Supervising from a Pluralistic Perspective

Mick Cooper, University of Roehampton

What’s distinctive about supervision when it’s informed by a pluralistic approach? John McLeod and I talked about it in our original 2011 book and then Mary Creaner and Laco Timulak have written about it more extensively in the 2016 pluralistic handbook. Having practised, pluralistically, as a supervisor for some years now, I wanted to try and describe what I see as some of the core features of it.

  • When we talk through client issues, I’ll sometimes encourage the supervisee and I to look at it from different theoretical perspectives. For instance, How might it be understood from a person-centred standpoint, or a psychodynamic one, and how might we see it through the lens of CBT? And the same goes when thinking about practice: What would be best to do here from a person-centred/psychodynamic/CBT angle?
  • When we’re thinking about how best to work with a client, I’m often inviting my supervisees to think about whether, and ways in which, they might go back to the client to see how they would like to take things forward. So I might say something like, ‘You’re thinking about whether to be more challenging to the client or just give her space–is this something you could maybe ask the client about?’
  • I try and get a sense of how my supervisees want to work in supervision, and what they find most helpful (and unhelpful). It’s a question I’ll often ask at the start of our work together, and then try to go back and review. As a pluralistic supervisor, I’m happy to work in a range of different ways: for instance, focusing on the client, or talking about the supervisee’s own processes, or bringing in theory and research. Or a mixture… Whatever emerges in the dialogue.
  • Related to that, on a session-by-session basis, I do try and get a sense of how my supervisee wants to use the time. So I might start a session with a question like, ‘What would be useful to talk about today?’ or ‘Where would you like to focus on?’ I’m happy for my supervisees to set the agenda: although, if there’s something specific I feel we should talk about, I won’t shy away from bringing that in.
  • I try and use a range of sources in supervision itself. In particular, I think it’s great to listen to actual recordings of sessions, as well as talking through the supervisee’s experiences and perceptions of the work. Also, I’m a real ‘fan’ of using measures as a way of informing our supervision dialogues: for instance, the client’s ratings of the sessions on the Session Effectiveness Scale, or their Working Alliance Inventory scores, or changes in their levels of depression the PHQ-9. None of these sources tell the ‘whole story’, but they’re fabulous resources that can be drawn on to get more of a sense of where the client is at.
  • Something I’m always trying to hold in mind, as we talk about clients, is what that particular client seems to want from the therapeutic work: where are they trying to get to, what’s their direction? So if we’re talking about a client, for instance, who seems really angry in every session, I might encourage the supervisee to think about where they’re trying to get to in that: is it, for instance, about getting someone on their side, or venting emotions, or trying to get the supervisee to do something different. And what might that say about their wider directionality and way of being in the world.

Of course, pluralistic supervision isn’t necessarily better than other forms of supervision but, as a supervisor, I really like the flexibility, creativity, and engagement that comes from this way of working. It feels very collaborative, dialogic, and drawing on the skills and understandings of both myself and my supervisee. It’s a way of thinking about–and practising supervision–that doesn’t have many hard-and-fast rules, which means that we can really fit it to the individual supervisee, within the bounds of what I, as a supervisor, am most able to offer.