CAMFT's Supervisor's Corner

Goal Setting in Supervision
by: Helen G. Meek, M.A. and Ross Pollack, MFT Trainee
The Therapist -
March/April 2004

Supervision demands a "teaching-learning" alliance between supervisor and supervisee. To this end, establishing clear goals at the outset and refining these goals throughout the supervisor-supervisee relationship encourages congruence on goals and tasks during the supervisory hour (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992). Congruence of expectations (shared goals) between people in a relationship is as important as the expectations of any one individual and enhances the likelihood of a mutually satisfactory supervisory encounter. Establishing clear goals facilitates nonhierarchical dialogue in the supervisory process, fosters trust earlier in the formation of a supervisory alliance, contributes to anxiety reduction about evaluation from the supervisor because the supervisee knows what is expected, and supports a collaborative teachinglearning alliance. Clearly established goals permit the supervisor and the supervisee to be honest with themselves and each other.

Periodic reviews of goals may reveal previously unexpressed ideas and feelings about how the supervision might be more beneficial. If a satisfactory way of proceeding can be worked out in the opening phase of supervision, both supervisee and supervisor are likely to arrive at a mutual process of discovery and dialogue (Meyer, 1995). This is not to say that the supervisor does not have knowledge and expertise to impart or that the relationship is one of full equality. The difference in knowledge, experience, and sometimes age, in addition to the fact that the supervisor will be evaluating the trainee's performance, means the supervisory relationship is not one between two equals. But within the context of acknowledged differences, an open process of discovery through dialogue and collaboration may be encouraged through the manner in which goal setting and evaluation are conducted.

Despite its merits, this collaborative approach to goal setting in the supervisory encounter often meets deep-seated resistance. Some interns are simply uninformed about how to utilize supervision, and the act of writing goals feels overwhelming. Mutual conversation on goal setting can produce anxiety in supervisees, who fear being candid, knowing they will be evaluated. In such instances it may be useful to utilize prepared supervision instruments. One useful instrument is the Supervision Questionnaire (Ladany, Hill, & Nutt, 1996), a measure of supervisee perceptions of the quality and outcomes of supervision. Another instrument is the Supervisory Working Alliance Inventory: Trainee Form (Efstation, Patton, & Kardash, 1990), a measure of supervisee perceptions on how skillfully the supervisor treats the supervisee. With these instruments, the supervisee makes choices on a prepared scale. In the early stages in the supervisory relationship, when trust is still being developed, even this activity may be threatening. When supervisees find it difficult to engage in goal setting, any way that maximizes the likelihood of supervisorsupervisee congruence in expectations is valuable and worth exploring. It is a question of matching the goal setting activity to the intern's learning style, level of clinical development, and comfort level.

Supervisors should have some knowledge of the processes that support clinical development as well as the normal stages of development in the supervisor-supervisee relationship. This knowledge helps the supervisor order the goals and make them realistic. If the supervisor takes into account the stages interns progress through in developing competence and a positive supervisory relationship, this understanding contributes to reducing anxiety and strengthening the relationship because the supervisor is someone "who feels safe and suggests goals that are realistic and make sense." Additionally, setting a structure helps the supervisor stay on task. Many supervisors are very busy people who have competing demands on their time and energy. Having a structure helps them stay focused in the supervisory encounter.

In the following case example, the supervisor and supervisee elected to write the goals that each had for supervision, and then compare their statements so they could check for potential problematic mismatches. The decision was made three and a half months into an established supervisor-supervisee alliance that both felt was working well.

Case Example
Ross came to Sierra Vista Junior High School as a marriage and family therapy trainee and Pupil Personnel Services intern in September, 2003. Helen, MA, PPS, LMFT is employed full-time as a counselor at Sierra Vista and supervises Ross' MFT and PPS hours. Three and a half months into the school year, in December, 2003, they completed the required end-of-semester evaluation for the school where Ross is completing a master's degree in marriage and family therapy and the requirements for a PPS Credential.

It was decided that the beginning of the second semester was a good time to write statements about goals for supervision, and then bring these statements together and review what each had written independently.

At the time they initiated this process Ross was concurrently an MFT trainee at the PGI Counseling Center, which provided him with agency experience. He had been supervised at a Camp as well where he had treated incarcerated adolescent males. At this stage in his professional development, he was identifying more clearly what worked well for him in multiple supervisory experiences, and it was an opportune time to review what was effective in their supervisorsupervisee relationship and decide what they could alter, tighten, and improve.

What follows are their separate statements.

Helen's Goals for Supervision
1. To assist Ross in working in a school culture.
It is important for anyone working in a school to keep in mind that for a mental health trainee to be successful and accepted in a school environment he must respect the structure of the school setting, understand current school policy and procedures, make positive relationships with teachers and administrative staff, and respect the authority of the principal. He must understand the differences in roles among educational staff (e.g., special education teacher, psychologist, school nurse) and be exceptionally flexible about where the counseling takes place. Sierra Vista, like most schools, does not have a nicely appointed, private, sound-proof room where the counselor and student can talk without outside interruptions. On the contrary, bells ring; rooms change; sometimes there is no room at all. Schools are complex and fluid. It is essential that interns understand and fit into this kind of climate.

2. To help Ross establish positive relationships with different types of students.
Some students take to counseling with enthusiasm. Others are reluctant and very hard to talk to or may be highly manipulative in ways of which they are not necessarily conscious and that interns miss at first because they tend to take what the student tells them at face value. It is essential to learn to listen carefully to students- to hear deeply the underlying emotions in those who talk freely, to draw out kids who remain hidden and monosyllabic, and to recognize when there is more to the story than what the student is saying.

3. To reduce anxiety about being evaluated and to increase a sense of personal competence.
This is accomplished by paying close attention to stages of development in clinical competence (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and introducing appropriate learning goals at each stage.

4. To support a solid understanding of ethical and legal issues.
This means identifying how ethical and legal issues learned in a master's program emerge in the work Ross provides in the school setting. It means encouraging Ross to adopt the habit of self-monitoring. Our profession thrives when it trains individuals to keep track of themselves in a personally honest way. It is a sign of the times that professionals are required to review ethical and legal issues every two years as they renew their licenses.

5. To help Ross apply theoretical constructs to counseling with students.
It is highly challenging for trainees and interns to develop a coherent theoretical orientation and to understand what works in therapy and what does not, for themselves as therapists and for the diverse populations they serve. It takes time to develop this kind of expertise. Common folk wisdom states that it takes ten years to become a really good psychotherapist. It takes a long time to become an expert in any skill domain. Feeling confused is normal and to be expected. Ideally, Ross would be more curious than anxious when discussing difficulties with clients.

6. To develop a supervisory relationship that feels educationally sound.
Differences in learning styles do not indicate differential ability, but rather an individual's preferred way of processing information. A thoughtful supervisor varies the supervision to suit the individual intern. For example, some supervisees have a greater need and tolerance for supervisors who are willing to struggle and argue with them and who confront them on personal issues. Others prefer gentle confrontation and are less comfortable with addressing personal issues or direct comment on specific sessions. Some interns perform best if they are allowed to reflect on suggestions made in supervision and are given time to integrate new information and feedback.

7. To develop a supervisory relationship that places client welfare in the forefront.
The primary obligation of the supervisor is to train counselors so that they respect the integrity and promote the welfare of their clients. Supervision includes monitoring the quality of the counseling provided and ensuring compliance with relevant legal, ethical, and professional standards for clinical intervention.

8. To identify countertransference issues as they arise.
Inevitably, working in a school setting brings up dynamic issues in interns about their own childhoods and school experiences.

Ross' Goals for Supervision
It is my goal that the time I spend at Sierra Vista be beneficial to the students, teachers, counseling staff, and all stakeholders. I want to walk away from my traineeship leaving behind more than I take with me. I want to be able to apply for a counseling position with a high degree of competence. I want to gain a comprehensive understanding of the sequence a student goes through from orientation in 6th grade for middle school to promotion in 8th grade and marticulation to high school and how a counselor assists students each step of the way.

I want to learn the most challenging parts of a counselor's job and be taught how to deal competently with these issues. When I start fulltime work as a credentialed counselor, I want to know how time is distributed within an "average" day. Is the focus on ensuring that students receive credit toward graduation and directing students toward a college of their choice? Am I mentoring and praising or dealing with behavioral problems and credit deficient students? Am I primarily programming schedules of classes? How broad and diverse is the position of a school counselor? I wonder how hard it would be to go through this training without the support of my peers who share their wisdom in practicum.

Most importantly, one of my goals is to learn from the wisdom and insight of my supervisor so I gain a strong foundation for work as a school counselor. I want to know what expec tations she has of me. I want to achieve a level of competency that makes my supervisor comfortable with my skills, and I want my supervisor to be active in my educational process. I want to hear what competencies I must master to be prepared adequately for full-time work as a school counselor. More than anything, my goal is to gain a strong foundation in the competencies that govern my profession, to learn as much as I can while I am at Sierra Vista, to benefit from the opportunities my supervisor gives me to handle, and to learn all I need in order to perform my job well.

Review of the Goals
In this case example, the supervisor and supervisee were pleased to find that there was a high degree of correlation in goals that each wrote. It was helpful to the supervisor to be reminded of the obvious, that above all else a supervisee wants to feel competent. This desired competence is professional and personal-to learn specific job skills, to "feel" competent, and to be well thought of by his supervisor.

Ross stated that it is easier in supervision when there are stated goals "because there is a structure and a game plan for learning. Without structure, it's hard to attain a goal because there is no way to gauge how I am doing."

The motivational drive toward competence is pervasive and colors virtually all supervisory relationships (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992). When contracting with supervisees about goals they wish to accomplish, initial overt requests may be more focused--such as "learning to deepen empathic listening skills" or "becoming more aware of my own need to rescue people from their pain." But the supervisee's unspoken agenda almost always includes the wish for global feedback about overall functioning and the positive regard of the supervisor.

Beginning practicum students, compared to intern-level supervisees, often rate as significant, "Believing that I have sufficient skills as a counselor to be competent in working with clients." The supervisor can contribute to the supervisee's sense of competency and security by offering consistent support and thoughtful feedback. As actual competence develops, the supervisee's felt competence is linked to increasing skill mastery. We all remember the feelings we had when we saw our first clients and how frightening it was if we had to bring an audiotape or videotape to supervision. No one wants to be embarrassed or criticized. Supervisees expect to be judged and, therefore, are inevitably anxious to some degree. Positive supervision occurs when the supervisee's anxiety does not rise to such a high level that the work of supervision is hindered. This occurs when a supervisor is able to balance support (including structure) and challenge.

Several factors contribute to positive supervision. The supervisee is given permission to make mistakes and not to experience them as failures but to learn from them. The supervisor makes it safe to disclose, sometimes even by appropriately self-disclosing, and this, in turn, encourages self-disclosure from the supervisee. Evaluation of the supervisee occurs as a shared process between the supervisor and the supervisee (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992).

In thinking about goal setting in the supervisory encounter, it is helpful to remember that supervisory relationships have a temporal existence. They exist across time, and often the supervisory relationship has stabilized and is working well when it comes to an end. The supervisor may question, "Was the supervision effective?" "Did I do enough?" The supervisee may wonder, "Did I develop the personal traits that enable me to be a successful counselor?" "Do I have the skills that maximize job efficiency?" "What does it take to be a great counselor?" The structure that establishing goals provides will make these questions easier to answer affirmatively and satisfactorily.

After termination of the well-structured supervisory relationship, because supervision is a mentoring process, the relationship typically continues in some form (unlike the therapistclient relationship). It may even deepen into a lifelong friendship. Acker spoke of this complexity when he wrote that the supervisory relationship is a relationship between unequals, the objective of which is equalization (Acker, 1992). This statement speaks to the central, over-arching challenge in supervision: training the supervisee to become "one of us." In the opening phase of supervision, establishing clear, mutually agreed upon goals for the supervisory encounter contributes significantly to the likelihood that this will happen and that a successful teaching-learning alliance is established.

Acker, M. (July, 1992). The Relationship in Clinical Supervision. Paper presented in the B.A.S.P.R. International Conference on Supervision, London, England.

Bernard, J. M. & Goodyear, R. K. (1998, 1992). Fundamentals of Clinical Supervision, 2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Meyer, P. (1995). The Supervisory Encounter. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Helen G. Meek, M.A., L.M.F.T., P.P.S. works as a full-time counselor at Sierra Vista Junior High School, Canyon Country, California. She has been licensed as a marriage and family therapist since 1987 and maintains a private practice. She is a CAMFT Certified Supervisor and an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. She served on the AAMFT Board of Directors (1994-1996) and the CAMFT Supervision Committee (2000-2003). She has taught in the marriage and family therapy masters programs at Pepperdine University, Phillips Graduate Institute, and California State University at Northridge.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Ross Pollack has a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and is a graduate student at Phillips Graduate Institute, Encino, California in the marriage and family therapy masters program, the Pupil Personnel Services program, and the Certified Addictions Counselor program. He believes that multifaceted training will foster a broad base of competencies for a successful professional career in an educational environment. His long-term goals include becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist.

SUPERVISOR’S CORNER: The Therapist is seeking articles and other information that assists therapists in developing supervision skills. We hope you will share your expertise so that others may sharpen their supervisory skills and abilities. Send articles for consideration to Mary Riemersma at CAMFT; 7901 Raytheon Road, San Diego, CA 92111-1606. or send e-mail to Like all articles submitted for inclusion in The Therapist, this article does not neccessarily represent the views of CAMFT. We, nevertheless, encourage you to express your views by writting an article on supervision or expressing your view/concerns about articles published with this feature. We look forward to your participation.