehlert
employed successfully supervisors need to be diligent about continually
evaluating supervisee readiness. Moreover, supervisors also need to be com-
fortable using all four styles, and capable of fluidly shifting styles as often as
necessary to meet the needs of trainees.
Furthermore, we like that the model is focused on task-specific behav-
iors, rather than a global evaluation of trainee development. We know from
our own experiences that a counselor will develop different skills at different
paces, and an overall evaluation of competence and confidence is often
unable to produce an adequate assessment of acquired skills and abilities. In
this way, the model is fundamentally related to the concept of self-efficacy.
The intervention—matching of supervision styles to readiness levels—acts to
foster the growth of self-efficacy among trainees. We feel that this conceptual
approach melds well with the underlying values of counselor training as well
as the goals of clinical supervision. We strongly believe that Situational
Supervision is a useful model for conceptualizing clinical supervision and
welcome the comments and reactions of fellow supervisors and
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