Article found at Jeff K. Edwards website.

        In Press - The Family Journal

Strength-Based Supervision: Frameworks, Current Practice and Future Directions:
A Wu-wei Method.

             Jeffrey K. Edwards                             Mei-Whei Chen

Jeffrey K. Edwards is an Associate Professor, Department of Counselor Education, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL., and a Clinical Supervisor for The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Mei-Whei Chen is an Associate Professor, Department of Counselor Education, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL.



        Urged on by an article that described a "Zen-like" method of supervision where the student is "beaten" into understanding, the authors present a different method likening it to the wu-wei practice in Zen and Taoism. This model is strength-based, punctuating what the counselor does well rather than looking for problems. Wu-wei is different from some traditional models where supervisors tend to assume that their "view" of the client/counselor relationship is more informed and correct than the counselors they supervise. This article reviews counseling supervision, and suggests that a strength-based wu-wei model and an understanding of isomorphy in supervisory relationships are the preferred practice for the supervision of family counselors. Various contexts are presented in addition to family counseling training where the model may be used. It is posited that this model of supervision potentiates the person-of-the-counselor. Wu-wei supervision focuses on possibilities and personal agency rather than on problems, thus the person-of-the-counselor becomes the heart of supervision.

Strength-Based Supervision: Frameworks, Current Practice and Future Directions:
The Wu-Wei Method.

We read with much interest, sadness and disbelief Marina Oppenheimer's (1998) article, "Zen and the Art of Supervision." Here she describes her negative experience with family counseling supervision, and her resulting conclusions on how supervision might be better/different. She portrays much of classical family counseling supervision (and two editors have questions about all supervision, Riordan & Kern, 1998) as being akin to the Lin-Chi Zen tradition of beating students in order to guide them. We applaude her courage in adding her voice to the supervision literature.  Her outcry needs to be heard by those who continue to belittle those they supervise. 
Our practice of, and suggestions for supervision are much different, although we have experienced the "Lin-Chi" form in the past, and suspect it goes on all too frequently. As we have reflected on Oppenheimer's (1998) experiences and our own thoughts about supervision, we have come to believe that our present style might be characterized as being like another concept from Zen ? that of wu-wei. We believe that much of contemporary supervision has been like what Oppenheimer experienced, albeit not quite so harsh, because much of counseling and supervision is patterned on a forceful, hierarchical practice. 
 We are also aware that there are alternative methods of counseling, therapy and supervision practices, not only for family counseling, but for all counseling practices. But to have supervision practices characterized as Zen-like, and to punctuate only the Lin-Chi method, seemed out of balance. One of us (Edwards) remembered that years earlier, one of his supervisors had made the connection between systemic thought and the Zen/Taoist concept of wu-wei (personal communication Brent Atkinson, 1990). We thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to introduce our ideas ? not really new ideas, but certainly a good deal gentler, and we believe, more contemporary. 
 Briefly, wu-wei is described by Alan Watts (1989) as a being a metaphor for action/non-action. In describing the differences with respect to creation, he states that "The important difference between the Tao and the usual idea of God is whereas God produced that world by making (wei), the Tao produced it by 'not-making' (wu-wei) ? which is approximately what we mean by 'growing'" (p. 160). The usefulness of wu-wei is that it relies on the naturalness of life, thus "arriving at decisions spontaneously, decisions which are effective to the degree that one knows how to let one's mind alone, trusting it to work by itself. This is wu-wei, since wu means 'not' or 'non-' and wei means 'action,' 'making,' 'doing,' 'striving,' 'straining,' or 'busyness'" (Watts, 1989, p 160). Coming back to Atkinson's (Atkinson & Heath, 1990) use of this concept with regard to clinical work, they suggest that the issue is not in the "doing," or "action," or "intervening," but in how much the therapist (in this case a supervisor) holds on to their version of truth. Discussing second-order work, they suggest that:

Second-order family therapists will continually recognize and acknowledge that their
views are not objective or "true" in any determinable way, but, rather, that they are
constructed from the limited (but important) viewpoint of the therapist, and that clients
should feel free to disagree. However, second-order family therapists will recognize that
their ideas and suggestions may be helpful if heard, and they will not hesitate to share
them (Atkinson & Heath, 1990, p. 152).
        And as a suggestion for practice, "Therapists will develop the ability to enjoy the experience of being with their clients before they begin to facilitate change, and regardless of whether the clients accept their ideas or not" (Atkinson & Heath, 1990, p. 152). 
        We also acknowledge that these concepts may be far removed from the traditional methods of counseling which often relies on scientific methodology to understand and, therefore, approximate truth in a positivist manner. In fact, one of our reviewers requested an accounting of our method with the standard scientific principles. To wit, we respond with the words of sacred author/biologist Annie Dillard from her Pulitzer Prize award winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, (1974):
Many of us are still living in the universe of Newtonian physics, and fondly imagine that real, hard scientists have no use for these misty ramblings, dealing as scientist do with the measurable and known. We think that at least the physical causes if physical events are perfectly knowable, and that, as the results of various experiments keep coming in, we gradually roll back the cloud of unknowing.? All we need to do is perfect our instruments and our methods, and we can collect enough data like birds on a sting to predict physical events from physical causes. 

    But in 1927 Werner Heisenberg pulled out the rug, and our whole understanding
of the universe toppled and collapsed. For some reason it has not yet trickled down to the man on the street that some physicists nom are a bunch of wild-eyed, raving mystics. For they have perfected their instruments and methods just enough to whisk away the crucial veil, and what stands revealed is the Cheshire cat's grin. (Dillard, 1974, pp. 202).
Quantum physics has had a major impact on world views. It surprises us that the fields of
counseling and supervision have been so late in coming to these new views in a grander scale.

And later Dillard (1974) goes on:
The Principle of Indeterminacy, which saw the light in the summer of 1927, says
in effect that you cannot know both a particle's velocity and position. You can guess
statistically what any batch of electrons might do, but you cannot predict the career of any
one particle. They seem to be as free as dragonflies. You can perfect your instruments
and your methods till the cows come home, and you will never ever be able to measure
this one basic thing. It cannot be done. The electron is a muskrat; it cannot be perfectly
stalked. It is not that we lack sufficient information to know both a particle's velocity and
its position; that would have been a perfectly ordinary situation well within the
understanding of classical physics. Rather, we know now for sure that there is no
knowing (Dillard, 1974, p 203).
        We believe that all these concepts come together in what we at first called strength-based counseling and supervision. With roots deeply imbedded in second-order cybernetics and quantum physics, and later understood from postmodern and a languaging systems perspective, strength-based supervision is the wu-wei Zen that is more helpful to supervisees than the perspective experienced by Oppenheimer (1998). For we, too, know that our supervisees, like their clients, are like dragonflies. They are free to be who they are; and that if one is honest with oneself, there is really no knowing. Thus, we have adopted a non-action wu-wei stance. But, to reiterate Atkinson and Heath (1990), "second-order family therapists will recognize that their ideas and suggestions may be helpful if heard, and they will not hesitate to share them" (p.152).


     Within the last decade a competency or strength-based approach has emerged, departing from the medically modeled tradition that focuses on assessment of deficits or problems, and prescribes a remedy to the "ailing" client by the "expert in charge." Called by a variety of names ? second-ordered family systems, resiliency, solution focused/oriented, social constructionist, competency based, narrative, languaging systems ? these strength-based therapies (Krauth, 1995) are now employed in counseling settings beyond the marriage and family field from where they emerged. These strength-based therapies reflect what some have described as a postmodern view of human systems interactions, and have gained a prominent position for mental health counseling (Guterman, 1994). 
        The movement toward strength-based counseling urges us to examine the way in which, not only family counseling supervision, but all clinical supervision has been operating. Most traditional supervision has paralleled conventional counseling, looking for what the supervisee was doing incorrectly or not doing enough of ? mostly in the area of technique ? and attempting to devise remedial solutions. For example, those who aligned themselves with facilatative counseling, i.e., Rogers (1957), or Truax and Carkhuff (1967), suggested that modeling was the best method for supervising. Thus, "effective supervisors demonstrate empathy, warmth, and genuineness" (Carkhuff & Berenson, 1967). Both behavioral and cognitive models of supervision required that supervisors train counselors with skills that could be learned (Leddick & Bernard, 1980). Neufeldt, Iverson, & Juntunen (1995) suggested that the supervisor evaluate observed counseling session interactions, and then teach, demonstrate, or model intervention techniques. But one of the most influential methods of training still remains the Ivey (1971) model, emphasizing communication skills attainment. 
        All of the models above maintain a hierarchical position. We believe that in order to keep pace with the movement toward strength-based counseling, supervision must employ a similar view. As strength-based counseling models become more common practice, supervision practices should follow suit. In contrast with the hierarchical position adopted by conventional models, strength-based models of supervision attempt to sidestep hierarchy in favor of co-constructing ideas with the supervisee. A non-hierarchical supervisory relationship is one where there exists a give and take, where the supervisor does not assume to have more "correct" or privileged knowledge of both the supervisee's and clients' goals, intentions or views, and where the supervisor works intentionally to create a strength-based supervision. We believe that it is within this non-hierarchical supervisory relationship that the most important and interesting work can occur. We see this as being a lot like wu-wei, where there may be action, but not an expectation of outcome from our direction.


    The strength-based wu-wei supervision we propose rests on two meta-frameworks of supervision practices consistent with our current thinking. These two meta-frameworks are: (1) a
postmodern view of humans systems interaction, and (2) the isomorphic nature of the supervisor/counselor/client relationships.

The Postmodern View of Human Systems Interaction

        The first meta-framework for our supervision model is the postmodern view of human systems.

        Postmodernism. Postmodernism represents a view of human systems that has begun to be appreciated and practiced in counseling (Bobele, Gardner, & Biever, 1995; Epston, White, & Murray, 1992; Guterman, 1994; Lax, 1992), and supervision (Anderson & Swim, 1995; Neal, 1996; Roth & Epston, 1996; Selekman & Todd, 1995; Storm, 1995;Thomas, 1994; Wetchler, 1990). The central organizing principles of postmodernism in human interactions revolves around language-generating and meaning-generating systems (Anderson & Goolishian, 1992), and moves away from the idea of a Grand Narrative of science, thus "truth" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Individuals are seen as being responsive and responsible, recursively, to other individuals in a social context (Becvar & Becvar, 1996). Objectivity is viewed with great skepticism (Atkinson & Heath, 1987), and reality is seen as an evolving entity created through language, rather than discovered by those who "observe" (Gergen & Kaye, 1992). Problems, therefore, are imbedded in, and created by, a problem saturated language system rather than "caused" by some objective event or essence. As Bertrand Russell asserted some fourty-five years ago:

The word "cause" is so inextricably bound up with misleading associations as to make its
complete extrusion from the philosophical vocabulary desirable...the reason physics has
ceased to look for causes is that, in fact, there are no such things. Law of a
relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously
supposed to do no harm (Russell, 1953, p. 387).
        Thus, the discovery of "causation" is abandoned as a relic of modernist linear thinking. Problems exist in a social context, and are maintained by how all those involved describe and view the dilemma.

        Postmodern ideas applied to supervision. We agree that there are useful ideas that come from any of the forms of counseling and psychotherapy, thus supervision. We believe that the ideas being articulated by the counseling movement that is called postmodern comes closest to how we currently think and practice, however we would assert that the spirit of wu-wei expresses these ideas more aptly, philosophically. Postmodernism, with it's denial of truth, presents a problem. For, as soon as one begins to say that certain ideas are "better," then one has begun to swallow one's own tail; especially if one calls him or herself postmodern. Thus wu-wei's ideas of action/non-action seems, to our way of thinking, a better description of what it is we are about. We see them fitting within strength-based supervision. 
        With postmodernism, supervisors are not seen as having a privileged view that is more "true" than those whom they supervise. There is a focus on discourse that acknowledges the political/social context, and emphasizes the creation of meaning and construction of reality. Postmodern supervision works toward co-creating new realities through deconstruction (deShazer, 1991) of old narratives and replace them with new, more useful ones that do not pathologize people. Postmodern supervision focuses on strengths rather than deficits, potentials rather than constraints, future possibilities rather than past problems, and multiple perspectives instead of universal truths. 
        Supervision from this view has begun to be articulated already, usually under the categories of solution focused or narrative. Several authors have discussed solution focused/oriented supervision practice (Marek, Sandifer, Beach, Coward, & Protinsky, 1994; Thomas, 1994; Wetchler, 1990). Selekman and Todd (1995) advocate supervision where the strengths and successes of supervisees are brought forth, rather than focusing on weaknesses and problems. 
        Narrative supervisors espouse several ways of supervising. The most prevalent, to date, involve the use of reflecting teams (Biever & Gardner, 1995; James, MacCormack, Korol, & Lee, 1996; Lowe & Guy, 1996), emphasizing multiple voices of the team members thereby illuminating and transforming ideas, rather than criticizing or disqualifying. The reflecting team has been used to teach psychology interns systemic therapy (James, MacCormack, Korol, & Lee, 1996), and its value for training and supervision in systemic therapy is widespread (Diethelm, Fentress, London, & McCarthy, 1992; Wendorf, Wendorf, & Bond, 1985). The narrative ideas of Michael White and David Epston (1990) have also been applied to supervision (Freedman & Combs, 1996; Neal, 1996; Roth & Epston, 1996) with an emphasis on externalizing problems, finding unique outcomes, and deconstructing problem saturated systems. 
        Finally, a languaging systems orientation (Anderson & Swim, 1995; Bobele, Gardner, & Biever, 1995; Storm, 1995) reflects the work of Anderson and Goolishian (1990). Supervision from this perspective focuses on opening up conversation and pays attention to how a conversationalist may "silence" or invite dialog and discourse. Lowe and Guy (1996) have discussed a combination of methods, such as solution focused and reflecting team. In addition, supervision, using a reflecting team, or with no team, may take place with the client(s) present (Madigan, 1993). 
        It seems that in supervision, co-construction or co-creation of a new reality may be the most important aspect. As Edwards and Nejedlo (1988) note: "It happens where two people collaborate in a significant professional relationship in order to advance meaning and knowledge in a new way" (p. 4).

The Isomorphic Nature of the Supervisory Relationships

        The second meta-framework for our strength-based wu-wei supervision is the isomorphic nature of the supervisor/counselor/client relationship.

        Isomorphic process. "Isomorphism means identity or similarity of form," (Kerlinger, 1986, p. 395). The word comes from Iso - meaning same, and morph - meaning structure. Any two systems that are connected are said to have isomorphic properties when there is similarity between the two. The same principle or idea can be applied at more than one level of the system (Breunlin, 1997). In the supervision process, this means that what happens at one level ? supervision ? might be repeated at another ? during counseling. According to Liddle (1988), isomorphic processes serve "as the overlay of overlays' ? a framework under which all other elements of the training process can be subsumed" (p. 154-155). Isomorphy differs from parallel process in that the latter is a process-level description of interaction between the supervisor and supervisee, and does not bring into focus what Liddle calls the "action potential" (p. 155). 
        Isomorphy refers to that part of two or more structures that have a correspondence. As there is an interconnection between all systems that are interrelated, this correspondence has the potential of influence. Simon, Stierlin, and Wynne (1985) observed that "patterns of behavior and communication are isomorphic in, for example, a nuclear family, the parents' family of origin, the therapeutic system (family plus therapists), the treatment team subsystems, and the family of origin of the therapists" (p. 202), or in our case, supervisor, supervisee, and clients. A change in one part of the interconnected system will correspondingly change that part of the other system. Unlike the concept of parallel process, isomorphy implies a normalcy of pattern replication. It is expected that there will be similarity of process from one connected system to another. One may then use that principle to influence change. As a wu-wei supervisor, influence is a matter of whether the supervisee finds a fit with what is presented by the supervisor.

            Applying Isomorphic Process to Supervision. Isomorphic supervision reflects the notion that the process of supervision also allows for the altering and shaping of supervisees through intentionality. As Liddle (1988) states:

Using the isomorphic perspective, the supervisor can transform this replication into an intervention, redirecting a therapist's behavior and thereby influencing interactions at various levels of the system. Supervisors are not passive observers of pattern replication, but intervenors and intentional shapers of the misdirected sequences they perceive, participate in, and co-create (p. 155).
        When one prepares to practice wu-we supervision, the notion of intentionality might become most difficult. How does a supervisor establish a non-hierarchical relationship, provide supervision that includes the concept of a non-pathological frame of reference, maintain a "not-knowing," and active/non-active stance, and still address or pay attention to the use of isomorphy? Herein lies, what we believe to be, the cruxes of postmodern supervision. 
        Heath & Storm, (1983) suggest that supervisors should use their counseling theories as models for supervision. Isomorphy implies that ideas one would use in postmodern counseling should also be applied intentionally in supervision. We deliberately use concepts that reflect a non-hierarchical relationship, and co-creation, by "situating" our ideas in a context that describes where the ideas came from, a solution orientation, and a focus on utility and strengths, rather than focusing on a fixed set of assumptions and techniques. Thus, techniques take a back seat to issues of respect and mutually co-creating solutions to the problems being presented in supervision. Techniques are suggested "as long as I make it clear that I am only giving the 'idea of' a task or interpretation" (Hoffman, 1993, pp. 153-154). Techniques can be used, but "what seems important is the attitude of non-expert, transparency, respect, expanding frames, and the tentative offer of idea" (Becvar & Becvar, 1997, p. 187). This is exactly what we mean by a non-action supervision ? wu-wei!! We give suggestions, reflections, thoughts or ideas from our past experiences, however, they are given with in the context of a wu-wei mind. We do not expect that they must make changes, or corrections, as we believe that our supervisee's are the ones who are carrying out the counseling, thus are in the moment with their clients. If we wish for them to be nonhierarchical, co-construct meaning and solutions, and enjoy the moment with their clients, we must do the same with them.

        From super-vision to co-vision. The nature of supervision, thus changes from "SUPER-vision," where the supervisor is considered the expert with privileged knowledge telling the supervisee how to proceed, to co-vision and co-created-vision, where the covisee is considered the expert and is expected to know more about what is happening in his or her sessions. Selekman and Todd (1995) suggest the "task of supervisors therefore is to identify carefully supervisees' unique cooperative response patterns" (p. 22). They then use the supervision process in much the same way as a solution focused therapist would work with a client; "identifying and amplifying supervisees' exceptions, doing something different if supervision is not working, letting the supervisees take the lead in defining the goals, using scaling questions, and pretending that a miracle happened" (p. 22 - 25). Thus, the process in supervision is isomorphic to the process of counseling. It creates a competency based context that will occur in the next level of the system, the clients. 
        Harlene Anderson and Susan Swim (1995), using their Collaborative Language Systems view of supervision, have similar views:

    For supervision these premises imply that the supervisor is an expert in an exploratory
    conversational process, in which she or he engages collaboratively with the supervisees
    in the telling, inquiring, interpreting, and shaping of the supervisee's narrative. Such a supervisory
    position implies that the supervisor is not the expert on the supervisees, but that the supervisees is
    the expert on his of her own life and on his or her own narratives, experiences, and knowledge
    (Anderson & Swim, 1995, p. 2).

      Despite the rapid shift to the competency-based paradigm in clinical practice, the manner in which counselors are supervised remains primarily unchanged. To keep pace with the practice of strength-based counseling models, supervision practices need to follow suit. As we have argued, supervision is an isomorphic process. What happens in the supervision context will be carried over by the covisees into the counseling context. Therefore, in pursuit of wu-wei supervision with counselor education students, we have found the following contexts to be useful: (1) symmetrical voices, (2) a competence focus, (3) client-participated supervision, (4) an unassuming transparency, and is practiced within (5) a reflecting team model, and (6) the "tag-team" supervision process.

Symmetrical Voice

        Traditional supervision typically involves "vertical hierarchy, a respect for expertise, and allegiance to the dominant discourses of the profession" (Turner & Fine, 1995, p. 58). As Hardy (1993) claims "Many of the traditional assumptions regarding what constitutes an effective supervisory relationship have been governed by principles of structuralism and hierarchy" (p. 1415). When supervised under the vertical hierarchical relationship, covisees often find themselves to be in a one-down position (Wetchler, 1990), and have relatively little voice about their work. When points of view differ, the supervisor's voice usually supersedes that of the therapist (Turner & Fine, 1995). We believe that this superseding structure of supervision has its root in the modernist notion that reality can be universally observed and therapeutic truth can be pursued (Hardy, 1993). This hierarchical relationship inevitably dissipates the personal agency of the covisees. 
        To render the supervision a collaborative process, as recommended by Anderson and Swim (1995), we thereby strive to shift from a supervision position of directive monologue to that of a symmetrical voice. Anderson and Swim (1995) explain monologue as a communication style where "one idea or narrative takes over, dominate and continues to repeat itself" (p. 10). This monologue can result in impasses in supervision. Yet, we are easily trapped into this monologue without awareness when we assume an expert position, or when covisees experience confusion and ask for our advice. 
        To counteract supervisor monologue, we encourage supervises to give voice to their story in a way that expands the options for tackling client problems and highlight their competent behaviors. We brainstorm with our covisees. We give covisees opportunities to teach us something they know or perform well in their session. Even when our views differ from that of our covisees' during supervision, we give the covisees' voice the ultimate authority for guiding the direction of the therapy session. All of our conscious endeavors aim to bring symmetrical voice into the supervisory relationship. We believe that when our covisees experience that their own voice can generate therapeutic meaning, their need for taking on the "authority" position with their clients will also evaporate (Anderson & Swim, 1995). This practice is consistent with our strength-based notion "to give voice to the unsaid, repressed, or marginalized discourses" (Bobele, Gardner, & Biever, 1995, p. 19).

Competence Focus

        Strength-based supervisors must model the very values that we wish the covisees to exercise with their clients. That is, our relationship to covisees should be isomorphic with the relationship of the therapist to client (Cantwell & Holmes, 1994). As Wetchler (1990) warns:

    If supervision takes a problem-resolution stance to trainee development, the focus will be on supervises mistakes. This focus will highlight things that supervisees do wrong rather than what they do correctly. A problem orientation serves to reinforce supervisee's feelings of inadequacy as they make mistakes (p. 131).
        We often begin supervision by asking what covisees feel they have succeeded in doing, and ncourage them to repeat those behaviors in similar situations. Starting the supervision with an emphasis on covisees' strengths and successful interventions is more likely to make covisees feel more capable. Even when the counseling outcomes seem unsuccessful, the supervisor can still look for covisee's underlying good intentions. We further help covisees learn to accept that "what they felt as being a mistake is just a chance to learn more about clients" (Merl, 1994, p. 51). In addition, we probe the covisees for past exceptions. Such doing enables the covisees to remember past successes in dealing with similar issues or feelings. Thus, covisees are more able to create their own solutions by recouping past solutions (Marek, Sandifer, Beach, Coward, & Protinsky, 1994). 
        In strength-based supervision, not only do we focus on covisee's competence, but the language used to talk about clients is also competence-based. We strive to avoid using pathological labels about clients that might silence the expansion of client possibilities (Bobele, Gardner, & Biever, 1995). We encourage supervises to identify strength and assets in their clients. We ask about the unique outcomes (White, 1989) where clients have been successful in defeating the problems. This type of supervision enhances covisees working with clients. It helps covisees develop an alternative clinical schema bases on success and competency (Wetchler, 1990). As Cantwell & Holmes (1994) state: "As client competencies improve when affirmed and problems drop away, so too do therapist competence expand when tagged and accepted" (p. 45).

Client-Participated Supervision

        One device we use to further the intentional shaping of supervises development is client-participated supervision (Madigan, 1993). Traditional models of supervision emphasizes familiarization with classification and diagnosis (Bobele, Gardner, & Biever, 1995) and explanation analyses. Such kind of supervision talk, saturated with ideas indicating underlying pathology, is only possible in the context of client's absence. No counselor would conceptualize a clients' case in such language if their clients are present. To bring forth more respect into the ways we and our covisees discuss clients, covisees' clients are invited to join us in the supervision. When the clients are unable to be present in our supervision, the covisees are encouraged to imagine that the clients are actually beside us in our meeting. This practice tends to transform the tone in the supervision. No longer does the explanation analysis represent the client's reality. No longer is the language imbued with pathology. Rather, clients can have the authority to speak for their version of truth and covisees are more cognizant of the languages they use. This supervision format cultivates an atmosphere featured by respect, vitality, and hope.

Unassuming Transparency

        We promote a supervision that shifts away from scientific objective detachment towards interactive transparency. Deep within our belief is the notion that the knowledge that is most formative of our covisees' sense of self and identity lies not in abstract knowledge or skill, but rather, abides in the experience that emerges from an interactive moment with them. Therefore we take advantage of those precious moments to share "own humanity, life-story and professional journey" (Cantwell & Holmes, 1995, p. 38), or "share with covisees our initial struggles in learning new ideas and accepting feedback" (Selekman & Todd, 1995, p. 22), and initial confusion when learning a strength-based model. 
        The transparency in our humanity also paves the way for us to take a "not-knowing" position. We leave room for doubt or rejection, we reflect in a hypothetical way (Merl, 1995). Through such a curious posture, we convey interest and a need to know more (Anderson & Swim, 1995). Furthermore, this unassuming humanity makes room for covisees' expertise and competencies. In all our attempt to be humble and transparent, we also acknowledge the power we have in the evaluative position. We agree with what Turner and Fine (1995) state that: "we need to be very clear and up-front about the power we have accepted as part of our supervisory position and about our responsibility to work within specific guidelines" (p. 63).

The Reflecting Team Live Supervision

        Another device we use in integrating the strength-based views into supervision is the reflecting team model. Many beginning group therapists feel stymied when facing a stuck group, especially in its storming stage. The complex and emotionally charged group dynamics in its swirling speed often present a challenge beyond the beginning group therapists' ability to process here-and-now interaction. If unprocessed, the undercurrent dynamics in the group quickly bog down a group system. The result is more than disconcerting to both clients and the beginning group therapists. The key, we believe to help covisees move the group beyond where they are stuck, lies in language. A group is a linguistic system wherein language plays a critical role in generating meanings from group experience (Chen & Noosbond, in press). When called in to reflect, the team, following these languaging principles, presents a smorgasbord of ideas in a tentative, both/and, constructive, and humble manners. They bring forth members' agency, exceptions from fixed maladaptive patterns, and vision of future outcomes. 
        The reflection team opens up group members' rich possibilities that would otherwise be buried or get unnoticed in the entangled group dynamics. The reflecting team also offers the temporarily tongue-tied group therapists a much needed resource for generating new ideas that move the group forward. In addition, witnessing the reflecting team in session provides the beginning group therapists a live illustration of how the postmodern ideas work in group counseling context.

The Tag Team Supervision Format

        One final idea we use during group supervision, is tag team counseling. It fits a setting where the class members cannot directly observe one-another's clinical work. Tag team counseling requires a covisee to briefly describe a client or clients with whom they are working, and for whom they would like input. The covisee then begins to role-play the client. For example, the covisee briefly describes the client or family he/she works with, picks out members from the class and assigns them roles, and chooses a role for himself/herself. A remaining member of the class will then act as counselor, while the rest of the class observes. The counselor role is replaced every so often by a remaining member of the observers who tags the current "counselor-in-residence," and takes over from where they left off. This may occur at the request of the instructor, the current therapist, or the acting client(s). This process brings in multiple perspectives, creates space for discussion of possibilities, and showcases different methods or ideas. The instructor almost always takes a turn, and each "therapist-in-residence" works for 5 - 10 minutes. An atmosphere of respect and curiosity prevails, and a sense of playfulness takes over. When the session is finished, the class has a post-session discussion, with the client(s) listening and, later, reflecting. Covisees are requested to "situate" their ideas regarding the case, by discussing how they came to that point of view when acting as the therapist. They share how that view has changed over the years, during the process of training, and as they now begin to practice their chosen profession in the field.

Situating "enables everyone involved to see how the therapist or reflecting group members arrived at the ideas expressed" (Neal, 1996, p. 69). Within this context, covisees begin to feel empowered and encouraged rather than pressured to come forth with the "right" answer to satisfy the instructor. Our experience is similar to Neal's (1996) in that our covisees experience this tag team experience as respectful and curious of the covisee's thinking. In this context, questions intended to situate their ideas are experienced as illuminating and transformative rather than critical and disqualifying. As we aim at empowering covisees, we also help them to isomorphically work at empowering their clients.


   In this article, we provided a zen-like supervision model or spirit called wu-wei that reflecting our current practice of supervision. We believe that the use of strength-based wu-wei ideas not only helps covisees feel respected, responsible and involved, but also accelerates their learning process. The focus on strengths contributes to counselors having more personal agency, rather than being better technicians. This occurs as supervisors acknowledge their lack of control and focus on the strengths counselors bring to the co-vision process.

Implications for Developmental Understanding

        It has been said that "indeed, not taking the expert role may be the greatest challenge for therapists who received their training in the modernist tradition" (Becvar, & Becvar, 1997, p. 187). It is during this relinquishing of authority that we believe the differences between traditional and strength-based wu-wei supervisors is manifested. The belief that most covisees have good ideas of their own may not be problematic to most supervisors, but what about the "difficult" ones? Selekman and Todd (1995) suggest that the question of covisees having wrong goals or lack of technical or theoretical knowledge can be "considered reflective of the difficulties supervisors have in trusting supervisees" (p. 28). These difficulties, however, also point to the developmental stages counselors go through as they refine their skills. Despite the different needs at various developmental stages, most supervisors do not change their style of supervision to adapt to their covisees different developmental stages (Kersey, as reported in Selekman and Todd, 1995). We believe that understanding covisee's stages of development as they progress not only helps the supervisor place the covisee in a context that makes sense and allows for variety in responses, but also normalizes the process for the covisee. We often encounter students who are overly hard on themselves trying to be in a stage beyond their current development. As we comment on the stages of development (Stoltenberg & Delworth, 1987) of our covisees and how well they are doing given their experiece level, our wu-wei spirit helps co-visees feel more calm and relaxed, thus have a better ability to integrate and learn.

Future Directions and Personal Reflections

        Several areas of future exploration occur to us. As the counseling field bases much of its foundation on prevention, we should help future counselors begin to deal with the realities of being a counselor before they become overwhelmed. One way to address these issues is to focus on self-care early on in the process. Encouraging counselors to take responsibility for their own self-care and self- nurturing represents a part of our supervision practice. 
        We believe that more supervisors should take the risky position of being real with their covisees, and invite them, as practiced by Atkinson (1997), into exploring their own uniqueness and possibilities with "person-of-the-therapist" supervision. In short, we see the future direction of supervision as one that looks at collaborative work preparing and changing counselors to go beyond the techniques of counseling. We take seriously the adage that one cannot take clients any further than they have gone themselves. We advocate supervision that potentiates personal change, through gaining personal agency. At the confluence of this personal change are two concepts, one from family counseling and one from educational psychology, that seem to go hand in hand from our perspective. Keeney (1983) describes the nature and importance of epistemology to the field of counseling thus, "The study of epistemology, in more general terms, becomes a way of recognizing how people come to construct and maintain their habits of cognition" (Keeney, 1983, p. 13). He further states that "the deepest order of change that human beings are capable of demonstrating is epistemological change. A change in epistemology means transforming one's way of experiencing the world" (Keeney, 1983, p. 7). 
        From Keeney's perspective our epistemology has been at the crux of our views of our selves and our clients. We add to this notion the concept of personal agency. First introduced by Albert Bandura (1982, 1986, 1989), personal agency or self-efficacy includes the beliefs that people hold (epistemology) regarding their ability to control their own lives. "Those who have a strong sense of efficacy, through ingenuity and perseverance, figure out ways of exercising some measure of control in environments containing limited opportunities and many constraints" (Bandura, 1990, p. 338). Blow and Piercy (1997) also identify personal agency as a key component in strength based counseling. They point out that narrative concepts help people access resources, and co- create alternative stories (Blow & Piercy, 1997). We believe that the use of wu-wei help covisees begin an epistemological change ? a deep level change ? that helps to resituate themselves as truly competent counselors who can deal with all of the situations they will be given in their professional lives. It is toward this end that we feel compelled to point our future directions.


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Comments regarding this article may be addressed to Dr. Jeffrey K. Edwards, Department of
Counselor Education, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL 60625.


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