(Note: Doctoral students in CED 781a Counseling Supervision during Fall 2010 completed abbreviated literature reviews on a topic of individual interest. They wrote both a research summary and a summary for practitioners. Here, we present the summaries for practitioners. Please let us know if you have questions or suggestions for future summaries. L. DiAnne Borders)
By Amanda Giordano
Parallel process is a phenomenon that occurs within the supervisory relationship that impacts the supervisor, supervisee, and client. Below please find information related to the basics of parallel process, as well as further reading on this topic.
What: Parallel process is a construct that emerged from the psychoanalytic orientation. It occurs when supervisees unconsciously present to their supervisors in the same fashion that their clients presented to them. It is the unconscious “acting out” in supervision an issue in the supervisee’s relationship with his/her client. For example, a supervisee may be counseling a client who continuously challenges her or his assertions and attempts to undermine the therapeutic efforts. Similarly, the supervisee may begin to challenge the supervisor in subsequent supervision sessions and counter efforts to engage in supervisory work. In this way, the supervisee is unconsciously acting out the dynamics of the counseling relationship in supervision and “asking” the supervisor how to handle these challenges in working with the client.
Who: Parallel process has several participants. The supervisor, supervisee, and the supervisee’s client are all involved. First, the supervisee and client have an issue, reach an impasse, or experience a difficult dynamic in the therapeutic relationship. The supervisee may then act in supervision in the same way the client acted in the counseling session. Therefore, the supervisor becomes actively involved as he or she interacts with the supervisee presenting as the client. Each member of the triad (supervisor, supervisee, client) is affected by parallel process.
Why: The most commonly cited motivation for parallel process is to elicit help from the supervisor. The supervisee is “showing” the supervisor what he/she is experiencing in the counseling session by “acting out” the issue in supervision. The supervisee is seeking a demonstration from the supervisor about how to navigate the situation.
When: The most common signs that parallel process is occurring are atypical supervisee behaviors, changes in the supervisory relationship, or an impasse in counseling. The phenomenon may occur whenever the supervisee feels the need to elicit help from the supervisor.
Where: Researchers have suggested that parallel process can begin in either the counseling session or the supervision session. If it begins in the counseling session, the supervisee will present like the client in supervision. If it begins in the supervision session, the supervisee will present (act like) like the supervisor in counseling.
Implications for supervision
· It is important for supervisors to be aware of parallel process and notice if supervisees are demonstrating atypical behaviors or if there is a sudden change in the dynamics of the supervisory relationship.
· Since parallel process is often an unconscious presentation of client behaviors, it is important that supervisors consult other sources rather than rely solely on a supervisee’s self-report. By watching video recordings of counseling sessions or listening to audio recordings, the supervisor can better detect if parallel process is occurring.
· It is important to note that parallel process is neither good nor bad; instead, it is another form of information. Parallel process allows the supervisor to experience what the supervisee is experiencing in counseling and therefore develop empathy. In addition, by working through parallel process, the supervisee can learn how to navigate this impasse effectively and provide better service to his/her client.
· When parallel process occurs, supervisors can intervene in two ways: 1) by identifying it and bringing it to the supervisee’s awareness, or 2) by navigating through the situation and thus supplying the information that the supervisee is seeking. The developmental level of the supervisee and supervision environment must be considered when deciding how to manage parallel process. It has been suggested in that beginning counselors lack the insight and self-awareness to benefit from the supervisor directly labeling parallel process when it occurs. Only when a supervisee has advanced in the development of self awareness should parallel process be identified directly in supervision.
Future reading on parallel process
(* most recommended for supervision practitioners):
*Alpher, V. S. (1991). Interdependence and parallel process: A case study of structural analysis of social behavior in supervision and short term dynamic psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 28, 218-231.
Deering, C. G. (1994). Parallel process in the supervision of child psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 48, 102-110.
*Grey, A., & Fiscalini, J. (1987). Parallel process as transference-countertransference interaction. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 4, 131-144.
*Martin, J. S., Goodyear, R. K., & Newton, F. B. (1987). Clinical supervision: An intensive case study. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 18, 225-235.