Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Feminist Supervision: A Relational and Multicultural Approach
by Melissa Fickling
Many supervisors and supervisees desire authentic, egalitarian supervisory relationships. A feminist approach to supervision is characterized by a focus on the supervisory relationship, as well as issues of power, social justice, and multiculturalism. Feminist supervision is multifaceted and complex because feminist discourse extends beyond gender to include race, culture, class, sexuality, and other forms of oppression and privilege. These topics are not always easy or comfortable to discuss, even for experienced supervisors who openly advocate for the use of feminist supervision practices.
A review of the research reveals that there tends to be a discrepancy between supervisors’ and supervisees’ perceptions of a supervisor’s use of feminist supervision practices. Supervisors rate their use of feminist supervision as more frequent than supervisees perceive. One reason for this may be that supervisors are not explicit about their adherence to feminist values so that supervisees are unaware of their supervisors’ intentions. The key themes of feminist supervision, including the supervisory relationship, power, social justice and activism, and multiculturalism are discussed below and recommended strategies for integrating each into clinical supervision are provided.
The Supervisory Relationship
A safe and supportive relationship is a fundamental foundation from which to integrate feminist supervision practices. Obtaining informed consent with supervisees about your expectations at the beginning of the relationship is important, just as it is when establishing a relationship with a new client. Mutual goal setting also helps to establish a tone of collaboration which can carry through the duration of the working relationship. Research indicates that when supervisors practice from a feminist perspective, supervisees report greater learning outcomes and satisfaction with supervision.
Supervisors report feeling uncomfortable with power and tend to downplay their power in the supervisory relationship. It is not surprising, then, that open discussions about differences in power between supervisors and supervisees are rare. Given that power analysis is a central tenet of feminist supervision, it is important that supervisors begin to acknowledge and discuss power with supervisees. Supervisees report that even when positive uses of supervisor power (e.g., setting expectations) feel uncomfortable, they usually contribute to their growth. It is necessary for supervisors to recognize that supervisees, too, bring power into the relationship and can use it in a variety of ways. Feminist supervisors work to empower supervisees to take risks and learn to trust their own experience.
Social Justice and Activism
Feminist supervisors extend their work beyond the traditional supervisory dyad to include roles beyond the training environment. For example, feminist supervisors can educate supervisees about social justice issues, discuss their own activism and service, or be involved in social and professional movements in the community. The emphasis here is on direct and active social change work that addresses issues of oppression and inequality.
Feminist supervisors help supervisees integrate sociocultural considerations into their counseling practice and case conceptualization. This includes, but is not limited to the topics of race, gender, sexuality, disability, religion, and class. Feminist supervisors also discuss their own cultural awareness, experiences, biases, and beliefs and how they impact the supervision. It is critical here that supervisors are not silent on the issue of oppression and privilege out of fear of offending or a desire to remain safe from potential conflict. Feminist supervisors also invite supervisees to reflect on their own cultural identity and discuss how it relates to counseling and supervision.
The Feminist Supervision Scale
One tool supervisors may wish to use to facilitate the process of integrating feminist principles into their supervision practice is the Feminist Supervision Scale (FSS) created by Dawn Szymanski (2003). The FSS is a 32-item instrument which can be used to evaluate current feminist supervision practices and to open discussion of feminist principles with students and supervisees. The FSS assesses feminist supervision behaviors along four dimensions: collaborative relationships, power analysis, diversity and social context, and feminist advocacy and activism.
The supervisory relationship is complex and dynamic, and requires skill, care, and attention to navigate in a way that empowers both supervisors and supervisees. In addition, the supervisory relationship is situated within complex social forces. Ultimately, it is the supervisor’s responsibility to initiate open and honest conversation about power, diversity, social issues, and the supervisory relationship. Feminist supervisors model risk taking, appropriate use of power, sharing of power, and authenticity in the relationship so that both supervisor and supervisee can learn and grow in supervision.
For Further Reading
Falender, C. A. (2009). Relationship and accountability: Tensions in feminist supervision. Women & Therapy, 33, 22-41.
Gentile, L., Ballous, M., Roffman, E., & Ritchie, J. (2009). Supervision for social change: A feminist ecological perspective. Women & Therapy, 33, 140-151.
Green, M. S., & Dekkers, T. D. (2010). Attending to power and diversity in supervision: An exploration of supervisee learning outcomes and satisfaction with supervision. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 22, 293-312.
Mangione, L., Mears, G., Vincent, W., & Hawes, S. (2011). The supervisory relationship when women supervise women: An exploratory study of power, reflexivity, collaboration, and authenticity. The Clinical Supervisor, 30, 141-171.
Murphy, M. J. & Wright, D. W. (2005). Supervisees’ perspectives of power use in supervision. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 31, 283-295.
Nelson, M. L., Gizara, S., Hope, A. C., Phelps, R., Steward, R., & Weitzman, L. (2006). A feminist multicultural perspective on supervision. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 34, 105-115.
Szymanski, D. M. (2003). The Feminist Supervision Scale: A rational/theoretical approach. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 27, 221-232.
Szymanski, D. M. (2005). Feminist identity and theories as correlates of feminist supervision practices. The Counseling Psychologist, 33, 729-747.