Every once in a while my husband returns from a trip or online seminar with new books in our audiobook file. They generally have to do with management and leadership, which is a refreshing change from all of the science fiction he downloads. Over the weekend, I listened to one of the books: First, Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham. I really enjoyed it.
First of all, if you were ever in a work situation that just didn’t work for you and you’re not sure why or you wonder what was wrong with you, I suggest reading it. The book may offer clarity about management and leadership that can help you identify what was missing in that situation (for instance relationships matter at work). Second, the book discussed knowledge, skills, and talent. Knowledge and skills are obtainable. Talent, however, refers to the unique gifts that we excel in and offer the places we work. These aren’t easily replaced by training the next person to come along. They are highly valuable and as such should be tended to and cultivated.
What does this have to do with supervision?
I’ve maintained supervision relationships throughout my professional career and seek one-time consultations as desired. During this time, I’ve been in supervision relationships that do and don’t cultivate unique talents. Sometimes, talents are never named, let alone engaged in conversation. That can be OK because sometimes all I want is the information I am missing or insight from a more experienced therapist.
No matter the theories involved or the lenses used to view and assess growth and progress, the supervisory relationship exists to offer support, oversight, growth, and development to the newer counselor or therapist while also protecting their clients.
In some supervision relationships, supervisors offer education and training into specific skills and treatment protocols. The measuring stick may be how well the supervise adheres to the process. This can work. However, it doesn’t necessarily demystify the process.
Demystification is the hallmark of an I-Thou supervision relationship.
Great therapists and supervisors incorporate their knowledge and skills WITH their unique talents. This is the intersection where the stuff that appears to be magic happens.
It isn’t enough to help supervisees develop knowledge and skills without helping them own and integrate their talents. When this doesn’t happen, supervisees come to believe that they are missing something that the other has. The process remains mystified. The successful outcomes are attributed to some special quality about the other. Thus, the one-up position of the “mystical” supervisor can remain locked in place.
While the supervisor is aware of the one-up power position embedded in the supervisory relationship, he or she can also approach supervision from an I-Thou context. Not only is an I-Thou relationship egalitarian, but it also acknowledges the “between” — the space where two people connect (Martin & Cowen, 2019: Remembering Martin Buber and the I-Thou in Counseling).
Martin & Cowen (2019) wrote, “The I–Thou relationship is characterized by mutuality, directness, presentness, intensity and ineffability. Buber described the between as a bold leap into the experience of the other while simultaneously being transparent, present and accessible.”
Name, Own, & Hone
Supervisors who nurture and develop the supervisees within an I-Thou relationship, not only help them develop and grow knowledge and skills, they help them name, own, and hone their unique talents. They help their supervisees discover and develop their unique approach, while also delighting in discovering something new in them.
What are some of the unique talents that make us who we are as therapists?
- Finely-tuned intuition
- Subtle attunement with nonverbal communication
- Clear, resonating presence
- In-tune body perceptions
- Impeccable memory
- Noticing emerging themes
- Understanding metaphor
The list may be endless.
In summary, while a supervisor’s job is to grow knowledge and skills while protecting the client, it’s also to help supervisees name, own, and hone the unique talents that can help them become their best therapist self.
My talents are intuition, creativity, and writing. I love incorporating them in therapy sessions. Oh, here’s another one: inspiration. But don’t take my word for it, take it from the supervisor who gifted me a bottle of sand with a little piece of paper in it. That paper said: Inspiring. To this day, we honor one another’s unique talents. Thank you — you know who you are.
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Love this discussion, Dr. Emily. Naming the talents and skills of the supervisee is way important, with the discernment of an experienced practitioner. New distinctions that will have value for them. For leaders and for supervisors, take heed.