In the last section, we discussed the three main reasons to train clinical supervisees in the use of supervision. These are training is empowering, the formation of a clear working alliance, and creating a facilitative relationship. In addition, we have discussed the special skills, knowledge, and attitudes a supervisee should acquire when entering a supervisee-supervisor relationship. These include awareness of moment-to-moment interactions and the ability to present work economically.
In this section, we will discuss the contracting process and the five main benefits provided by contracting. These are both parties become actively involved in the supervision process, a contract provides a clear perception of goals, the supervisor and supervisee create a clear picture of what their work looks like together, contracting creates mutuality, guards against the abuse of power, and contracts minimize covert agendas. As I read through the five benefits of contracting, you might evaluate your thoughts on using either a verbal or written contract with your clinical supervisee. You also might evaluate whether you agree with the benefits stated regarding the use of a clinical supervisee contract.
5 Benefits to Creating a Supervising Contract
As you are well aware, as the clinical supervisee grows, their needs in the supervisor-supervisee relationship change.
♦ Benefit #1 - Both Parties are Actively Involved
I have found that the first benefit obtained from creating a supervising contract is that both parties become actively involved in the supervision process. With a formal written supervising contract, or verbal contract, the supervisor and supervisee are better able to continually renegotiate the terms of the contract in order to continue to provide the supervisee with the correct levels of support and challenge throughout the learning process.
♦ Benefit #2 - Setting a Clear Picture of the Goals
I feel that the second benefit to contracting is that the contract gives both supervisor and supervisee a clear picture of the goals being aimed at. Julie, a graduate student training to become a clinical social worker, stated, "I often knew what was wrong, but I couldn’t put it into words. I had to spend large amounts of time trying to paint a verbal picture for my supervisor of what I needed. Having the contract in place helped me keep a clear idea of where I was going. With time, I was able to much more accurately describe what I needed to get towards that goal."
♦ Benefit #3 - What the Work Looks Like
In addition to getting both parties actively involved in the supervision process, and setting a clear picture of the goals, I feel that the third benefit to training clinical supervisees in contracting is that contracting gives the supervisor and supervisee a clear picture of what their work looks like together. For example, this allows the supervisee, at the end of a session with the supervisor, to check if the issue they brought to the session has been addressed. This also allows supervisor and supervisee to discuss whether the session has allowed the supervisee to progress towards his or her outlined goals.
♦ Benefit #4 - Creating Mutuality and Guarding Against Abuse of Power
I also feel that the fourth benefit of the contracting process is that contracting creates a mutuality and guards against the abuse of power. Have you experienced a case in which a clinical supervisee has been too afraid to approach their supervisor for fear of negative repercussions? I notice this especially in cases where the lines between the supervisor’s role as a mentor and teacher, and the supervisor’s workplace role as an administrator, have not been clearly defined.
Clearly, if a supervisee is treating clients beyond his or her ability level, the supervisor should exercise authority to have the supervisee treat clients closer to his or her ability level. This supervisor's action benefits both the supervisee and the clients. Having a clear contract also allows both the supervisor and supervisee to be aware of what level of authority can and will be exercised by the supervisor. Contracting also permits the supervisee to trust that this authority will be used fairly and to the benefit of all individuals involved in the supervision process.
♦ Benefit #5 - Minimizing Covert Agendas
In addition to getting both parties actively involved in the supervision process, setting a clear picture regarding goals, and guarding against the abuse of power, I feel that the fifth benefit of a contract is that contracts minimize covert agendas. You are obviously aware of how unconscious factors, such as countertransference, can sabotage even the most open communication between supervisors and supervisees. A clearly defined contract allows the supervisor and supervisee to regularly bring unconscious feelings and agendas to the surface to be discussed, keeping the communication channels clean.
♦ The Six Point Approach
I use the "Six-Point Approach" to teach contracting in supervision.
--Point 1 - I encourage my supervisees to, first of all, think with their senses as well as their intellects, and to notice what they pick up through the use of their intuition during the negotiation of the contract with the supervisor.
--Point 2 - Second, I ask supervisees to become aware of covert or hidden agendas, as well as an awareness of any invitations in interactions to play "games" during this contract discussion process with their supervisor.
--Point 3 - Third, in addition to think with their senses, and becoming aware of hidden agendas, I feel that it is important for the supervisee to become aware of the social, political, organizational and professionals contexts in which they work, and from which their clients come. For example, my supervisee Reese, who came from an upper-middle class background, had difficulty understanding why she was not developing a therapeutic relationship with her client Aldo, who came from a poor, inner city background.
--Point 4 - Fourth, I highlight the need to pick up subtle shifts in expectations on both sides of the supervision contract relationship which have not been included in the contract.
--Point 5 - Fifth, I consider it vital for the clinical supervisee to keep track of the prevailing nature of the relationship with the supervisor. Being aware of the prevailing nature of the relationship may help prevent the supervisee from becoming involved in transference issues with his or her supervisor.
--Point 6 - Sixth, I ask the supervisees to be clear about their own philosophies, values, and beliefs, and check that these are congruent to what is being requested in the supervisor-supervisee relationship.
I feel this six point process encouraging clinical supervisees to think with their senses, to become aware of hidden agendas, to become aware of social contexts, to pick up subtle shifts in the supervisor-supervisee relationship, to keep track of the nature of the supervisor-supervisee relationship, and to be clear about values and beliefs, greatly enhances the contracting process between supervisor and clinical supervisee. Would it be beneficial to play this section for your supervisee, and to ask them to write three sentences on each of these six points?
In this section, we have discussed the contracting process and the five main benefits provided by contracting. These are both parties become actively involved in the supervision process, a contract provides a clear perception of goals, the supervisor and supervisee create a clear picture of what their work looks like together, contracting creates mutuality and guards against the abuse of power, and contracts minimize covert agendas.
In the next section, we will discuss the reflective approach to supervision.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Amaro, C. M., Mitchell, T. B., Cordts, K. M. P., Borner, K. B., Frazer, A. L., Garcia, A. M., & Roberts, M. C. (2020). Clarifying supervision expectations: Construction of a clinical supervision contract as a didactic exercise for advanced graduate students. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 14(3), 235–241.
Bedford, S., Repa, L., & Renouf, A. (2020). Supervision in interprofessional education: Benefits, challenges, and lessons learned. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 30(1), 16–24.
Cook, R. M., McKibben, W. B., & Wind, S. A. (2018). Supervisee perception of power in clinical supervision: The Power Dynamics in Supervision Scale. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 12(3), 188–195.
Sutter, E., McPherson, R. H., & Geeseman, R. (2002). Contracting for supervision. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33(5), 495–498.
Thomas, J. T. (2007). Informed consent through contracting for supervision: Minimizing risks, enhancing benefits. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38(3), 221–231.
What are five benefits to contracting in the supervisor supervisee relationship?
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