Corrine R. Sackett, Gerard Lawson, Penny L. Burge
The authors examined multiple perspectives of meaningful in-session events through participant observation of counseling sessions as well as interviews with client and counselor. The results are anchored with the perspective of a supervisor, and highlight similarities and differences among the three perspectives of supervisor, counselor-in-training and client. Six themes emerged from the observer’s perspective: immediacy with several subthemes, nonverbals and intuition, rescuing, depth of congruence, insights, and goal setting. For each theme and subtheme deemed meaningful in counseling sessions by a supervisor, an event representing the respective theme or subtheme is presented from the three perspectives of supervisor, counselor-in-training and client. The authors discuss implications for counselor training and supervision.
Keywords: supervisor, counselor-in-training, client perspectives, immediacy, counselor training
Researchers in the counseling field have much to discover about the counseling process and how it works (Paulson, Everall, & Stuart, 2001; Sackett, Lawson, & Burge, 2012). Researchers who examine multiple perspectives (Elliott & James, 1989; Moon, Dillon, & Sprenkle, 1990; Sackett et al., 2012; Sells, Smith, & Moon, 1996), in-session subjective experience (Bennun, Hahlweg, Schindler, & Langlotz, 1986; Elliott & Shapiro, 1992), and comparisons of those experiences further our comprehension of the counseling process (Elliott & Shapiro, 1992; Sackett et al., 2012). The client and counselor have separate perspectives, each of which is important to recognize in order to gain a picture of what is meaningful in counseling (Blow et al., 2009). Further, the perspective of an observer offers a compelling extension for our understanding (Elliott & James, 1989), as an observer can identify subtleties in interactions between clients and counselors, as well as shed light on experiences that clients may be less willing to report and of which counselors may be unaware. Consequently, capturing multiple perspectives on the counseling process, including client, counselor and observer, enriches understanding. Each perspective is compelling and contributes something unique to understanding the counseling process (Elliott & James, 1989; Sells et al., 1996).
Research on Client, Counselor and Observer Perspectives on Counseling Sessions
There is a dearth of research exploring multiple perspectives on counseling sessions beyond those of client and counselor. Several researchers have examined clients’ and counselors’ experiences and perspectives in counseling (Lietaer, 1992; Lietaer & Neirinck, 1986; Llewelyn, 1988; Martin & Stelmaczonek, 1988; Sackett et al., 2012; Sells et al., 1996). For example, in a recent study, Sackett et al. (2012) found that clients and counselors-in-training (CITs) consider many of the same aspects meaningful in a counseling session, including the relationship, goals, insights, immediacy and emotions. Findings such as these are valuable for clinical supervision, because supervisors’ awareness of similarities and differences in clients’ and counselors’ perspectives can enhance supervisors’ training of CITs to effectively work with clients. Further, when CITs are counseling, the supervisor’s perspective becomes part of the picture as well, and contributes indirectly to the counseling process through the supervision process.
As Elliott and Shapiro (1992) have noted, few researchers have added a third lens by exploring the process through client, counselor and observer perspectives. This statement from more than 20 years ago is still accurate today. In the research that does exist (Blow et al., 2009; Elliott & Shapiro, 1992), discrepancies have been found when comparing client, counselor and observer perspectives. Thus, including all three perspectives creates a more complete picture of the process (Llewelyn, 1988). In two studies, researchers explored a single client system (either a couple or an individual client) from multiple perspectives, including an observer’s. Blow et al. (2009) examined experiences of key therapeutic moments from the perspectives of counselor, client (i.e., a couple) and observation team. Therapeutic mistakes, as labeled by the observation team, did not detract from the work in counseling, given the strong therapeutic alliance. Similarly, what the observation team initially considered to be missed opportunities, they later saw as movement in a direction that they could not anticipate, and that worked well for the couple. Elliott and Shapiro (1992) elicited client, counselor and observer accounts of significant in-session events for a single client system (i.e., one client) as well. Most often the three perspectives were in general agreement. Elliott and Shapiro (1992) saw the few discrepancies in perspectives as opportunities for further understanding of the events and ultimately the counseling process.
Considering that research including an observer’s account of the process is limited (Blow et al., 2009; Elliott & Shapiro, 1992), and that researchers who have included an observer’s perspective have not connected this perspective with that of a supervisor to explore implications for clinical supervision, we intend to fill this gap in the literature. Sackett et al. (2012) called for studies to examine meaningful, in-session events from the perspectives of the client(s), the counselor and an observer who has training and experience as a supervisor, in order to give counselor educators a more holistic understanding of the process and to inform supervision with CITs. This particular approach to examining multiple experiences of counseling has not been explored before. Therefore, we addressed the following research question: What are the similarities and differences in what is meaningful in counseling from the perspectives of a supervisor, CIT and client? We frame this inquiry in a constructivist lens, which Ponterotto (2005) describes as the perspective that there is no objective reality outside the person experiencing the reality. Consequently, it is critical to gain perspectives from all involved in the process.
We chose the qualitative methodology of phenomenology to answer this research question because it provides a way to describe the meaning of participant experiences in counseling (Hays & Wood, 2011). We answered the research question with an emphasis on the supervisor’s perspective, comparing it with the CIT and client perspectives in order to find similarities and differences. We accomplished this comparison through analysis of field notes from participant observation (Jorgensen, 1989) and of transcripts of in-depth interviews (Seidman, 2013). We utilized a single session unit and significance sampling in this study. The single session unit allows for an examination of in-session events and session impact (Elliott & James, 1989). It also allows participants to reflect on their most recent session, leading to better understanding of experiences than if participants were reflecting on an entire course of treatment (Mehr, Ladany, & Caskie, 2010). Significance sampling is the examination of events that have significant meaning to the participant, or therapeutic impact (Elliott & James, 1989). We designed this study to approach therapeutic impact with what is meaningful in session, as illustrated by Mahrer and Boulet’s (1999) statement, “The emphasis is on whatever touches you as something impressive happening here rather than relying on your theory, your knowledge, and your being on the lookout for particular kinds of traditional significant in-session changes” (p. 1484). For the purposes of this study, meaningful experiences are defined as experiences that are important, significant or moving to the participant as described by Mahrer and Boulet (1999). They may be cognitive, emotional, relational or behavioral in nature. Meaningful experiences were defined in each case by both the supervisor and participants.
Participants in this study included clients and CITs from a master’s counselor education training clinic at a satellite center for a large mid-Atlantic public university. CITs were completing their practicum experience in the clinic and working with actual clients for the first time. Clients were enrolled in a local community college at the time of the study. The resulting sample consisted of 24 participants, specifically 12 CITs and 12 clients, totaling 12 CIT–client dyads. Ages for CITs ranged from 22–29, with an average age of 23. CITs consisted of 10 White females, one Hispanic female and one White male. Client ages ranged from 18–40, with an average age of 25. Among client participants were eight White females and four White males. Each participant chose or was assigned a pseudonym, which appear in the findings section. We gave a $5 coffee shop gift card to each participant as a token of appreciation for participating in the study.
One supervisor (the first author) was utilized as the observer across all sessions for consistency, and her perspective as the supervisor was captured through participant observation. The first author observed the second counseling session of each client–CIT pair from a different room in the clinic via televisions linked to cameras in the counseling rooms. Based on recommendations from Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw (2011), the first author took brief notes, which included key words or phrases of significant happenings, both verbal and nonverbal, during the observations of the sessions. Later that day or the next, the first author used these brief notes to aid in writing a field note for each observation. The observation, brief notes and subsequent field notes focused on meaningful events in the counseling session.
We conducted semistructured interviews with clients and CITs following their second counseling session. Interviews ranged from 10–45 minutes in length and were audio recorded and transcribed. Interview questions were open-ended and focused on what participants had found most meaningful in that particular counseling session. The client protocol contained a few additional questions that were not asked of the CIT and related to the client’s goals and expectations for counseling. Examples of interview questions for both clients and CITs included the following: What stood out for you in today’s session? Which of those things stood out the most for you?
We analyzed the field notes from the participant observation through qualitative analytic coding described by Emerson et al. (2011). This process began with open coding, reading field notes line by line to identify ideas, themes or issues without limitation. Through the analytic process, we wrote memos as needed when insights arose that deserved further attention. Through the process of coding and writing memos, we identified themes that described a particular group of codes. We integrated initial themes and combined similar themes, and created subthemes when themes were related, but exhibited distinct differences. Focused coding followed theme development and consisted of re-reading field notes, allowing for elaboration of themes, further development of subthemes, and integration of interesting material that may have initially been overlooked. For the purpose of this study, we only used portions of CIT and client interview transcripts that corresponded to meaningful experiences as observed by the supervisor. Themes of meaningful experiences from the CIT and client perspectives can be found in Sackett, Lawson, and Burge (2012).
Credibility and Rigor
We used several methods in this study to establish credibility and demonstrate rigor as recommended by Anfara, Brown, and Mangione (2002). First, we utilized triangulation through the interview data of clients and CITs and field notes from observations. Obtaining data with two different methods provided an opportunity to describe the counseling process in a more complete way. After interviews were transcribed, we implemented member checks, which allowed each participant (clients and CITs) an opportunity to review his or her interview transcript and clarify or expand his or her perspective if needed. We kept an audit trail detailing the steps of the research process, which enhanced the deliberateness and completeness of the study. The audit trail is specific enough that a reader could retrace the researchers’ steps if he or she chose. Peer debriefing and a community of practice were utilized to ensure the ongoing practice of reflexivity by serving as forums for discussion of issues that arose throughout the process.
In qualitative research, all data passes through the researcher’s lens; therefore, our position as researchers was important to note. At the time of data collection, the first author and observer was a doctoral candidate in the same counselor education program as the master’s student participants. She had practiced for the past 3 years as a clinical supervisor of CITs, and is currently a faculty member in another counselor education program. The first author was purposeful in not having teaching or supervisory relationships with the cohort of CITs who participated in the study. The first author continually examined how she was positioned in the study and heavily utilized her community of practice for reflexivity work. Practicing reflexivity did not limit her perspective, but instead allowed for critical self-reflection of the ways she contributed to the research process. The second author is an associate professor in the counselor education program where the study was conducted, and the third author is a professor of educational research at the university where the study was conducted.
Six themes emerged from participant observation by a supervisor of the counseling sessions, including the following: immediacy (with several subthemes), nonverbals and intuition, rescuing, depth of congruence, insights, and goal setting. With each theme and subtheme discussed below, an example from the supervisor’s field notes is provided. These examples are followed first by an account of how the CIT experienced the event, and then by an account of how the client experienced the event. In other words, for each theme deemed meaningful in the counseling session by a supervisor, an event representing that theme or subtheme is presented from three perspectives: supervisor, CIT and client. We chose to present only one example for each theme and subtheme from the supervisor field notes in order to illustrate each event from the three perspectives.
The supervisor identified many instances and facets of immediacy between the CITs and clients. Immediacy as a theme included the following three subthemes: processing the counseling process and relationship, here-and-now moments, and the CIT sharing his or her experience of client with client and the reverse.
Processing the counseling process and relationship. Many CIT–client pairs engaged in conversations about the counseling relationship and about the counseling process in an attempt to define it, better understand it and gain insight into how the other participant was experiencing it. In other words, many dyads engaged in processing the process and the relationship. The example given to illustrate this subtheme is from Annie (CIT) and Heather’s (client) conversation about the counseling relationship, including the ways it differs from other types of relationships.
Supervisor. The supervisor wrote the following in her field notes: “The counselor asked the client, ‘How about our relationship?’ The client talked about the relationship feeling awkward. The counselor validated the client’s observation that counseling is a different kind of relationship. The counselor offered, ‘Is there anything I can do to make it [the relationship] more comfortable?’”
CIT. Annie reflected that this conversation about the relationship with Heather was meaningful in their session. She spoke in her interview of initiating the discussion about the relationship with Heather and of asking Heather if she could do anything to make the relationship more comfortable.
Client. Heather experienced this conversation about the relationship as meaningful as well, and said the following about Annie: “Her concern . . . with our relationship . . . seemed something that I would think about and that I would care about . . . , but she seemed to care about that relationship, too.” The supervisor, Annie and Heather all experienced this immediacy moment of the process and the relationship as meaningful, and experienced it in similar ways, emphasizing different parts given their positions.
Here-and-now moments. There also were many here-and-now moments in the counseling sessions that were meaningful to the supervisor. Susan (CIT) and Carol’s (client) session contained a very meaningful here-and-now event that was initiated by the client, Carol.
Supervisor. The observer recorded the following in her field notes: “The client confronted the counselor by stating, ‘You’re not as relaxed’ and saying that the counselor had ‘aggressive energy.’ So the client was being very immediate and authentic, and it didn’t feel to me that the counselor was authentic; instead, the counselor responded by smiling and nodding.”
CIT. Susan spoke about this event as meaningful during her interview, although she described the occurrence as the result of her body language; specifically, the CIT perceived that she was sitting close to her client. Susan appreciated Carol’s honesty and directness.
Client. From the client’s perspective, Carol found it meaningful that Susan wanted her to feel comfortable in the relationship, saying to let her know if she made her uncomfortable. Interestingly, Carol did not mention her initiation of the here-and-now event with Susan in her interview. Although the CIT and client found aspects of this occurrence meaningful as well, the supervisor’s experience of this event and strong reaction to it were unlike the experiences of the CIT and client.
CIT sharing his or her experience of client with client and the reverse. Finally, there were a few immediacy events that involved the CIT sharing his or her experience of the client with the client, and the reverse. The supervisor found the following event from Sue (CIT) and Bridget’s (client) session meaningful. They were working on Sue’s fear of speaking up in class.
Supervisor. The supervisor reflected as follows in her field notes: “The client, Bridget, used role playing to give an example of an awkward moment. Sue, the CIT, reflected, ‘You have put yourself out there.’ Sue shared her experience of Bridget, saying, ‘I would like to provide my feedback,’ and went on to say that Bridget provided many things [positive contributions] in session and she wondered if others in the Bridget’s life were missing out on this side of her. There seemed to be a shift to the positive here.”
CIT. The CIT, Sue, found this event meaningful in the session as well. She reported that she told her client, Bridget, that she really valued what Bridget said in session. Sue was hesitant about whether or not this disclosure was appropriate, as she was still learning about boundaries in counseling. Ultimately though, Sue found this to be a positive and meaningful experience in the session.
Client. The client, Bridget, also found this occurrence meaningful, saying:
Well, something that was different that was really important and really meaningful to me was just the way that she shared herself with me much more than [in] the first session. . . . She also told me that the things I tell her, even though I think they might not be useful . . . can grow from my opinion and that she really likes to hear what I have to say.
Here again, the supervisor, CIT and client all found this immediacy occurrence meaningful, and in this case, their accounts of the event were compatible from their varied perspectives.
Nonverbals and Intuition
The supervisor found many moments meaningful that were nonverbal events or exchanges in session, or that were intuitive to the supervisor. These moments included silence and space in the counseling, shifts of energy, and other nonverbal occurrences that the supervisor noticed.
Supervisor. During Alex (CIT) and Frank’s (client) session, the observer wrote, “I’m wondering if the counselor is uncomfortable in this session. The client seems dominant and as if he is educating the counselor.”
CIT. The CIT (Alex) perceived the dynamic between herself and her client (Frank), as Frank wanting Alex to be directive with him, and reflected, “I feel like he’s kind of looking for someone to tell him what to do sometimes.” On the other hand, Alex also experienced the dynamic in the session as Frank fulfilling the counselor’s role, saying, “A lot of times I’ll go to like say something just to reflect something back and he’s there already. I’m like, ‘Oh, you steal my job.’ ” This comment from Alex was in line with the supervisor’s observation that Frank was dominant in the session. It seemed as though Alex saw Frank as both wanting her to be the expert and as jumping into the expert role himself.
Client. In his interview, Frank evaluated Alex, concluding, “I was very impressed with my counselor today.” Frank confirmed in some ways the supervisor’s intuition here by making evaluative statements of Alex as a counselor, as though he was in a dominant role in relation to her.
The theme of rescuing included instances where the supervisor noticed either the client or CIT shifting the discussion away from something intimate or uncomfortable. Some examples included the CIT interrupting a silence rather than allowing the client to experience what he or she needed in that silence, or the CIT rescuing the client from an uncomfortable thought. In this example from Susie (CIT) and Wanda’s (client) session, the supervisor noticed Susie shifting the conversation away from a topic that seemed clearly important, intimate and likely uncomfortable for Wanda.
Supervisor. The supervisor recorded in her field notes, “The client said she was ‘always a nervous person, even when [she] was little.’ The counselor left this conversation abruptly and shifted to talking about the client’s present relationships.”
CIT. Susie, the CIT, did not mention that particular occurrence, but did have the following to say about the session, “I felt like . . . I didn’t do a lot of validating. So, at times . . . I would kind of forget to be in that moment with her and validate painful feelings.” It may be that the example from the observer’s perspective was one of the times Susie forgot to be in the moment with her client and validate her feelings. However, this perceived missed opportunity, or shifting away from something intimate, led to a conversation about present relationships, which ultimately led to a major insight for Wanda that she was judging others in her relationships.
Client. Wanda, the client, did not mention this occurrence either, as rescuing was unique to the supervisor’s perspective.
Depth of Congruence
Depth of congruence included instances when CITs understood as well as did not understand their clients’ experiences, and also included questions that CITs asked to further their understanding of their clients’ experiences. This theme also comprised CITs’ efforts to validate and reframe their clients’ experiences. Finally, the theme included instances of clients expressing that their CITs understood their experiences. This example of Penelope (CIT) and Cindy (client) illustrates the supervisor’s perspective of the CIT not understanding her client’s pain and missing the expression of pain and her own part in that pain.
Supervisor. The observer wrote the following in her field notes:
The client began the session saying that she felt . . . badly after last week’s session, that she spent the week feeling very negative. The counselor responded with nodding and smiling, [which seemed] disrespectful and heartbreaking. The client continuously brought it up throughout the session, without the counselor addressing it.
CIT. The CIT in this dyad, Penelope, experienced this event differently and felt she had addressed the client’s pain. Penelope spoke to the difficulty she experienced in hearing her client’s discomfort, which may have contributed to her in-session behavior. Penelope’s experience of this event is as follows:
She [the client] initially came in and she said that after last week’s session, she felt like crap. . . . I tried to talk with her about why she felt so bad about the last session, . . . [how] to make it a better process for her . . . to make her feel more comfortable. . . . It was hard not to . . . blame myself . . . but, I was glad that she did at least feel comfortable being honest with me and I think that it will be more productive in the next couple of sessions.
Penelope perceived her client’s honesty as evidence that they could have a more productive counseling relationship in the future.
Client. Interestingly, Cindy, the client, experienced the CIT’s reaction to her pain as positive, in contrast to the supervisor’s perception. She said the following: “Yeah, today was good. I think what helped is . . . before we even started I let her know how I felt last week, and she was great about it. She didn’t take offense to it. . . . She . . . thanked me for telling her.” The supervisor, CIT and client all experienced this occurrence as meaningful, yet each had her own distinctive view of what happened. While the supervisor saw the CIT as missing on joining with the client on her experience, or as lacking congruence, neither the CIT nor client experienced the situation this way.
Insights were present in many sessions and constituted meaningful occurrences in the supervisor’s perspective. Included in this theme were new realizations, ah-ha moments, and questions and experiences that led to insights. The supervisor described the following meaningful event, in which Wanda (client) came to a new realization in her session with Susie (CIT).
Supervisor. The supervisor wrote the following in her field notes:
The client, Wanda, talked about feeling judged by her partner’s mother. Wanda came around to saying that her partner’s mother’s behavior might not be about her. Susie, the counselor, affirmed this idea and asked if Wanda felt judged in any other relationships besides her relationship with her partner’s mother. There was a long pause and Wanda finally said that she felt judged by her cousin. Wanda said at one point, “Maybe I’m judging her.”
CIT. Susie, the CIT, found this event meaningful as well: “The first moment when she [the client] said, . . . ‘Maybe it wasn’t them being judgmental, it’s me that is being judgmental towards others,’. . . I felt like that was a big moment for her. . . . I think that’s important for [the client] to realize.”
Client. Wanda had the following to say when asked what she had learned about herself through counseling: “I . . . realized that maybe I judge people a little bit too, like I think they have maybe an ulterior motive sometimes, or that they’re being mean or judgmental, and when it’s really just them being themselves.” All three perspectives—the supervisor, CIT and client—found this event meaningful in session, and experienced the event in very similar ways.
The final theme, goal setting, encompassed formulating and mutually setting goals and creating plans of action for clients. Clients seemed energetic in sessions during conversations about goal setting. The following example of goal setting in Kerry (CIT) and Ava’s (client) session, although important to the client, felt like avoidance of painful issues to the supervisor.
Supervisor. The supervisor wrote the following in her field notes:
They ended the session with suggestions about how the client could busy herself so that she is not lonely (such as focusing on her school work). The client stated that she wants to be an ER nurse, start a family and then ‘everything will be ok.’ This feels like avoidance and/or denial to me, and feels sad.
CIT. Kerry, the CIT in this dyad, did not experience the goal setting as meaningful and did not mention the event in his interview.
Client. The client, Ava, did find the goal setting meaningful, saying, “Schooling . . . is a huge goal that I need to focus on and to keep in mind, and I know schooling will overcome everything if I just focus.” Although the supervisor and client both found this event meaningful, it was for different reasons. The client gleaned hope from the goal setting, while the supervisor felt it was a temporary solution for a deeper issue.
Discussion and Implications
The findings from this study contribute to our understanding of the counseling process by providing an examination of the similarities and differences between meaningful happenings from three different perspectives—the client, the CIT and a supervisor. Operating from a constructivist paradigm (Ponterotto, 2005), we see multiple and equally valid realities in the findings. In answering the research question, beginning with themes from the supervisor’s perspective, we found that supervisors, CITs and clients were in general agreement about what was meaningful, as was in the case in Elliott and Shapiro’s (1992) study, with some differences in how they experienced the events given their position. Purposely approaching the findings through a supervisor’s lens allows us to clearly delineate implications for supervision.
First, many of the findings of this study regarding meaningful events in counseling have support in the literature from the client and counselor (or CIT) perspectives. Immediacy has been found meaningful in counseling from the client and CIT perspectives (Sackett et al., 2012). Goal setting as an important aspect of counseling also is supported in the literature. Sells et al. (1996) demonstrated that both clients and counselors find a focus on goals effective in counseling, and Sackett et al. (2012) found that both clients and CITs find goals meaningful in counseling. Not surprisingly, the literature shows that the counseling relationship is important to both clients and counselors or CITs (Sackett et al., 2012; Thomas, 2006). Further, Singer (2005) established that clients value feeling understood by their counselors, and Paulson et al. (2001) found that clients’ feeling connected with their counselors allows them to engage in the process. Several researchers also have found insight important from both client and counselor perspectives (Lietaer & Neirinck, 1986; Martin & Stelmaczonek, 1988; Sackett et al., 2012). The present study provides evidence that these aspects of counseling are meaningful to a supervisor as well.
In some cases, the supervisor, client and CIT not only found the same event meaningful, but also had similar experiences of the events. This was the case for the immediacy subtheme of processing the counseling process and the relationship. Hill and Knox (2009) suggested that when clients and counselors process their relationship, the relationship is enhanced, and clients transfer this relational learning to their other relationships. Relatedly, Bowman and Fine (2000) found that counselor transparency is helpful to clients in counseling. Further, Knight (2012) asserted that counselor transparency is critical to client openness in counseling and serves as a model for clients, and that this learning can be transferred to other relationships. Supervisors who observe CIT transparency can reinforce this skill and the benefits for CITs, as well as model this behavior themselves in their supervisory relationships. Osborn, Paez, and Carrabine (2007) recommended participating in reflective conversations in supervision, creating a collaborative relationship that assists CITs in becoming more aware of their own feelings.
Two examples of meaningful events in this study were consistent with Blow et al.’s (2009) finding that a “mistake” as seen by the supervisor did not hinder the process when the counseling relationship was solid, as was the case in the here-and-now subtheme of immediacy, and in the theme depth of congruence. These two examples also are consistent with the finding of Rhodes, Hill, Thompson, and Elliott (1994) in which a client experiencing discomfort in counseling was able to share concern with the CIT, and the CIT responded with understanding and the counseling relationship was strengthened. Similarly, in the case of rescuing, the current results are in line with Blow et al.’s (2009), in that a missed opportunity can lead to a direction that the observer does not anticipate, yet works well for the client.
Other differences in perspectives exist in the findings and give us fodder for discussion of supervision. In the example given for the goal-setting theme, the supervisor and the client both found goal setting meaningful, though for different reasons. In supervision with this CIT, the supervisor might have encouraged him to focus less on the client’s seemingly idealistic goals and more on the client’s loneliness, unaware that the focus on the goals was so meaningful to the client. In the case of nonverbals and intuition, the supervisor picked up on a dynamic, or a force producing change, between the client and CIT that she could see since she was not directly involved in the dynamic. In the example given for rescuing, the supervisor was the only one who experienced the abrupt shift away from an intimate topic as meaningful. The rescuing in this example actually led, albeit abruptly, to a conversation that ultimately led to a major insight for the client. This finding supports the discovery of Elliott and Shapiro (1992) that a discrepancy in perspectives eventually can lead to a significantly helpful event for the client. In supervision, the first author might have drawn the CIT’s attention to the rescuing, as well as pointed out that the direction taken led to a realization for the client. Examining meaningful events from multiple perspectives allows for identifying discrepancies and how they might be manifested in supervision with CITs.
These findings indicate many recommendations for supervisors. Supervisors can encourage CITs to elicit client experiences throughout the counseling process, as other researchers have recommended (Sackett et al., 2012; Singer, 2005), including directly talking about the alliance as suggested by Hill and Knox (2009). In moments of immediacy, the supervisor can view these intimate interactions from a distance and offer valuable feedback to the supervisee. However, the supervisor is not in the room for these moments of immediacy, and therefore may experience the feeling differently than the CIT and client. Even in these instances, the supervisor can engage in productive conversations with the CIT about the differences in perspectives, facilitating awareness and growth for the supervisee. In addition, modeling conversations about the process and relationship ideally can occur within the context of the supervisory relationship, which also has been suggested by Hill and Knox (2009), as well as Osborn et al. (2007). Clearly, the counseling relationship is paramount, and the supervisor is not part of that relationship. Therefore, what the supervisor sees as a therapeutic mistake might in fact be experienced differently in the counseling room because of the relationship between the client and CIT. Consequently, the significance of the counseling relationship must be continually stressed to supervisees, and the supervisory relationship should be treated with as much care.
The findings point to meaningful experiences that may be unique to a supervisor’s perspective, such as those related to nonverbals and intuition, which are often outside the awareness of the CIT and client in the relationship; and rescuing, which may be beyond the developmental level of the CIT and not an aspect with which clients would be in tune. Supervisors can challenge CITs by informing them of moments when they rescue clients. Rescuing is an aspect of counseling that must be seen by the supervisor (live or via video), as CITs likely will be unaware of doing this and therefore not report it. Similarly, supervisors can offer CITs another perspective on what may be happening in the counseling session and in the counseling relationship that the CIT is unable to see, such as nonverbals and intuitive observations. The use of live supervision and video recordings can reinforce how powerful these meaningful experiences are in counseling sessions. For instance, in the case of Sue and Bridget, the supervisor noticed a clear, positive shift in the session following the CIT’s disclosure of how she experienced her client, and although the CIT experienced this event as meaningful, she may not have noticed an overall positive shift in the session or attributed the shift to her disclosure.
It is important for supervisors to remember that although they bring expertise to the table, they can only see through their own lens, and therefore should be aware of their predispositions. The use of live supervision and video recording is important in adding the supervisor’s perspective to supplement the CIT’s account of the session. Interpersonal process recall (Kagan, 1980) can be used to enhance supervisee self-awareness (Getz, 1999) by pausing at vital moments while viewing a video recording and checking in with the supervisee about his or her feelings and thoughts from that moment in the counseling session. The supervisor’s perspective can be added to this process as well. The reflective model of supervision (Stinchfield, Hill, & Kleist, 2007) also can be effective in facilitating supervisee self-awareness and growth. This technique involves the supervisor and a peer supervisee observing the presenting supervisee’s work and then discussing feedback for the presenting supervisee with each other while he or she only listens and reflects internally. These supervision techniques can include the multiple perspectives of the supervisor, supervisee and peer supervisee(s). However, it is important to remember, as indicated in the findings of this study, that the clients’ experience can only be accurately known by eliciting it.
In summary, we found general agreement among a supervisor, CITs and clients about what was meaningful in the counseling events examined in this study. We did find some differences in how they experienced the events given their roles. We purposely approached the findings through a supervisor’s lens, which allowed us to discuss implications for supervision.
Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
There are limitations to this study that are important to mention. We chose examples for each theme to illustrate a meaningful event as seen by the observer, and described them from each of the three perspectives of the supervisor, client and CIT. As such, the similarities and differences among the three perspectives on the chosen events cannot be generalized to the other meaningful events within those same themes. Also, the study was conducted in one particular clinic, which is associated with a counselor education program that has its own training and style preferences that may not be representative of other counselor education programs and their supervisors.
Future research concerning multiple perspectives on meaningful events in counseling sessions can further our understanding of the counseling process. It would be useful to replicate this study across a variety of settings and populations. Finally, using a quantitative or mixed-methods research methodology to examine multiple perspectives on the process would likely provide new, helpful information for supervisors.
Conflict of Interest and Funding Disclosure
The authors reported no conflict of
interest or funding contributions for
the development of this manuscript.
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Corrine R. Sackett is an Assistant Professor at Clemson University. Gerard Lawson, NCC, is an Associate Professor at Virginia Tech. Penny L. Burge is a Professor at Virginia Tech. Correspondence can be addressed to Corrine R. Sackett, 307 Tillman Hall, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634, firstname.lastname@example.org.