Supervision Issues in Group
By Dr. Cindy Cook, Dr. Gary Adams, and
Dr. Cindy Cook is
the Associate Director and Training Director at Counseling Services
at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. She has been an active
member of CCAPS for over ten years and has served on the directorate
in the past. Dr. Gary Adams is a Psychologist and the Coordinator
for Group Counseling at Counseling Services at the University of
Houston-Clear Lake, and Elizabeth Huddleston is a former practicum
student and current intern there.
Group counseling is an integral
psychological service provided at many university and college counseling
centers. When a counseling center has trainees providing services, group
counseling can be an excellent learning opportunity for them. Our counseling
center provides mostly ongoing therapy groups and uses a trainee-as-co-leader
model. We have found this to be an effective and powerful model for developing
group skills. However, when trainees participate as a co-leader in group
therapy, a number of issues arise that can and should be discussed in
The co-leader model is both common and preferred by
many (Yalom, 1995; Levine, 1981; Posthuma, 1992). In this model, trainees are
introduced as a co-leader to the group and are encouraged to actively interact
with the group right from the beginning. This can be a more effective and
efficient way for trainees to learn-by-doing in the presence of a senior
co-leader. In some ways this model provides a parallel process of what we
encourage members to do in group – to learn by experiencing and practicing in
the safe context of group. This model minimizes the number of non-client
members in the group and is less distracting and disorienting than having
process observers present. One focus of a training program is to socialize the
trainee into the field of counseling center work. This model allows trainees to
develop a full appreciation of group work in counseling centers and also
empowers their ability to successfully engage in group work. It also introduces
them to the process of working collaboratively with senior staff and allows for
the early exploration of the co-leader relationship and dynamics. Finally, this
model may benefit the group, as the trainee brings new energy to an ongoing
Several supervision issues that affect the co-leader
relationship have arisen from our utilization of this model. The senior staff
member should be aware of these issues and be prepared to process them.
Supervision should occur in a safe environment and allow for adequate time to
address these issues.
Factors that influence the co-facilitator relationship
The degree of concern or anxiety the trainee has about their own competency may
have a significant effect on the co-leader relationship and on the trainee’s
level of activity and effectiveness in group. If trainees have higher general
levels of anxiety or if they have less knowledge and familiarity about the focus
of the group, (e.g. an anxiety disorder group or other topical group) these
effects may be greater. Research has suggested that competency concerns have
been shown to involve anxiety about their own effectiveness as a co-leader,
concern about their co-leaders’ evaluation of their competence, and apprehension
about how these affect their relationship with the co-leader and group (Okech &
Kline, 2006). These authors propose that the establishment of a sense of
competency is a developmental process. We have found that the more competency
concerns are present, the more trainees are reserved and reluctant to be active
in group. Therefore, attention to where trainees are developmentally with
regard to competency concerns is an extremely important supervision issue.
2) Personality and Counselor Similarity
Miles and Kivlighan (2008) have found that, when group members perceived the
co-leaders as dissimilar in leadership style, the group climate ratings were
higher in terms of engagement and conflict which are productive for intergroup
dialogue. The discussion of personality similarities and differences has not
been as well studied, but is an important consideration, especially if there are
differences in extraversion/introversion or need for time to process. For
example, if the trainee is particularly introverted and needs additional time to
process and the senior staff is more extraverted and quick, this can impede the
trainee’s effectiveness in group. Also, multicultural issues should be
considered in the co-leader relationship. These should be discussed in terms of
similarities and differences in gender and other cultural factors regarding the
co-leader relationship, but also in terms of the group membership and how the
makeup of the co-leader team may impact the group. For example, what are the
implications of a mixed gender co-leader team in a women’s group or the
implications of a heterosexual co-leader in a GLBT group? Finally, if there is
a difference with regards to belief in group effectiveness (often with the
trainee having less experience and therefore less conviction of the efficacy of
group), there needs to be an open discussion of its impact on the co-leader
relationship and possibly the group.
Fall and Wejnert (2005) also discuss the parallels between the developmental
sequence of the co-leader relationship to the stages of group development that
Tuckman and Jensen laid out in the 1970s (Forming, Storming, Norming, and
Performing). Thus, it is important to recognize how these developmental stages
play out in the co-leadership relationship and understand them in the context of
a developmental process common in co-leader relationships, versus pathologizing
behavior common to one of these stages.
3) Power Dynamics
Awareness and open discussion of perceived and actual
power differentials operating in the co-leadership relationship is a critical
supervision issue. This model offers a challenging dynamic to trainees. They
are at the same time co-leaders but also under supervision evaluation. Trainees
have to be able to switch in and out of these different roles, which can cause
some confusion and discomfort. Active involvement in the group involves
risk-taking (Herzog, 1980) and trainees must feel safe to explore these issues
in order to feel safe taking those risks. Levine (1980) talks about the
necessity to aim for equalitarian co-leadership so that the less-experienced
therapist can overcome the power differential and participate more fully.
Stempler (1993) suggests that that the equalization of power between the
co-therapists happens over time, when attention is paid to it. Power can also
be more equalized in supervision by allowing the trainee to provide the
supervisor with feedback about his/her interventions in the group, or by asking
questions about how and why the supervisor made decisions about group
interventions. This type of feedback can lead to a rich discussion and
teachable moments about group leadership and dynamics. These discussions will
also benefit the group as a whole.
At times, especially in ongoing groups of clients who
continue and have longer term working relationships with the senior staff
member, clients can view the trainee as being a “junior” co-leader. One of the
challenges within the group and supervision of this model is the working towards
equalization in the co-leader relationship not only in the co-leader
relationship as discussed above, but also in the eyes of the group members. One
way to work towards this equalization is to arrange for the trainee to lead the
group alone, which gives them additional credibility in the eyes of the clients
but also builds their confidence in leading the group. They will often step up
to the challenge and become more active in the group with the senior staff
absent, which will continue upon his/her return.
4) Use of supervision time
The last supervision issue is the use of the
supervision time itself. Within this co-leader model, supervision will consist
of processing what happened in group and, as importantly, the supervisor’s
provision or feedback about the trainee’s group skills, to facilitate skill
development. The balance of how much time is spent on each of these may differ
depending on developmental and skill level of the trainee. Especially with
more beginning trainees, it can be useful to conduct evaluations periodically to
give the trainee and supervisor an opportunity to formally discuss the strengths
and weaknesses of the trainee and to facilitate their growth. Finally, adequate
time needs to be spent on managing the co-leader relationship, as the co-leader
relationship has been shown to determine the effectiveness of group outcome (Yalom
1995, Corey, 1995). Okech & Kline (2005) and Okech (2008) discuss the importance
of engaging in a reflective relational process in order to strengthen the
In summary, the trainee-as-co-leader model can be
quite effective both for the trainee and the group, as long as the co-leader
relationship remains strong and positive. Most of the disadvantages to a
co-leader model arise from a problematic working relationship in which the
leaders are not coordinated, are competitive, or collude (Okech & Kline, 2006;
Posthuma, 2002; and Gladding, 2008). Alfred (1992) also states that if one
leader dominates the others and calls attention to the leadership roles, the
impact of both leaders is diminished. In addition, a supervisor critiquing the
trainee during the group has a negative impact on both the group and the
trainee. These pitfalls have the potential to occur when the co-leader is a
trainee. However, by considering the supervision issues discussed above and
ensuring that they get adequate time and discussion, counseling center staff can
feel confident in utilizing this model with trainees. We have certainly found
it to be very powerful and effective in our training program, and feedback from
practicum students indicate that it is one of the things that attracted them to
our program and one of their favorite experiences at our center.
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