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Friday, 24 July 2009

Useful Supervision Techniques & Questions

One of the most interesting papers I came across recently was Carole Waskett's 2006 paper on a solution focused approach to supervision. (1). Why did I like it? Very simply, like all BSFT work it struck me as immensely practical. She outlines a number of useful questions to ask supervisees to enable them to both develop their practice skills, confidence and self awareness, by focusing on what they are already doing that works.
Questions she suggests (amongst others) include:
What are your best hopes for today's (supervision) meeting?
If "0" is where the client was when you first saw them, where on a scale of 0-10 would you say they are now?
If the client were here now where would they rate themselves?
What might the client say about how they have moved to that number from zero?
What has been helpful in the client's work with you, and what strengths have they used to keep moving?
It led me to thinking - what other questions or techniques have practitioners experienced in supervision that they have found particularly helpful? Maybe it is a particular phrase or a particular technique such as a form of role play? Single words often change lives.

Paul Grantham


  1. In providing group supervision, using Solution focused approach, I have encouraged workers to view their own skills etc. through them providing an audit of their own skills, areas of expertise that they can share with others in the group. The workers, all family support workers within children's services, have stated that this time together has been really beneficial. Obviously, appropriate questioning etc. around stuck areas, and negative feelings about clients, and I as a facilitator of these sessions have learnt much.

    S. McG., Family Group Conferencing Co-ordinator

  2. With supervision of students or junior staff who may not want to discuss or find it difficult to pick out their own strengths or weaker areas to work on I have sometimes picked out 10 skill areas before the session and written them randomly on a page then at some point fairly early on in the session asked the supervisee to rate themselves against each skill by ranking them in order... i.e. 10 is what you feel you are best at and 1 what you find most difficult.

    That way they can’t avoid any areas, have to put something at no 10 without feeling they are bragging which can be praised up as a first comment to boost them and set off positively and also have to put something at no 1 which can then be focused on before returning to No's 8, 9 etc for more encouragement.... encouragement and support being the key to effective supervision I feel.

    With skills rated at no 1 you can ask them why they have put it as no 1, what they would expect to do / act like / how their practice would be different if they were to be able to rate it at no 10 in a few weeks time and how they can move from their present position of no 1 to maybe 5.

    If their rating bears little resemblance to their apparent performance to you, you can both rate them at the same time and see how the scores compare, cos again you have to rate something at 10, to be praised up and appreciated and the thing at 1 can be tackled together.

    I have had students in pairs at times.... (which I thought initially was an awful idea cos they were hugely different in character, ability and everything but worked well in the end), and again this could be used with the 2 together, to rank themselves, then each other, cos its good to be praised up by a peer and their insight into why they have rated their peer at no 1 for something can be valuable. A peer’s view on how their colleague could get from a 1 to a 5 or how their practice would be different working at a 5 is also interesting. It seems generally good for bonding, and always gives the chance to finish positively on 8`s and 9`s.

    J. S.

  3. An exercise I have used for reflecting on tricky situations is to ask the supervisee to arrange the chairs in the room to represent the issues/people involved. E.g. someone overwhelmed by their workload to arrange the different aspects of it by physical arrangements of chairs then move around talking about each one. Each issue is explained to the supervisor and appropriate questions are asked. At the end they derole the chairs and reflect on what they have gained/learned + decide on actions to take to move the situation forward. If there are no chairs they can use pebbles or small objects/toys or whatever. If the chairs represent people they can move in and speak in the role of that person. There are lots of variations on this exercise.

    C., Manager for Services Supporting Behaviour

  4. One of the most useful phrases/questions I have used is 'what do you think your role is in this session?' and’ what do you think mine is’? The second question usually causes some confusion as the person sees me as being in 'control' of the session and often it takes some working out to obtain clarity and the supervisees (over time) start to take some responsibility for the content of the session. It is a good empowerment question too and invites the supervisee to become more involved in the session with more clarity on their expectations.

    T. B., Probation Department Manager

  5. Thank you — very useful and as I am involved with Coaching someone who is not in receipt of MH services, nor requires them, can be adapted for this purpose — In supervision with regard to supervision of cases, how would they feel — what might help them in that situation — so they can empathise but then get them to step out of that situation. When staff are very stuck, that can help.

    L. D.

  6. Something I adapted from my action learning group is asking the supervisee both at the beginning and end of session on a scale of 1 – 10:

    How stressed?

    How challenged?

    How supported?
    …they feel

    A good way to ensure the balance is correct I have found.

    F. S. B., Head of Speech and Language Therapy

  7. Sometime ago I attended a Solution Focused Supervision course and as a result I put together this form. I find еhis very useful when reviewing individual client work and discussing/reviewing supervisor/counsellor expectations of supervision. If it is of any use, I am happy for it to be circulated.

    T. B., Counsellor

  8. One thing that I find useful in supervision, both as supervisor and supervisee, is to describe how the therapist experienced the client and what they "brought", particularly to the first session. Examples are: "she kept her coat and gloves on", "had several shopping bags with her", "client arrives 15 minutes early for every session", "client always asks to go to the toilet half way through the session". Any changes over time can also be revealing, e.g. when the client stops bringing all her bags with her. These may seem obvious and I'm sure we all observe clients in this way and use the material consciously or unconsciously but to be asked the question in supervision can in my own experience bring rich material to the fore. Not sure this fits with a solution focussed approach but hope it is useful none-the-less.

    C. M., Counsellor


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