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THE SOUL OF SUPERVISION INTEGRATING PRACTICE AND THEORY
By Margaret Benefiel, Geraldine Holton
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2010 Margaret Benefiel and Geraldine Holton
All rights reserved.
Wisdom's Garden: A Metaphor for Cross-Professional Supervision Training
Beneath our educated and scholarly ways of knowing, another dynamic moves to explore the deep things of the person and to generate from hidden resources new, and sometimes powerful, insights that transform the horizons of intelligibility.
At a time when it is essential to model an approach to engagement in helping relationships which is accountable and based on firm ethical and professional foundations, the practice of regular supervision for those working in the caring professions is more important than ever. While this practice is commonplace in most clinical and counseling training contexts, no specific training program existed in Ireland to train practitioners in the skills of supervision for those working in the fields of pastoral care, adult education, spiritual direction, police force, health care professionals, chaplaincy, and organizations. Responding to the changing needs of practitioners, in 2002 I co-designed a Higher Diploma and Master's program in Supervisory Practice. These experiential and practice-based programs enable those in demanding professional helping relationships to identify and articulate a personal philosophy of supervision and to grow in their identity as cross-professional supervisors.
When designing the Supervisory Practice programs my vision was to create an environment for practitioners within an academic setting which could facilitate transformational learning and growth in wisdom. Many practitioners who train as supervisors carry with them the scars of previous negative academic experience and have developed a belief that they do not belong within this culture. My hope was to develop academic-practitioner collaboration. The journey has been a significant part of my personal and professional development over the past eight years. Holding the tension of two learning cultures, university and workplace, and meeting the demands of both has been a challenge that has been transformational.
What follows is a glimpse into that journey of transformation and the philosophy of supervisory practice that emerged from my research and practice. In this chapter I will focus on a specific application of practice and theory that I call "wisdom supervision," an approach to supervision based on wise collaborative conversation integrated with creative engagement with symbols. The following encounter illustrates the dynamic of "wisdom supervision" with a fictional supervisee named Kevin, an encounter which will be carried throughout the chapter.
Thank you for agreeing to meet with me for this supervision session, I don't really know where to start, maybe by saying that I am at a point in my practice when I feel that I want to do some further training but I am not sure what I need so I am hoping that this conversation might help me to know in what direction to go. My background is in psychotherapy and I have also been practicing as a trainer and an accredited supervisor for the past ten years. I feel I am a good supervisor and really enjoy this work but for me there is "something missing." I have taken part in many different supervisor training workshops and each time I have learned so much, but I am still searching for something. What it is I don't know. (Kevin sat silently with his unknowing before continuing.)
I picked up the brochure for the MA in Supervisory Practice and felt very drawn to it. I was not thinking of doing a Masters; I'm not an academic. I know you are Director of this program so maybe you can help. I think what caught me is the way the contemplative aspect is included. (Kevin became very uneasy, moving about in the chair.) I assume it is something to do with slowing down and reflecting. It's not that I'm a religious or spiritual person but there was something about this aspect of the program that struck me. It is something I have been thinking about for some time now. Recently, it has also come up in my client work. I don't talk about this in my practice, yet for me it is very important. I was wondering how I could begin to work with this part of myself without forcing it on the clients and supervisees I work with. It's like there is a part of me that I am not using, a part that may be helpful for clients. I am curious to hear more about this reflective aspect of the program. So could we focus on that in this session?
My professional work consists of research, training and practice in a psychotherapeutic and spiritual context, thus I use a psycho-spiritual interdisciplinary approach rooted in a contemplative, reflective, and social- constructionist philosophy.
My interest in supervision began during my training as a psychotherapist when as a supervisee I discovered that supervision is one of the main integrating processes for ongoing personal and professional development, and self-care as a helper. Thus began my passion for this area. Following the completion of an Advanced Diploma in Supervision with Michael Carroll, I based my developing model of supervision on Carroll's generic tasks. Some years later I was invited to design and deliver a Higher Diploma and Master of Arts in Supervisory Practice program at Milltown Institute and more recently at All Hallows College, Dublin. I am currently engaged in doctoral research in supervision.
Like other professions, supervision has been influenced by the changing traditions and trends in society. In the past decade there has been an increasing emphasis upon collaborative practice and continuing professional development in the helping professions. One consequence of this has been the emergence of supervision as a profession in its own right. The closing decades of the twentieth century witnessed a growing interest in cross-professional supervision, in which trained supervisors from differing professional and disciplinary backgrounds supervise practitioners. In this context, more open and flexible approaches to training and accreditation in supervision are essential.
The Challenge of Definition
The task of defining supervision is complex. The term is used broadly to describe various arrangements such as line management or consultation. Perhaps the struggle to define supervision reflects a growing recognition of how complex the supervisory process is. Supervision provides a safe environment where both the practitioner and client are held. Supervision creates a container or transitional space for the emergence of a healthy selfhood, where all aspects of the self—physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, personal, and professional—are explored, reflected upon and integrated. It is a place where a personal and professional identity is formed and transformed.
Reflecting on this holding environment in the supervisory space, the garden surfaced for me as a root metaphor. Using symbols and wise collaborative conversation in the creation of what I have named "wisdom's garden" has become the foundation of a creative approach to reflective practice in one-to-one and group supervision (see Figure 1).
Gardening, like supervision, is one of my passions and I see many connections between gardening and supervision. When I am working with the earth, tilling the soil of the supervisee, I can sense the enormous responsibility of being a co-creator. As I silently finger the soil to plant a bulb at just the right depth, in the right place at the right time, I feel the intuitive promptings of the creative spirit and I sense the need for mindful and contemplative presence. My mother was also an avid gardener, and it was while kneeling in the clay beside this intelligent, imaginative and innovative woman that many of the contemplative and evocative skills of noticing, lingering, savouring, surrendering, and waiting patiently were demonstrated for me. The contemplative aspect within supervision is the act of cultivating a watchful heart, a reflective presence, and observing without evaluation. When held in such an environment, the supervisory experience can be truly restorative for supervisees as they reconnect with the true self and grow in wisdom as they, in turn, hold the client.
Kevin is sitting in "wisdom's garden," a reflective, transformative space in which a new aspect of his identity emerges and he struggles to discover the way forward in his personal and professional journey. As Kevin honors his tacit knowledge and begins to discover the inner voice that is drawing him into the new, the seed-kernel of Kevin's wisdom awaits a wise gardener who will nurture it through wise conversation. I, as a generative listener and a good gardener, tend the new shoots that are slowly emerging, cultivating the new growth as it unfolds in a safe, holding environment. During this session and later when he participated in the Supervisory Practice training program, Kevin voices his openness to explore the newly emerging aspect of his identity and worldview.
It is important to view the self as emergent and changing as opposed to stable or fixed. Identity is formed by social processes and emerges from the dialectic between the individual and society. Supervision can engender transformative learning in the struggle to construct a self-identity and a meaningful worldview. Establishing rapport, safety, and containment are important as Kevin begins to explore aspects of his professional identity and competence which might otherwise remain hidden and unexamined. Supervision provides a safe holding environment where, through wise conversation and creative attentiveness, individuals and groups can co-create a deeper perspective and wisdom that can lead to transformation and effective practice.
So what is this new identity that is emerging for Kevin through this wise conversation? How does he understand himself at this point as he continues to develop knowledge and clinical wisdom? Kevin is at the edge of his knowledge, his sense of self, and the world as he understands it. Being at the edge is an especially generative place to engage in supervision.
As Kevin and I continue our conversation, I invite him to use the metaphor of wisdoms garden as a way of reflecting together. Wisdoms garden is a helpful way of externalizing the supervisee's perception of an encounter, an event or a theme in which he feels challenged, unclear or unfree. Participation in this process is always invitational and responds to the needs of the supervisee and context. Kevin takes the opportunity to create a garden as a creative way of representing his dilemma, as the outer world connects with the inner world. Wisdoms garden helps to integrate experiential practice and theory. It is a holding space where the supervisee is free to explore on an intrapersonal level how their personal and professional identity and practice is changing, transforming and emerging. On the left side of his garden Kevin placed a small pile of books which symbolized the knowledge and experience he felt he had developed through his reflective practice, particularly through his practice of journaling. He represented his professional practice as a jigsaw puzzle with apiece missing, the missing piece representing the meaning-making aspect, the "something more" he had identified as missing. Beside the gap for the missing piece, he placed a bowl of sand which expressed how unfulfilled he felt at this moment in his practice and his growing desire to integrate a contemplative aspect into his work life. He identified this bowl of sand as a significant aspect of his garden (see Figure 2). I invited Kevin to rest in wisdoms garden with the creative tension of his confusion and uncertainty, hoping he might catch a glimpse of his own unique wisdom.
A Holding Environment
Kevin exemplifies the challenges of living in a postmodern world of flux and increasing pace where practitioners can become disconnected from their wise and authentic voices. Often the dream that originally drew practitioners into the work can lose its lustre within an environment that rewards productivity and individualism. There is a tendency to rush through the ever-expanding lists of tasks, doing the same thing over and over, only faster and faster, as a sense of meaninglessness and fragmentation develops. The supervisory process can enable supervisees to develop their professional identity and resolve any role confusion or sense of meaninglessness. If supervisees have not attained a sense of professional identity and vision, they may easily adopt the roles of other professionals. Modeling professional identity and an ease with uncertainty is an important part of the role of the supervisor.
Throughout the process with Kevin, I, as reflective witness, said very little. My task as supervisor was to facilitate reflection, thus helping Kevin to trust his own assessment of the situation even where it might be at odds with received wisdom. The ability to contain the process in silence and the principle of delayed interpretation augment the witness aspect. In this modality the role of the supervisor is that of holder of the space—including reflective witness, facilitator of meaning-making, and knowledge construction—through a quality of mindful presence, rather than knowledge bearer, expert, and problem solver. The integration of constructivist practices within wisdom supervision involves depth rather than breadth, process rather than product, and open-ended questioning techniques that require contemplation and reflection.
Constructivist learning is a dynamic process that requires the active engagement of the learner, rooted in a holistic stance towards knowledge and learning. For the supervisor it requires a flexible, negotiated, non-hierarchical way of being. When using wisdoms garden within group supervision, the group members are a supportive and reflective presence. The supervisee may, like Kevin, choose to remain silent, communicating non-verbally and symbolically. An effective supervisor is not afraid of silence. During the session with Kevin the pace was slow with long periods of silence as he stayed in tune with his internal supervisor, a term that captures reflection in action. The supervisory process is created by and with the supervisee rather than for and to them as supervisor and supervisee learn to approach each other with curiosity, openness, and anticipation.
Through my engagement in the MA program and a critical analysis of Michael Carroll's generic tasks of supervision, I affirm the necessity for supervisors to be skilled in the essential tasks of supervision as outlined by Carroll. However, within cross-professional supervision, another task, which I have named as the wisdom task, emerges. In supervision we each bring our own philosophy, gendered experiences, cultural and mental horizons—as well as our own spirituality and psychology—to bear in our efforts to reflect meaningfully on real situations. The wisdom task incorporates the meaning-making aspect of supervision. Wisdom's garden is an invitation into this space—the inner landscape of fear, hope, and imagination—to develop a resilient sense of at-homeness in oneself and a more authentic practice. Wisdom may, at least in part, be the missing piece Kevin is looking for as he engages at the intrapersonal level.
As any good gardener knows, an important part of preparing for planting seeds is to identify the type of soil in the garden, that is, in this case, the epistemological base or meaning-making framework. Once it is agreed that the supervisory relationship represents a reflective learning alliance, a well- grounded understanding of adult learning is a necessity within supervision. Thus, a key element informing the supervisory process and the training program is the application of the Transformational Learning Theory associated with Jack Mezirow, which is based on the critical theory of Habermas. A key role of an effective supervisor is to be a facilitator of learning.
An approach to adult learning that is based on transformational theory is influenced by constructivism, which sees learning as a dynamic process and contends that learners do not passively absorb information but construct new ideas or concepts with their current or past knowledge. The key insight of transformational learning theory, an appropriate name for this approach to knowledge making, is that we are all active constructors of knowledge who can become responsible for the procedures and assumptions that shape the way we make meaning.
Transformational learning means that individuals change their frames of reference; that is, they change the complex webs of assumptions, expectations, psychological characteristics, values, and beliefs that act as filters through which they view both themselves and the world in which they live. Transformational learning involves a deep shift in vision. According to Mezirow, this process usually begins with a "disorienting dilemma," a dissonant experience that contradicts our existing meaning perspective and related habits of mind such as the change in identity that Kevin is experiencing. A new awareness, centered around his lack of freedom to express the missing piece that is a much valued aspect of his practice, has provoked a change in Kevin's frames of reference, his vision.
As Kevin reflected on his garden it became clear to him that he could not ignore this gap, this missing piece. He was shocked by his lack of freedom to voice this desire even within his peer supervision group. "How has this happened?" he asked. Moving beyond ego and the desire for control, Kevin chose to face this dilemma as he critically reflected on his assumptions and lack of freedom.
Excerpted from THE SOUL OF SUPERVISION INTEGRATING PRACTICE AND THEORY by Margaret Benefiel. Copyright © 2010 by Margaret Benefiel and Geraldine Holton. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Michael Carroll vii
Introduction: The Soul of Supervision Margaret Benefiel Geraldine Holton xi
Part I Reflective Practice
Chapter 1 Wisdom's Garden: A Metaphor for Cross-Professional Supervision Training Geraldine Holton 1
Chapter 2 The Transformative Power of Journaling: Reflective Practice as Self-Supervision David McCormack 25
Chapter 3 Nurturing Ministerial Leadership through Supervision Debora Jackson 39
Chapter 4 Learning on the Road: Pastoral Supervision as a Form of Ongoing Formation Martin McAlindin 55
Chapter 5 Supervision in Clinical Pastoral Education Yuko Uesugi 71
Chapter 6 The Ministry of Supervision: Call, Competency, Commitment Maureen Conroy 91
Chapter 7 Immunity to Change: Supervision, Organizational Leadership, and Transformation Margaret Benefiel 107
Part II Theories, Models, and Frameworks
Chapter 8 Dialogue and Theory in Clinical Supervision Jack Finnegan 119
Chapter 9 An Integrated Model of Supervision in Training Spiritual Directors Janet K. Ruffing 153
Chapter 10 A Process Framework for Learning in a New Era of Supervision Robert M. Moore 165
Part III Integrating Practice and Theory
Chapter 11 A Conversation with Robin Shohet Geraldine Holton 189
List of Contributors 199