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Section 9
Solution-focused Strategies for Clinical Supervision

Question 9 | Test | Table of Contents

Solution-Focused Clinical Supervision
Juhnke (1996) and Thomas (1996) borrowed from the literature on solution-focused therapy and suggested that the basic assumptions of this approach would also serve a supervisor well in encouraging real growth within counselors. In particular, Thomas proposed certain ideals for a solution-focused supervision approach. First, the supervisor refrains from being didactic. Instead, he or she provides the opportunity for the supervisee to draw on inner resources to break binds in order to begin acting independently and make changes. Second, resistance is viewed as a "stuckness" that is produced by the nature of the relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee. Instead of trying to overcome the supervisee's resistance to suggestions or feedback, the supervisor promotes a collaborative atmosphere so that the supervisee is open to new options and directions. Third, focusing on the positive changes in the supervisee's behavior, rather than on their faults or problems, makes the supervisee's success more likely. Fourth, in the interest of using supervision time effectively, the supervisor takes advantage of the "snowball" or "ripple" effect, in which a small change is what makes it possible for solution-focused therapy to be brief. Change is always happening, and rapid change is not at all unusual. Fifth, instead of attempting radical and dramatic personality changes, the supervisor deals with what is possible. Supervision is not therapy and focuses on success-oriented behaviors, instead of problem-saturated talk, painful personal insights, and arduous self-discovery. Finally, because the solution-focused approach is based in a constructivist epistemology, the supervisor accepts that there is no single correct way to view a situation. Getting counselors to "see it our way" assumes that there is only one best way.

Hypothetical Examples of Solution-Focused Supervision
What follows is a brief set of examples of how the supervisor might maintain a solution-focused approach in a session with the supervisee. The quoted remarks are merely hypothetical examples of what the supervisor might say at any stage of the supervision. Because beginnings can set the tone for an entire session, the supervisor may want to begin the session by asking, "I'm wondering what about your work with your client would be most productive for us to focus on today?" Even though this way of beginning is ambiguous, the supervisees might interpret the remark as seeking to know where they have experienced problems, so the supervisor might attempt to head their session in another direction by inquiring, "What aspect of your counseling have you noticed getting better since we last met?" The simple request, "Tell me about the best thing you did with your client this week," is also an excellent way to steer toward an exploration of supervisee competencies and achievements.

Inevitably, the supervisee will focus on problems he or she is experiencing with the client. Rather than listening to the counselor's concern in detail and requesting even more problem-saturated talk, the supervisor acknowledges the problem and asks, "As you begin to get better at dealing with this situation, how will you know that you have become good enough at it so you can take it on your own?" The supervisor then encourages the supervisee to explore these solutions in greater detail and to envision them more vividly by asking, "What will you be doing differently?" or "When you get to the point at which you won't need to deal with this issue in supervision anymore, how will you know?"

If the counselor-in-training persists in framing his or her own behavior as a problem, the use of a scale can set expectations of success. The supervisor may say, "On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being that the problem is at its absolute worst, and 10 being that the problem is completely solved, where would you say you are today?" After the counselor offers an estimate, the supervisor replies, "When you are on your way to a (the next highest number to the one named), how will you know?" The supervisor may follow this invitation by explicitly asking, "What, in particular, will be different about the way you handle that situation?" or "How will you have changed as a counselor?" By answering these questions, instead of exploring more minutia and facets of the problem, the supervisee is beginning to envision more clearly the strategies that may succeed in achieving a solution.

Sometimes, the counselor-in-training will be able to imagine a change but expresses discouragement that he or she would ever be able to achieve it. The supervisor has a number of possible responses to the counselor's doubts about accomplishing such a seemingly overwhelming goal. These responses are all based on the assumption that nothing is perfect--including failures! Even experiences that seem to be complete failures have small victories that have been overlooked. Therefore, there are always exceptions to these problems, circumstances that hold promise of alleviating these problems, or times, however brief and transient, when a person has a greater sense of confidence in achieving success. For example, the supervisor might invite the supervisee to focus on one of these exceptions by requesting, "Tell me about a time when a small piece of the change was already happening." Another possibility is to suggest focusing on a particular time of greater personal confidence, "When was there a time when you felt you were going to be able to solve this problem?"

Any time during supervision that the counselor-in-training describes successes, identifies improvements in effectiveness, or discovers an exception to a problem, the supervisor leans in, looks curious, and excitedly asks the supervisee to say more. The idea of solution-focused supervision is to facilitate concrete images of success and then ask, "How did you get yourself to do that?"
- Presbury, Jack, Echterling, Lennis, & Edson McKee, Supervision for inner vision: Solution-focused strategies, Counselor Education & Supervision, Dec 1999, Vol. 39, Issue 2.

Personal Reflection Exercise #2
The preceding section contained information about solution-focused strategies in supervision. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Mitchell, S. M., Taylor, N. J., Jahn, D. R., Roush, J. F., Brown, S. L., Ries, R., & Quinnett, P. (2020). Suicide-related training, self-efficacy, and mental health care providers’ reactions toward suicidal individuals. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention. Advance online publication.

Patel, Z. S., Tarlow, N., & Tawfik, S. H. (2021). Assessment supervision during COVID-19 and beyond: Trainee perspectives on the supervision of teleassessment. Training and Education in Professional Psychology. Advance online publication.

Wilcox, M. M., Drinane, J. M., Black, S. W., Cabrera, L., DeBlaere, C., Tao, K. W., Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Watkins, C. E., & Owen, J. (2021). Layered cultural processes: The relationship between multicultural orientation and satisfaction with supervision. Training and Education in Professional Psychology. Advance online publication.

According to Presbury, how is the solution-focused approach based in a constructivist epistemology? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 10
Table of Contents