Supervision has the goals of the growth of the therapist and the growth and protection of clients. Continued growth of the therapist is a major supervision objective at all levels of experience and competence. While administrative supervision might be considered successful if the therapist reaches a fixed or mandated standard, consultation is oriented to open-ended growth. But consultation is also supervision and the growth work of the therapist is constructed around improvement of client services, i.e., the increased effectiveness, satisfaction, and creativity of the therapy.
Growth in supervision and therapy is through the medium of relationship. In consultation, as in therapy, the Gestalt therapy attitude about relationship is to be as dialogic and horizontal as possible consistent with the primary goals. It is the responsibility of the supervisor/consultant to set an atmosphere conducive to learning. This includes acceptance of the person of the supervisee, even while working with weaknesses, flaws, and lack of self-support. The conducive atmosphere encourages striving for excellence through experiencing and experimenting -- rather through imitation and/or perfectionistic harshness.
A safe learning environment is one in which the supervisee feels safe and cared for and leaves supervision sessions with a more accurate and accepting sense of self as person and therapist. To the degree that this is not the case, the atmosphere is not safe and learning is diminished. Of course, when the supervisee does not meet minimal standards, the establishment of such a psychologically safe environment is quite difficult.
The growth of the therapist through the supervisory dialogue is a model for the growth of the client through the therapeutic dialogue. The consulting and therapeutic relationships in Gestalt therapy both have the same characteristics of dialogue: Inclusion/empathy, presence, and commitment to dialogue. The supervisor is attuned to the experience of the supervisee, and through him or her, the experience of the patient. The supervisor is attuned to what the supervisee experiences in the supervision session and also in the session with the client.
Of course, supervisee growth, client growth and protection, and agency requirements can conflict and bring about a tension that affects the supervisory relationship. But the supervisor can continue to be empathic, authentically present, facilitate dialogue even through this tension.
Since there is usually at least a minimal hierarchical relationship between supervisor and supervisee, and hopefully the supervisor does know more than the supervisee, supervision can be a fertile ground for growing shame (Yontef, 1993; 1996). Shame, the globalized sense of not being enough, can be enhanced or decreased in supervision -- depending largely on the attitude of the supervisor.
The Gestalt therapy supervisor is present as a person, not just as an authority -- present with warm authentic, and disclosed presence and genuine and unreserved communication. It is important that the supervisor's flaws be allowed to show and be acknowledged by the supervisor so that a vertical relationship is not established, i.e. one in which the supervisor is inordinately elevated into charismatic stature and the supervisee demoted to a lower caste -- admiring the supervisor's flawlessness. The vertical relationship is a potent shame trigger. When the supervisor is present as a person and the supervisee's experience explicated and respected, then a real dialogue is possible.
In a supervisory or therapeutic dialogue, the supervisor or therapist does not aim and control the interaction, but rather is committed to dialogue, to surrendering to what transpires between the participants. The factor of not aiming is modified by administrative supervision and client protection requirements. However, the Gestalt therapy supervisor maximizes the dialogue and makes the relationship as non-authoritarian as possible.
The philosophy of Gestalt therapy takes a very strong stand on respect for differences: The phenomenological base of Gestalt therapy requires respect for multiple valid realities. Even though the supervisor may have a distinct point of view and a responsibility for the client's welfare, the supervisor in the Gestalt therapy model must respect supervisees' felt sense of the situation with the client, sense of what support is needed in supervision to increase their therapeutic effectiveness, and the fact that each therapist has a somewhat different set of values, skills, creative supports, weaknesses, and so forth.
Self-examination is indicated when supervisees come to resemble a supervisor too closely. If the therapist is to help the client identify with themselves, then the therapist has to be able to do the same. The job of supervisors is to encourage clear differentiation between themselves and supervisees.
In order to improve supervisees' effectiveness as therapists, personal self-esteem must be enhanced and their confidence as therapist increased. An important part of this process is the supervisees learning to have self-esteem while acknowledging flaws. Shame-prone supervisees will need help with their shame and with understanding the shame process if they are to be able to be honest about weaknesses and still not be lost in shame or shame defenses (Yontef, 1993; 1996). Of course, it is necessary to distinguish between flaws and weaknesses needing remediation and those to be accepted.
Beyond the process of meeting minimal standards and understanding the orientation of the supervisor, the supervisee needs help in developing his or her own unique style of therapy. Gestalt therapists take a strong stance in favor of encouraging creative professionals and not skilled technicians. That means that there is not a right way to do therapy, and not all therapists can or should do therapy with the same style. Moreover, the style of a therapist evolves over time and needs creative adaptation to individual clients and settings. This contrasts with a any view of orthodoxy and/or manualization.
Gestalt therapy is an integrative framework for therapists. Some who are supervised by a Gestalt therapist but are not Gestalt therapists may have a different framework. But a framework is needed, preferably one that allows integration of insights, data, techniques, and so forth from a variety of sources.
In Gestalt therapy supervision this framework is constructed, not introjected; organismic framework construction requires assimilation. As therapists assimilate, as they apply their healthy aggression to destructing the material they are taught and struggle to make sense of their clients' character, the therapy process, and their own reactions, they will optimally develop their own personal framework for integration -- one that recognizes their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and values. Supervisees who are able to organismically regulate themselves are more likely to facilitate the same in their patients.
I believe that the responsibility and authority for the consultation work of supervision are shared by supervisor and supervisee. While there are administrative supervisory responsibilities that cannot be delegated, the educative and consulting components can be shared and in Gestalt therapy are shared.
The ultimate organizing idea of supervision is, of course, the welfare of the client. Supervisees and supervisors have responsibilities in this task that are not shared. Supervisees have the responsibility of bringing into supervision accurate and representative data, especially of difficulties, and defining their own needs to the supervisor. Supervisors have the responsibility of giving honest and clear feedback, suggestions, and evaluation. Both have the responsibility of recognizing ethical and competence limits.
However, there is more flexibility when the supervision is primarily consultative and there is no administrative responsibility. When a supervisee wants deeper exploration and is at an advanced competence level as a therapist and has sufficient experience as a client in psychotherapy, spending time in consultation on psychotherapeutic endeavors can be quite beneficial.
It often happens that the supervision moves from the description of the client, to discussion of the interaction, to realization of a countertransference block of the supervisee. Working with this in the direct, Gestalt therapy experiential manner can be very effective. In certain circumstances there are advantages to having experiential exploration in the supervision process. Working experientially can dissolve blocks in therapist functioning that would not be resolved by therapy alone or by more didactic or intellectualized approaches to consultation. On the other hand, having the data of the supervisee's functioning as therapist opens certain avenues of exploration of personal functioning that might not be obvious in the usual therapeutic context.