Existential supervision: phenomenological research.
There have only been a few publications which describe the main standpoints of existential-phenomenological supervisions (hereinafter referred to as E-P supervisions); however, there is considerable interest in this topic. Articles have been found in which authors describe what they understand E-P supervision to be (Pett, 1995; Wright, 1996; Adams, 2002; Kociunas, 2005; Deurzen & Young, 2009; Pagdin, 2013; Spinelli, 2015), however, only one phenomenological research that attempts to answer the question of what E-P supervision is has been carried out (du Plock, 2009). In the publications on E-P supervision different authors distinguish and highlight various aspects of E-P supervision, however, a structural description of E-P supervision that would help to better understand the characteristic features of E-P supervision is still missing. There is still a lack of publications which refer to empirical studies on E-P supervision and that would help to both expand and deepen the understanding of this phenomenon. The question being raised is what is supervision from the existential-phenomenological perspective, what are its characteristic features, what relates and distinguishes it from other models of supervision? And finally what do supervisors have in mind when identifying themselves as existential supervisors?
While looking for an answer to the question of what E-P supervision is du Plock (2009) conducted qualitative research which revealed that it is particularly important that the supervisor's presence in the supervision process must be manifested in a non-directive and non-judging attitude. Relationships in the supervision process are equivalent; the supervisee who explores his difficulties together with the supervisor and the supervisor who acts as a colleague or assistant are the focus of the supervision process.
This research was conducted almost a decade ago and it motivated us to repeat it in our country in order to compare results and supplement the E-P definition with new aspects. Until now academic supervision studies in Lithuania in the context of psychology/psychotherapy have not been carried out. Our research not only has a practical value for learning and working psychologists and psychotherapists to become aware of the peculiarities of E-P supervision and the possibilities of its application but also opens up new fields for further investigations in this field.
Participants of the research
There were 12 participants in the research: 10 women and 2 men. All of them are existential psychotherapists and supervisors. The age of the youngest research participant was 38 years and the oldest one was 61 years old. The average age of the research participants was 46.9 years. The longest work experience as a psychotherapist was 35 years and the average of the whole sample was 17.8 years. The longest work experience as a supervisor was 17 years and the average of the whole sample was 5.8 years. Participants from Lithuania, Latvia and Russia took part in the research. The research participants from Latvia and Russia presented their answers in Russian. The names of the research participants were coded with symbols. For instance, women--M1, M2, men--V1, V2, etc.
Method of the research
The collected written answers of the survey were analysed using A. Giorgi's phenomenlogical research method which allows the human aspects of the experienced phenomena to be described (Giorgi, 1985). As a result of our research we formed two definitions of the phenomenon based on the participants' experiences from the supervisee and the supervisor's positions.
Course of the research
The research was conducted on 02.12.2016 in the Institute of Humanistic and Existential Psychology in Birstonas.
The research data was collected in writing. The participants were given two open questions printed on separate sheets of paper. Only after answering one question were the research participants given the second one. They presented their answers to the first and the second questions separately.
The research participants were given the following open questions:
1. Please remember one specific supervision where you were a SUPERVISEE andfelt that you were in an existential-phenomenological supervision. In your opinion what made that supervision an existential-phenomenological one?
Please describe in detail your experience in this supervision. There are no correct or false thoughts while describing it. The most important thing is your experience.
2. Please remember one specific supervision where you were a SUPERVISOR and felt that your supervision was existential-phenomenological. In your opinion what made that supervision an existential-phenomenological one?
Please describe in detail your experience in this supervision. There are no correct or false thoughts while describing it. The most important thing is your experience.
The research participants took between 20 and 40 minutes to describe their experiences.
1) Twenty four (24) texts have been analysed (two texts from each research participant); 2) four dimensions of the phenomenon have been detected; 3) three common dimensions of the phenomenon described by the research participants from both positions have been found; 4) the results have been summarised in two definitions (from the supervisee and the supervisor's position).
I. The most important dimensions of E-P supervision and their aspects from the supervisee's position:
* Way of the supervisor's presence in the supervision process:
Supervisor's calmness and deep relaxation (V3, M6, M8, M11, M12): 'It was like a stopping and meeting of myself and my client. The supervisor's calm presence nearby helped it' (M8).
Supervisor's free and spontaneous presence in the supervision process (M12, V3, M8,): 'The supervisor's freedom, spontaneity, non-directive attitude, his flexibility helped it' (M12).
Supervisor's focus, inclusion, curiosity, interest (V1, M4, M6): 'The supervisor listens to me intently, he does not interrupt, does not direct me anywhere. He maybe sometimes specifies something. Because of this I am able to "submerge into the case"' (V1).
Supervisor's position from 'aside' and not from 'above' (M4, M11): 'Feeling of phenomenological way was in that comfort which I felt being near that person. Being near not a "super" person, not with a person who was somewhere "above me", "in a helicopter", but being together and close ...' (M11).
Absence of supervisor's criticism, directiveness (M5, M6): 'There weren't accusations or interpretations. Though the supervisor retained his attitude. But it was presented as his attitude, seeing of the situation and not like some kind of explanation of what was really going on' (M6). Supervisor's daring to be himself and share everything that emerges 'here and now' in the supervision process: his experience, feelings, thoughts (V3, M10): 'I felt the supervision as E-P because attention was paid to my relationship with the supervisor, to what was happening at that moment between us in the supervision' (M10).
* Relationship between the therapist and the supervisor:
Equivalent, dialogue-based relationship (V1, V3, M2, M8, M11, M12): 'Feeling of phenomenological supervision was created also by the fact that the supervisor wasn't interpreting, there weren't any rules from his side as to how it "had to be", what the correct way was' (M8). Importance of non-verbal dialogue (M4, M6, M10): 'My feelings and all my non-verbality were important. Focusing on that helped me to realise the difficulty better' (M6).
Feeling of community with the supervisor and of being a 'co-researcher'experienced in the relationship (M12): 'I felt as if I were a "co-researcher" of the therapeutic case'.
* Process of the supervision:
The exploration process is experienced as 'a stopping', 'a deep pause', a slow-moving exploration or a state of 'immersion' in the process (V3, M11, M8, M12): 'It was like stopping and meeting myself and my client (M8); During stopping, this flash of a deep pause, I submerged and understood from somewhere deep inside the essence of my difficulty, I realised and experienced everything better' (M12).
Exploration experienced like a free process, however, having direction, aim and focus (V1; M4; M7): 'Specific way and naming of reality--in the instances when I wandered away in my considerations, got "tangled", the supervisor always attempted to specify, asked to identify how I understood what was happening' (M4).
Process of exploration is not directed at searching for answers or solutions but to the birthing of valuable questions which continue exploration after the supervision ends (M5, M8, M10). 'I did not find answers to many questions, they stayed ringing inside me, and that was very valuable because in that way the exploration process continued after the supervision process' (M10).
* Result of the supervision:
Emotional change (V1, M6, M8, M11, M4): 'After the supervision there remained a feeling, not a mental answer, but a feeling and experience that helped me to find contact points with my client' (M6).
Birth of a valuable question instead of receiving an answer (V1; M4; M5; M7; M8): 'I did not find answers to many questions, they stayed ringing inside me, and that was very valuable because in that way the exploration process continued after the supervision process' (M8).
Seeing the situation anew (V1, V3, M6): 'I experienced something very unexpected, something new and very important' (V3).
Deeper awareness of own feelings (V3): 'A unique perception of somebody's (some) therapy or aspect of human life. Deep and unexpected awareness of some own personal features, feelings, facts of life'.
Final definition of the existential-phenomenological supervision acting from the supervisee's position.
The research participants, acting as supervisees, first of all experienced the existential-phenomenological supervision as a meeting with a person where the way of the supervisor's presence in the supervision process was particularly important. Then the relationship between the supervisor and the therapist was created; the supervision process itself was a slowmoving and thorough exploration.
The supervisor's presence manifested itself in his calmness and deep relaxation. This gave the process a sense of stopping, a deep pause, 'immersion' in the process. The feeling that one was present in existential-phenomenological supervision was given by the supervisor's attentiveness and his interest not only in the presented case but also in the therapist himself, as well as his curiosity and inclusion, openness and daring to share his feelings, thoughts and everything that emerged 'here and now' during the supervision. The research participants also noted that the supervisor's free and spontaneous way of presence, his position from 'aside' (not 'from above' or 'from high') also influenced the productive exploration process. The supervisor's unhurriedness, careful choice of words, notice and reflection during the supervision of the therapist's non-verbal manifestations evoke the feeling of being near a careful supervisor. The non-critical and non-directive attitude of the supervisor was also important.
The sense of existential-phenomenological supervision was evoked also by the start of a relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee which was equivalent (being 'co-researchers') and dialogue-based: the importance of both verbal and non-verbal dialogue was noted (questions directed to exploration, synchronicity of the supervisor's and the supervisee's non-verbal manifestations).
The research participants also experienced the process of existential-phenomenological supervision as a slow-moving and careful exploration which evoked feelings of stopping, a deep pause, 'immersion'; it was more orientated to the birth of valuable questions and not to a search for solutions and answers. This gave a feeling of continuity to the supervision even after it ended. Exploration in the supervision process was free, although it had direction and focus. Finally, the research participants noticed that the most valuable result of the supervision was not the receiving of new information or mental answers but the sensual change which helped them to better realise their own difficulties, to see the explored therapeutic situation anew, the wish to help the client was reborn.
II. The most important dimensions of the E-P supervision and their aspects from the supervisor's position:
* Process of the supervision:
Unhurried exploration in a wide space of exploration, feeling of 'slowly flowing time', state of 'submerging' into the supervision process (M11, V1): 'It is the supervision mystery where the main thing is "immersion". I experienced "immersion" as mutual openness and safety' (V1). Valuable questions arising during the supervision process (M6): 'The end of the supervision and feelings during it, as well as the questions that were related to the fact of how the therapist saw the situation in a new way were very important.'
Process of the supervision directed not to the final goal or result (M4): 'Though the answer was not found the therapist told me that she felt relieved. I see this as an existential moment when one succeeds not in solving the problem or in overcoming the situation, but in understanding it and living through it.'
* Relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee:
Importance of non-verbal dialogue (V1): 'Not to understand him but to feel him: emotionally, bodily, it seems to me that then I felt like this. Precisely, to feel'.
Feeling of community and mutual interest (V1): 'If I feel that the therapist is not together with me "on one" wave, if he is not there with all his being, I cannot tune in. Then I was submerged with all my entity'. Equivalent, collegial, open, dialogue-based relationship (M4, V1): 'The emotional component was very important there, it was born in our emotional relationship with the therapist. It is exploration and display of a collegial mysterious process'. (V1).
* Way of the supervisor's presence:
Supervisor's focus on 'here and now' (M4, M7, M8, M12, V1, V3): 'It is very important for the supervisor to feel the difficulty of the supervisee to be "here and now" in the supervision process which makes the supervision focused' (V1).
Supervisor's 'full' participation in the supervision process: with his knowledge, feelings, experience (M2, M4, M6, M7, M10, M11): 'I remember the supervision when I listened to the therapist not only using my "my ears", but also feelings, knowledge, experience; sincerely and openly' (M2). Supervisor's 'unknowing' position (M9), (M10): 'Exploration took place in the "un knowing" method: to get to know something, one has not to know. I did not attempt not to know anything, together with the therapist being "know-nothings" with the help of the "not-knowing" method we made discoveries that were taken from the supervision by the therapist' (M10).
Supervisor's neutrality (M9): 'I took a neutral position and tried "not to understand" the wrongdoings for which her client was getting such descriptions. Together with the therapist we set off to explore and search for "evidence" of whether that client corresponded to that kind of description'.
* Interventions used by the supervisor:
Reflection of parallel processes (M6, M10, M12): 'I shared my irritation openly and it helped my therapist to realise the parallel process among things that happen in therapy and things that are happening now in the supervision process' (M12).
Questions giving much freedom (V1, M2, M8): 'I asked him to tell me more and remained patient near the revealing picture, i.e. I took my time to ask questions, share my impressions, thoughts, etc. as if putting all this slightly aside. I just listened and helped my therapist to open the problematic place. Nothing else' (M2).
Stopping at images and metaphors (M11; M12): 'I worked together with the therapist and suddenly she had an image in her mind. And then I felt that everything that I could give to my therapist was to stay a little bit in that image... I felt extremely relieved when the therapist told me that the appearance of the image was valuable to her...' (M11).
Reflection of non-verbal reactions (M6, M10): 'Thanks to this non-verbal dialogue my therapist started to better realise her difficulty, to extricate it' (M6).
Retention of supervision focus (M8): 'As a supervisor I feel freedom and structure in one, that is structure in freedom. It is freedom that did not lose aim or focus'.
Final definition of the existential-phenomenological supervision acting from the supervisor's position.
The research participants, acting as supervisors, experienced the existential-phenomenological supervision as an unhurried, free and focused exploration process in a wide space of exploration where the relationship between the therapist and the supervisor, were very important.
The process of the supervision and its peculiarities were named by the research participants as the most important characteristics of existential-phenomenological supervision. The supervision process was described by the research participants as stopping and immersion, where valuable questions, metaphors, images appeared to their supervisees. Meanwhile the relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee was described by the research participants as equivalent, collegial, created on the principle of dialogue, based on the feeling of community and mutual interest. Way of the supervisor's presence also created the feeling of existential supervision for the research participants: in the 'not-knowing', neutrality position and 'full' participation in the supervision process: with his knowledge, feelings, experience.
Interventions used during the supervisions were distinguished by the research participants. It was the supervisor's focus on 'here and now' in the supervision process (the supervisor's reflections were particularly important: changes of the supervisees' non-verbal reactions--change of their tone of voice, intonation, words used by them, talking speed, pauses when presenting their case or describing difficulty, parallel processes) as well as the supervisors' attention to images and metaphors that emerged during the supervision. Questions asked, which made the process focused but did not limit freedom, were also very important.
Discussion of the results
The results of our research revealed that the most significant dimensions of E-P supervision are the following: the way of the supervisor's presence in the supervision, the relationship between the supervisor and the therapist and the supervision process. From the supervisee's position the research participants emphasized the significance of the way of the supervisor's presence more, meanwhile from the supervisor's position the research participants distinguished the supervision process itself more. The result of the supervision (sensual change instead of mental response; the birth of a valuable question instead of finding a solution) was important but it was a less frequently met dimension (described by the research participants from the therapist's position). The same happened with the interventions used by the supervisor (reflection of parallel processes and non-verbal manifestations, pausing by images and metaphors, questions providing much freedom, keeping the focus of the supervision). This dimension was also important but less frequently met (described by the research participants from the supervisor's position).
Way of the supervisor's presence
From the supervisee's position the research participants distinguished the way of the supervisor's presence as the most important characteristic of E-P supervision, emphasizing in it the supervisor's calmness, deep relaxation, free and spontaneous presence during the supervision. The supervisor's calmness and deep relaxation helped the supervision to gain a slow course and to immerse its participants. By comparing the results of our research with the results of du Plock's (2009) research we can find a similarity where supervision is described as a process of exploration. Attention, focused on the processes happening 'here and now', was the important accent of the E-P supervision which revealed various aspects: feelings arising during the supervision, various metaphors and images, non-verbal reactions. All this had a positive influence on creating the relationship between the supervisor and the therapist. These discoveries coincide with the descriptions of E-P supervision found in the literature sources which emphasize that an existential supervisor deploys the existence of 'here and now' during the supervision as fully as possible, and the supervisor himself is focused on the therapist present in front of him (Pett, 1995; Wright 1996, Kociunas, 2005).
From both positions the research participants distinguished the inclusion and interest of the supervisor; it was only from the supervisor's position that the research participants described this as the supervisor's 'full' participation in the supervision process. Inclusion, interest and participation 'fully' encouraged the process of opening, and this paves the way for new researches. The results of our research revealed that the way of the supervisor's presence 'from aside' rather than 'from above' helped in creating a nonhierarchical relationship in the supervision process, which coincides with the previously performed research and other literature sources (Pett, 1995, Wright, 1996, Kociunas, 2005, du Plock 2009). Being 'aside' helps the therapist to talk about everything that is important for him during the supervision: to raise questions that concern him, to share his own experiences
(Kociunas, 2005). From the supervisor's position the research participants described the importance of the position of 'neutrality' and 'unknowing', which also coincides with the results of the previously performed research (du Plock, 2009) and with other literature sources. 'Neutrality' is important for impartiality, it is inhibition from assessments and interpretations (Kociunas, 2009) and the supervisor's position of 'unknowing' helps the therapist to explore his own difficulties and discover his own answers (Mitchell, 2009). The results of our research revealed that from the supervisee's position the research participants find the supervisor's calmness and deep relaxation especially important and from the supervisor's position the research participants find the participation of the supervisor 'fully' in the process of supervision important (with his own ideas, feelings and experience).
Relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee Our research revealed that in E-P supervision it is important to have a relationship which is equivalent, collegial, created on the principle of dialogue, between the supervisor and the supervisee and the supervisor and the therapist in it are the 'co-researchers' of the phenomenon which arises. The formation of such relationship is influenced by the way of the supervisor's presence: open and non-directive, benevolent, therefore the way of the supervisor's presence in the relationship between the supervisor and the therapist is a closely intertwined characteristic of the E-P supervision. The results of the research coincide with the results of du Plock's research, which revealed that the relationships between the supervisor and supervisee (existence with another one, 'a co-existence') were the focus of attention of E-P supervision. The significance of the relationship between the supervisor and the therapist in E-P supervision is underlined in the publications of other authors as well (Pett, 1995; Wright, 1996; Kociunas, 2005; Pagdin, 2013; Spinelli, 2015). Our research revealed a new important aspect of E-P supervision--the importance of corporeality in the relationship between the therapist and supervisor. The significance of not only verbal, but also of non-verbal dialogue was revealed. Non-verbal dialogue, which manifested in the synchronicity of the body movements of the supervisor and the therapist, raised the feeling of commonness, and the supervisor's supporting eye helped the therapists to experience the feeling of acceptance during supervision. Also manifestations of the supervisor's corporeality such as hand rubbing, helped with seeing him as 'live' and 'real', feelings involved during supervision, and the supervisor's shaking of hands with the therapist after the supervision evoked feelings of friendliness and simple humanity. The aspect of corporeality is a less frequently described characteristic of E-P supervision in the works of other authors.
The research results revealed that from the supervisor's position the process of the supervision was the most important characteristic of E-P supervision for the research participants. Both from the supervisee's position and from the supervisor's position the research participants described the supervision process as a slow-moving process of exploration, raising the experiences of 'stopping ', 'immersion' and 'a deep pause '. In this process it was more important not to find the solution, but to raise a valuable question. From the supervisee's position the research participants distinguished that during the supervision process a free, but directed exploration was very important. The description of the supervision process as an experience of 'immersion' was the discovery of our research. The feeling of 'immersion' was influenced by the dialogue in which both participants of the supervision were fully included in the process, with all their entity. The participants of the research shared that the most valuable moment of the supervision was not the solving of the problematic situation, but its understanding through experience. The results of our research are similar to the results of du Plock's (2009) research which revealed that in E-P supervision it was important to have a meeting in which the difficulties in the relationship between the supervisor and the therapist were explored and the focus was directed to how to 'be' and not 'to do' something. A non-hierarchical relationship between the supervisor and the therapist helps this. In the publication of other authors, we can find similarities with the results of our research, which emphasize the importance of the dialogue-like meeting (Pett, 1995; Wright, 1996; Kociunas, 2005; Deurzen & Young, 2009), the birth of valuable questions, instead of solution finding (Kociunas, 2005), a free and slow-moving process of exploration (Wright, 1996).
Result of the supervision
Our research revealed that from the supervisee's position the result of the E-P supervision for the research participants was the birth of a valuable question instead of finding an answer or solution as well as emotional change, which evoked a deeper awareness of one's own difficulty and seeing of the situation anew. They treated these as important and typical characteristics of the E-P supervision. We can see in the section above that these characteristics were mentioned by the research participants when they described their own experiences of the supervision process. The research participants emphasized that emotional change, as a result of the supervision, evoked the desire to help the client and to see oneself, the client and the whole context anew. This means that this experience helped them to discover new meanings and to understand. A balance can be felt between the emotional change and the cognitive component. Emotional change without understanding its deeper meaning, i.e. a certain 'cognitive framing' can be less effective (Kociunas, 2009). We can find some similarities in the results of du Plock's (2009) research: seeing of new perspective, focus on emotional changes during the supervision. In the publications of other authors, we can also find some similarities with the results of our research, although only in a few places is the result of the supervision distinguished as a separate characteristic of the E-P supervision. We can find in literature sources that E-P supervision is not intended for finding answers, but for learning to ask questions (Kociunas, 2005; du Plock, 1997). Supervision is not an answer to "what way is correct", it is the seeing of a new possibility (Mitchell, 2009).
Interventions used by the supervisor
From the supervisor's position the research participants described the interventions used in the supervision as important characteristics of E-P supervision. The fact that the supervisor reflected parallel processes, connecting what was happening 'here and now' in the supervision process and 'there and then' in the therapeutic situation, was an important moment for the research participants as it helped the supervisees to have a deeper realization of their own difficulties. The supervisor's open presence in the supervision process and his sharing of his own feelings helped to reflect the parallel processes. In du Plock's (2009) research, parallel processes are not distinguished as a separate characteristic of the E-P supervision, but the focus on the therapist, the 'real' presence of both participants of the supervision in the supervision process, openness to all phenomena arising evokes the feeling of similarity to the results of our research. Questions, providing much freedom, directed towards the research, but keeping the focus, were described by the research participants metaphorically as 'the caught freedom' or 'freedom that did not lose aim'. This was influenced by the supervisor's non-directive position, and his 'unknowing' and 'neutrality'. Our research revealed the importance of the reflection of non-verbal manifestations in the E-P supervision process which helped with seeing the parallel processes and with supervisees paying attention not only to what they tell about their own therapeutic cases, but also to how they do it. These results also coincide with the literature sources (Pett, 1995; Wright, 1996). The research participants described the use of images and metaphors in the supervision process as a really valuable intervention which helped them to understand and experience their own difficulties better. Images and metaphors in the supervision process are a rarely met or described feature of E-P supervision.
Thus, the research conducted helped to better understand the phenomenon of E-P supervision and to distinguish its characteristic features. Both researches supplemented each other and this in in our opinion, is really valuable in order to better understand the essence of E-P supervision better. This research raised questions for new research. One feels the desire to understand better and to go deeper into the experiences of corporeality in the supervision process.
Existential-phenomenological supervision is a multiple phenomenon which can be described as:
* A slow-moving process of exploration where the relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee as well as the way of the supervisor's presence are important.
* The supervisor's calmness, deep relaxation, attentiveness, interest and inclusion in the supervision process helps in creating a collegial, equivalent, non-hierarchical, dialogue-like relationship.
* A process in which the most important thing is not the finding of an answer or solution, but the birth of a valuable question.
Discoveries found during the research:
* Non-verbal processes (an aspect of corporeality) during the supervision (their seeing and reflection) play important roles in creating the relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee and help the supervisee to realize his own difficulties.
* The result of the existential-phenomenological supervision--sensual change and not mental response--helps to see the situation and difficulty anew.
* Existential supervision is experienced as 'immersion'.
Marija Vastake is a clinical psychologist, existential therapist and supervisor at the Institute of Humanistic and Existential Psychology, and also works in private practice. e-mail: marijavastake @ymail.com
Rimantas Kociunas, Ph.D.,is an existential therapist and supervisor, and a Professor of Vilnius University, Director of the Institute of Humanistic and Existential Psychology, and Secretary General of the East European Association for Existential Therapy Email: email@example.com
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[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], P. (2005). [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Kociunas, R. (2005). Supervision Process: Existential View. Existential Dimension in Consultation and Psychotherapy, vol. 2. Birstonas-Vilnius]: REETA, pp. 97-108.
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|Author:||Vastake, Marija; Kociunas, Rimantas|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2017|
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