Collaboration, Addressing Power and Establishing Safety
Collaboration invites a generative and community-making spirit to therapeutic supervision…[And] assists in structuring safety as it invites the sharing of power and responsibility so that the supervisory relationship is not limited to monitoring clinical performance. I attempt to provide a structure for the group that promotes the competency of the group. I resist taking positions of expertise or prescription positions around what practitioners need to do, unless ethically required (Reynolds, 2014, Centering ethics in therapeutic supervision: Fostering cultures of critique and structuring safety. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, pp. 8-9).
There are many ways of thinking about doing collaboration, but the above quote by Vikki Reynolds precisely describes how I think about doing collaboration in supervisory relationships, and why I think it’s important. One way that I attempt to do collaboration, redistribute power and establish safety in the relationships that I have with co-learners is to name from the outset the various sites of privilege that I hold, and invite a conversation about how these may be influential in our relationship:
- What might you notice if these differences in our social locations were influencing our work together?
- How might you let me know?
- How/in what ways might I respond that would feel affirming of your decision to bring it to my attention?
- Have you had an experience in the past where power was misused in a relationship you had with a person in a position of authority, or where you misused your power in an interaction with a person you had authority over?
- How did you navigate these experiences?
- What did you do in response to your own or someone else’s misuse of power?
- What informed your decision about how to respond? Would you respond in the same way today, if you could have a ‘do over’, or are there things about how you responded that you would want to change?
- If you would respond in the same way again, what kinds of skills, ethics and/or commitments were you relying on or were at play in how you navigated that interaction?
- What is it about how you responded, about which you feel most proud?
- What did you discover about yourself, or about what is important to you in this work on account of having responded in the way you did?
Another way of ‘doing collaboration’ is in exploring our hopes for this co-learning journey. I share my own hopes for the collaboration, and invite co-learners to imagine themselves 6 months or a year into the future, and to imagine that this collaboration had lived up to, and perhaps even exceeded their hopes. I invite them to consider what they might be recounting to their best friend about what transpired in the group, or in our work together, that was especially meaningful or significant. I am inspired by Vikki Reynold’s (2014) questions that aim to foster a “culture of critique” in supervision groups (p. 9):
- What are your intentions and hopes for yourself in our supervision group? What is your hope for everyone in our supervision group? What is your hope for how this supervision group might serve clients?
- What will you need to resist, refrain, hold back, decline, or leave out in order to contribute to a culture of critique and keep clients at the centre of our work?
- What are you going to have to invite, make room for, welcome in, and hold onto in order to contribute to a culture of critique and keep clients at the centre of our work?
Finally, one small act of resistance that I take to subvert power is to offer references from former co-learners to prospective co-learners. After all, if I will be checking their references, they ought to be able to check mine.
Vikki Reynolds (2014) wrote about centering ethics in supervision: “In most of our work alongside people struggling in the margins of power, these collective ethics go unnamed, but they are the basis for the solidarity that brought us together and can hold us together” (p. 3). I also think about the importance of describing how we ‘do’ our ethics (in addition to naming them). For instance, if we have named a collective ethic of using a ‘client centered approach’, how are we enacting this ethic? What does it look like when we are ‘doing’ client centered work? What would clients say in response to our claim to be doing client centered work? I appreciate Reynold’s questions that invite practitioners to consider their ethical stance (p. 3):
- What are the ethics that drew you to do this work?
- What ethics are required for your work, without which you would be unable to do this work?
- What is the history of your relationship to these values and ethics? Who taught you these values? How have these ethics shown up in your life and work?
- What ethics or values do we hold collectively?
- What ethics are alive in our work when we’re doing work that clients experience as most useful?
- How do we hold onto our collective ethics more fully?
Holding Ourselves Accountable
I believe that it is equally important to name when we step away from our ethics, and hold ourselves accountable. I have adapted questions from Reynolds (2014) that invite counsellors and community workers to consider times when they have stepped away from their ethics in non-blaming ways (p. 5):
- What ethic or way of being that you respect about your work have you transgressed?
- When did you notice that you’d transgressed it? What informed you that you did? Was it in conversation with someone else? Was it your gut or a client that informed you, or something else?
- What were the effects for you when you noticed you’d transgressed this ethic?
- What would the absence of this effect mean for you?
- What will accountability look like?
- How can we shoulder you up in this accountability work?
- What does it say about your relationship to ethics that you’ve brought this forward in our team?
- What do you know about our collective ethics that might have made it easier to bring this forward?
- How can this transgression be useful for all of us collectively?
Outsider Witness Practice
An important goal of supervision is to enhance vision, to add multiple visions, and not necessarily to direct therapists towards an idea of the correct vision (Ming-Sum as cited in Reynolds, 2014, p.2).
One practice that I find particularly useful in supervision groups is the use of ‘outsider witness practice’. The philosophy behind this practice is centred on the belief that our identities are socially constructed, and that having witnesses to preferred accounts of ourselves, can, in the context of a supervision group, serve to bolster the preferred professional identity of the person at the centre. What it looks like in practice is that I first interview a clinician about a dilemma they are facing in their practice. After this I interview between 2 and 4 ‘outsider witnesses’ who have been listening to the interview, about what they heard that stood out to them, struck a chord with them, and perhaps how they are different on account of having been witness to the interview. The third phase is to return to the interviewee and elicit their responses to the responses from the outsider witnesses. A final part of this process consists of everyone talking together about their experience of the interview, to deconstruct and make transparent what has been happening.