Monday, January 3, 2011

Reflection in Supervision: A Literature Review and Implications for Practitioners

(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 Evette Horton

Since the 1930’s, educators have been advocating for the use of reflection in training students to be insightful, critical thinkers (Dewey, 1933). Reflection, reflectivity, and self-reflection all refer to the cyclical process of evaluating one’s experiences to develop critical thinking skills and insightfulness (Orchowski, Evangelista, & Probst, 2010). Researchers in education have found that students who use reflectivity get the most out of their learning experiences (Lyon & Brew, 2003; McAlpine, Weston, Beauchamp, Wiseman, & Beauchamp, 1999).

In supervision specifically, the reflective process refers to the counselor-in-training thinking back critically on the counseling session with the client, and bringing these thoughts and ideas to supervision for discussion. It also entails the supervisor thinking back on sessions with the supervisee. Counselor educators and supervisors are charged with training competent, reflective counselors, who are able to think critically about their clients and their interactions with them, and the reflective process enables this critical competency to develop (ACA, 2005; Magnuson & Norem, 2002). Until recently, there was not much empirical research on effective ways to use reflection in supervision. However, researchers have now begun to validate the most effective reflection activities for supervisory counseling relationships.

Using Reflection in Supervision

Journaling. Asking students to write about their experiences in internship and practicum has been shown to improve student integration of learning and insightfulness. Several researchers found that specifically reflecting on a clinical dilemma enhanced supervisees’ conceptualization of the issue and improved their counseling competencies (Jen Der Pan, Deng, & Shiou-Ling, 2008; Neufeldt, Karno, & Nelson, 1996). Therefore, supervisors should ask supervisees to journal about a difficulty they are having with a client. Since some of our counseling students are international students, one study found that using reflective journaling helped international students manage their stress and improve their English and writing skills.

Supervisors modeling reflection. Several authors have found that supervisors who use reflection themselves are modeling critical thinking skills and promoting self awareness (Jen Der Pan, 2008; Orchowski et al., 2010). Neufeldt et al. (1996) reported that supervisors must teach the reflective process to supervisees and that the supervisory relationship is paramount for doing this. To model reflection, Stevens, Emil, and Yamashita (2010) suggested that supervisors can do journaling themselves, create a safe environment for reflection, and share dilemmas they have faced in their professional life.

Reflection in group supervision. Counselor educators and supervisors often use group supervision as a way to train counselors/supervisees. Reflectivity can be introduced in to the group relationship by asking group members to bring clinical dilemmas or troubling cases to the supervision group. The supervisor helps the counselors-in-training process these cases by looking for themes and hypotheses to explain client needs. Jen Der Pan et al. (2008) found that this type of group supervision significantly improved supervisees’ counseling competencies. It is important to note that a safe, supportive group supervision environment is imperative for reflective supervision.

Given that counselor educators and supervisors are ethically bound to promote competence in our supervisees (ACA, 2005), reflection is a useful tool for promoting these critical thinking competencies. Until we have more empirical validation of reflection, these techniques are all we have to go on. Future research may give us more information on what specific models of reflection and at what times using these reflective techniques are most helpful to supervisees. At the very least, it is important for counselor educators and supervisors to model and introduce reflectivity in the supervisory relationship.

For Further Reading

(*most recommended for practitioners)

American Counseling Association (2005). ACA code of ethics. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Chicago, IL: Regnery.

*Heller, S. S., & Gilkerson, L. (Eds.) (2009). A practical guide to reflective supervision. Zero to Three: Washington, DC.

Jen Der Pan, P., Deng, L. F., & Shiou-Ling, T. (2008). Evaluating the use of reflective counseling group supervision for military counselors in Taiwan. Research on Social Work Practice, 18, 346-355.

Lyon, P., & Brew, A. (2003). Reflection on learning in the operating theatre. Reflective Practice, 4, 53-66.

Magnuson, S., & Norem, K. (2002). Reflective counselor education and supervision: An epistemological declaration. Reflective Practice, 3, 167-173.

McAlpine, L., Weston, C., Beauchamp, C., Wiseman, C., & Beauchamp, J. (1999). Building a metacognitive model of reflection. Higher Education, 37(2), 105-131.

Neufeldt, S. A., Karno, M. P., & Nelson, M. L. (1996). A qualitative study of experts' conceptualization of supervisee reflectivity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43, 3-9.

*Orchowski, L., Evangelista, N. M., & Probst, D. R. (2010). Enhancing supervisee reflectivity in clinical supervision: A case study illustration. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47, 51-67.

Stevens, D. D., Emil, S., & Yamashita, M. (2010). Mentoring through reflective journal writing: a qualitative study by a mentor/professor and two international graduate students, Reflective Practice, 11, 347-367.

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