Vicarious Grief in Supervision: Considerations for Doctoral Students Supervising Counselors-in-Training

Samara G. Richmond, Amber M. Samuels, A. Elizabeth Crunk


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about collective experiences of grief; thus, counselors-in-training (CITs) and their doctoral student supervisors may encounter increases in grief-oriented clinical work. In considering how to support CITs’ work with grieving clients, doctoral supervisors should be prepared to help CITs manage experiences of vicarious grief (VG). Given the ubiquity of loss and the limited amount of grief-specific coursework in counselor training, CITs could benefit from exploring their experiences of VG with their doctoral supervisors in clinical supervision—a core area of training for doctoral students enrolled in counselor education programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. In this manuscript, we (a) provide an overview of the literature on VG, (b) discuss the potential impact of VG on CITs, (c) present a case study illustrating attention to VG in supervision, and (d) provide practical strategies doctoral supervisors can employ when addressing VG in supervision, drawing on Bernard and Goodyear’s discrimination model.

Keywords: vicarious grief, counselors-in-training, doctoral supervisors, clinical supervision, discrimination model


     Loss, and the resulting grief response, is a universal human experience that individuals are likely to encounter at multiple points across the life span (Chan & Tin, 2012). As such, grief presents in counseling as a common client concern (Hill et al., 2018) and can stem from the loss of a loved one through death, non-death loss (e.g., relationship loss, loss of lifestyle), or normal life transitions (e.g., retirement, relocating; Sullender, 2010). Given the ubiquity of these experiences, counselors should anticipate working with clients who are facing loss and grief throughout their years of practice (Doughty Horn et al., 2013).

Current events may also elicit collective and global grief responses as we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic and the unexpected death of professional basketball player Kobe Bryant early in 2020 (Milstein, 2017; Weir, 2020). These bring the pervasiveness of grief to the forefront of our awareness. Counselors, not immune to these events at the macro or micro level, must cope with their own grief responses and be prepared to experience grief through exposure to their clients’ presenting concerns, recognized as a vicarious grief (VG) response (Chan & Tin, 2012; Kirchberg et al., 1998; Rando, 1997). This reality, highlighted by the growing awareness and impact of collective grief in 2020, supports the need for increased loss and grief competencies within the profession of counseling.

Although calls have been made to more purposefully integrate loss and grief competencies into counselor education (Doughty Horn et al., 2013), we aim to highlight the importance of supporting doctoral students in growing loss and grief competencies related to their roles as future counselor educators and supervisors. As the most recent Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards identify supervision as one of the five core areas of doctoral-level student training (CACREP, 2015), we propose that doctoral students should be trained to identify VG observed within counselors-in-training (CITs) and themselves. Further, they should be prepared to facilitate supervisory discussion to explore VG and help CITs learn strategies for effectively managing VG they might experience in response to their clinical work. Drawing on the existing literature on vicarious trauma, loss, and grief in counseling and supervision, as well as Bernard and Goodyear’s (1992, 2019) discrimination model, with this article we (a) provide an overview of the literature on VG, (b) discuss the potential impact of VG on CITs, (c) present a case study illustrating VG in supervision, and (d) provide practical strategies doctoral supervisors can employ when addressing VG in supervision.

Grief in Counseling
     In order to more thoroughly understand counselors’ and supervisors’ experiences of VG, it is necessary to first explore how loss and grief may present within the therapeutic context. Contrary to traditional stage models of bereavement, contemporary research indicates that grief is a more nuanced, nonlinear psychological response to loss that can vary significantly between individuals with respect to duration of grief and the presentation and intensity of symptoms (Crunk et al., 2017; Doughty Horn et al., 2013). For example, although the majority of individuals experience more normative grief responses, about 10% of bereaved individuals experience a protracted, debilitating, and sometimes life-threatening grief response known as complicated grief (Shear, 2012), also referred to as prolonged grief disorder (Prigerson et al., 1995) or persistent complex bereavement disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). As doctoral student supervisors and CITs inevitably encounter clinical presentations of loss and grief, the ability to identify and discuss both common and complicated grief reactions not only serves to support  determination of treatment interventions, but also promotes the introspection necessary to identify, explore, and cope with their own VG responses (Ober et al., 2012), which is the focus of this present article.

Vicarious Grief
     Prior literature within the counseling profession has largely focused on vicarious trauma—the negative emotional or psychological changes and altered view of self, others, or the world experienced by counselors resulting from repeated engagement with clients’ trauma-related stories, memories, pain, and fear (American Counseling Association [ACA], n.d.; Trippany et al., 2004). It is widely recognized by practitioners and counselor educators that vicarious trauma can be personally and professionally disruptive, with counselors experiencing behavior changes, interpersonal issues, shifts in personal values and beliefs, and diminished job performance as a result (ACA, n.d.). However, less attention has been directed toward VG (i.e., bereavement), a phenomenon originally documented by Kastenbaum (1987) that describes “the experience of loss and consequent grief and mourning that occurs following the deaths of others not personally known by the mourner” (Rando, 1997, p. 259). The two types of VG include (a) Type 1, exclusively VG (i.e., the griever feels what it is like to be in the initial griever’s position) and (b) Type 2, the experience of VG for a griever along with feeling reminded of one’s own losses and unfinished grieving (Rando, 1997; Sullender, 2010). Although there is overlap between grief and trauma, there are also important differences for counselors to be aware of and attend to in counselor training, practice, and supervision, particularly given the pervasiveness of loss and grief.

In light of prior literature suggesting that counselors can experience negative outcomes following vicarious traumatization, we propose that issues of loss and grief, too, can elicit unexpected and unwanted grief responses that might impact counselors’ well-being or even their ability to provide client care. CITs and doctoral supervisors would benefit from greater awareness of the potential impacts of VG on themselves and their ability to deliver ethical and effective services to clients. Research has indicated training and experience in grief counseling are among the strongest predictors of grief counseling competence (Ober et al., 2012); thus, counselors who have little or no training in grief and loss may be at risk for being unable to manage clients’ grief presentations. With counselor wellness essential to providing adequate clinical services, and counselors holding an ethical obligation to be prepared to work with a variety of client presentations, including loss and grief, it is suggested that increased attention to VG serves to promote counselor wellness, clinical preparedness, and positive client outcomes (Hill et al., 2018).

Although the long-term effects of our current experiences of collective, widespread grief have yet to be fully identified and understood, the immediate impact brings to the forefront the professional necessity of recognizing reactions to grief within clinical work and supervision. Sufficient evidence exists that counselors who work with clients facing issues of loss and grief are vulnerable to compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary traumatization. Best practices reflect the necessity for practitioners to attend to their emotional responses to clients presenting with these issues (Chan & Tin, 2012; Gentry, 2002; Kirchberg et al., 1998), but little empirical evidence has been established surrounding how counselors respond to discussion of loss and grief in supervision. Therefore, to promote recognition and understanding of VG, it is beneficial for counselors and counselor educators to consider the separate and distinct impacts of VG on a counselor’s work. This includes how VG can permeate into supervisory relationships—space that has traditionally been used for counselors to process and attend to their emotional reaction to clients’ presenting concerns (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019).

Vicarious Grief in Supervision
     Although supervision is evaluative and hierarchical by nature, it can serve a “simultaneous purpose of enhancing the professional functioning” (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019, p. 9) of the CIT. When applied to loss- and grief-oriented clinical work, it may be understood to include assisting CITs in exploring how their own reactions contribute to their ability to deliver clinical services. For doctoral students in the role of supervisor, this task requires that they not only support the connection of classroom learning to clinical practice, but also promote personal reflection and growth in the service of clients. As such, in cases of clients presenting with issues of loss and grief, doctoral students can utilize supervision and the supervisory working alliance to facilitate identification and understanding of a VG response, ultimately supporting more effective clinical work.

The supervision literature suggests that VG may affect counselors differently depending on their level of clinical experience. For example, more advanced clinicians have been found to experience less distress when faced with death-related client concerns (Terry et al., 1996), whereas beginning counselors, particularly those in a practicum course, rate death and loss as highly uncomfortable clinical topics to handle (Kirchberg & Neimeyer, 1991). In addition, the interplay of personal and contextual factors may exacerbate the distress that students experience when faced with these clinical topics, emphasizing the necessity of not only acquiring appropriate knowledge and skills related to grief work, but also personal awareness and competencies to manage their emotional responses (Chan & Tin, 2012; Kirchberg et al., 1998). Doctoral students must be prepared through their own education and introspective abilities to support this process for their CITs.

As it presents for CITs, sufficient evidence can be derived from the loss and grief and vicarious trauma literature to suggest that client outcomes may be affected when CITs cannot adequately identify or cope with vicarious responses (ACA, n.d.; Hill et al., 2018). When experiencing VG, it may be more difficult for CITs to attend to client presentations during session and engage in pre-session planning or post-session reflection (Lonn & Haiyasoso, 2016). Without standards for grief training or practice in the professional counseling field (Doughty Horn et al., 2013; Ober et al., 2012), much of the responsibility to promote CIT wellness and attention to VG responses falls on doctoral student supervisors engaging with CITs in their practicum experiences. As such, doctoral student supervisors, also ethically charged with promoting client welfare and proficiency of practitioners across presenting concerns, should be prepared to attend to VG and its likelihood to impact CIT ability to lead client sessions effectively.

Given that the vicarious trauma literature suggests that supervisors monitor their own responses to trauma-focused clinical information presented by their CITs, doctoral student supervisors and their supervisors (i.e., counselor educators and supervisors) supporting grief work must also be aware of their own risk for VG (Lonn & Haiyasoso, 2016). Supervisors may also experience emotional reactions to CITs’ disclosures of their own VG reactions in supervision (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019). Through utilizing introspective practices, doctoral student supervisors and their supervising counselor educators and supervisors can attend to this heightened possibility of VG by examining their physical, emotional, and cognitive reactions to their CITs, their workload, and any personal issues pertaining to unresolved grief that may be shaping how they in turn conduct supervision around topics of loss and grief (Ladany et al., 2000; Walker & Gray, 2002, as cited in Bernard & Goodyear, 2019). The following sections outline recommendations for addressing VG in supervision with doctoral-level supervisors and CITs.

Supervision and Vicarious Grief: Leveraging Roles and Relationships

     Clinical supervision is essential to basic counselor training and has become a major emphasis of counseling doctoral training programs (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019; CACREP, 2015). Supervision as a practice has been found to increase counselor objectivity, empathy, and compassion (Trippany et al., 2004), providing an ideal environment for doctoral student supervisors to intervene and address the ripple effects of client grief presentations. Although grief is a common client concern, literature addressing VG in supervision is scarce. Generally recognized standards for addressing VG in supervision do not yet exist. Thus, in the absence of best practices, in this article, we extrapolate from existing supervision literature strategies for effectively fostering CIT growth and adapting our understanding of how these factors may also serve to support CITs and their supervisors as they navigate grief-related content and possible VG experiences in supervision.

Just as it has been studied in psychotherapy research, common factors of supervision can be examined to better conceptualize the supervisor’s role and ability to shift a CIT’s experience of VG. In considering common and specific factors of supervisory models, it has been suggested that the supervisory relationship is paramount to positive clinical outcomes (Crunk & Barden, 2017). Doctoral student supervisors, in being asked to address the intense emotional reactions of VG with their CITs, may benefit from focusing on the quality of the supervisory relationship to encourage openness, honesty, and increased willingness to process feelings of grief that arise in relation to work with their clients.

Per Bernard and Goodyear’s (1992, 2019) discrimination model, it can also be helpful to consider how the supervisory roles of counselor, consultant, and teacher may inform a doctoral student supervisor’s approach to VG with trainees. Often as a new supervisor, it can be difficult to navigate these roles and best determine which to utilize within supervision (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019; Nelson et al., 2006). The counselor role may be most familiar, given previous clinical experience, but the consultant and teacher role hold value in striking an “optimal balance between support and challenge” (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019, p. 106) for the CIT. Purposefully integrating the roles of counselor, consultant, and teacher can support doctoral student supervisors in addressing CIT factors, such as resistance, anxiety, and transference, which inherently contribute to a trainee’s experience of VG (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019; Chan & Tin, 2012; Gentry, 2002; Kirchberg et al., 1998).

To facilitate this integration of roles within the context of supervision, it is also crucial to recognize that doctoral student supervisors, early in their own training as clinical supervisors, may struggle with this task (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019; Nelson et al., 2006). In response to COVID-19 impacts to clinical services, doctoral student supervisors may be asked to provide consultation to CITs regarding navigating a client crisis via teletherapy. Overlapping with the role of consultant is also the necessity for doctoral student supervisors to teach CITs about ethical usage of teletherapy platforms for the delivery of clinical services. Further, doctoral student supervisors may recognize the need to provide counseling support to CITs around anxiety that manifests from the plethora of changes in a short period of time. These examples highlight the complex tasks facing doctoral student supervisors in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic and draw attention to the support doctoral student supervisors may benefit from in order to remain best equipped to meet their CITs’ needs. Group or individual supervision with faculty members or senior clinic staff members may prove useful to provide an opportunity for doctoral student supervisors to examine their perspectives, emotional reactions, and the challenges of their new professional identity, coupled with the potential parallel process of experiencing their own VG through their work with CITs (Trippany et al., 2004).

As supervision provides opportunities for professional and personal growth critical to the learning experience of CITs, doctoral student supervisors must consider how best to support CITs in both of these domains. The bereavement literature suggests that a larger focus is often placed on the development of professional competencies, knowledge, and skills, as compared to an emphasis on the personal nature, or the role of self, in loss and grief (Balk et al., 2007; Stroebe et al., 2008). Thus, it is common for CITs and supervisors alike, particularly those who have not received formal academic instruction on topics of loss and grief, to be less open to topics of death and loss with clients, have less insight into their own beliefs regarding death, and have a greater fear of death (Doughty Horn et al., 2013).

This suggests that for supervisors to effectively address VG within supervision, they should engage in their own self-study of loss and grief to support their acquisition of knowledge and increased personal understanding of responses to death and loss. Because coursework that focuses specifically on loss and grief is not required by CACREP standards (Doughty Horn et al., 2013), it is unlikely that doctoral students coming from master’s programs in counseling or marriage and family therapy have had substantive training specific to loss and grief (Ober et al., 2012). Seeking out learning opportunities will further prepare doctoral student supervisors to embody the roles of counselor, consultant, and teacher to both educate and process their CITs’ reactions related to loss, grief, and death. Much like vicarious trauma has been approached within supervision, doctoral student supervisors who have engaged in the study and self-reflection of loss and grief can serve in the important role of helping CITs “stay in their own chairs” (Rothschild, 2006, p. 201). They can more effectively support identification of CITs’ gaps in knowledge or reactions to the material presented by the client and utilize supervision as a space for both education and emotional processing.

Doctoral student supervisors working with CITs must recognize the inherent challenges CITs may have in sharing clinical and personal information within supervision (Lonn & Haiyasoso, 2016). New counselors may be less aware of their emotional reactions in session (Dowden et al., 2014), further necessitating attention to VG by supervisors. Doctoral student supervisors, in guiding CITs to gain insight into their own reactions, may find benefit in incorporating discussion of countertransference and VG in an effort to differentiate the experiences for CITs. Countertransference—a counselor’s emotional, cognitive, or behavioral reactions that occur in response to the client or clinical content and are rooted in the counselor’s own life and relational experiences (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019; Hayes et al., 2011)—can be understood as distinct from VG, which, adapted from the vicarious trauma literature, is the response to the loss-oriented client material unrelated to personal experiences (Trippany et al., 2004). Although countertransference may also occur for a CIT as it relates to loss and grief, the literature supports the likelihood that as clients experience existential crises of meaning around loss, professional helpers are likely to share in the existential challenges, including the experience of VG (Chan & Tin, 2012). It is beneficial for doctoral student supervisors to support CITs in making this distinction, as each may require different attention within the supervision process.

The COVID-19 pandemic has elicited a surge of global loss, grief, and trauma, increasing the likelihood of supervisors and CITs encountering VG in supervision. Generally speaking, it is important and necessary for doctoral students to attend to the previously mentioned tasks of supporting CITs who may encounter VG, while recognizing the likelihood of a parallel process between supervision and the trainee’s clinical work (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019). Just as it can be hard for a CIT to manage responses to grief, so too may it be challenging for a new supervisor to cope without thorough discussion of loss and grief topics in supervision. Given the current widespread and collective grief specific to COVID-19, and the ubiquity of loss and grief in general, we recommend that counselor education programs help doctoral student supervisors to become more aware of the potential for VG to emerge in supervision. Strategies may include introducing case studies of VG in supervision to support doctoral students in applying strategies and exploring the impacts for themselves and their CITs.

Implications for Training: Doctoral Student Curricular Preparation

A review of the existing literature revealed that there is both minimal research and limited curricular focus on loss and grief education in the profession of counseling (Doughty Horn et al., 2013). Although this conversation has largely focused on master’s-level curricula, it is important to consider the impact of this lack of focus within doctoral education as well. Counselor education doctoral students, lacking education on clinical competencies in loss and grief from within their master’s programs, are preparing themselves to become educators of the next generation of counselors. Therefore, it is imperative that we rectify this lack of competency around loss and grief in order to best meet the moral and ethical obligation of counselors and counselor educators to promote and facilitate client growth both in their own clinical work and through the instruction and supervision of students’ work (Cicchetti et al., 2016).

Doctoral programs, although held by CACREP (2015) standards to include training in counseling, supervision, teaching, research, and advocacy, currently have no requirement to address topics of loss and grief, including VG within these domains. In order to most effectively implement the strategies discussed above, doctoral student supervisors would benefit from more focused training, both to enhance their supervisory competencies and fill gaps within introductory counselor education. Despite the existence of master’s CACREP standards that address life span development issues, there exist no CACREP standards to date that address topics of loss and grief, including VG. Hence, in this article, we examine how VG can perhaps be incorporated into doctoral supervisory curriculum.

Within counselor education doctoral programs, supervision is a core area of counselor educator education and training (CACREP, 2015). Given the ubiquity and salience of grief (Doughty Horn et al., 2013), VG is an arguably crucial phenomenon to be acknowledged and addressed by both CITs and doctoral supervisors. Hence, it is worthwhile to examine the content of courses that meet this standard. Whether a didactic course prior to direct supervisory experience or an experiential course, CACREP (2015) calls for course material to include a variety of components (e.g., purposes of clinical supervision, skills and modalities, ethical responsibilities, culturally relevant strategies). Despite the likelihood of issues of loss and grief to be present in clinical scenarios, CACREP supervision standards remain broad, meaning important topics, like loss and grief, may be neglected in course development and discussion. Just as students build on their prior knowledge of theory, interventions, cultural competence, and trauma-informed practice, so too can loss and grief be discussed as it relates to growing supervision knowledge, skills, and competencies.

The incorporation of these topics into doctoral courses may need to include foundational instruction related to loss and grief to facilitate basic competencies in addition to more complex applications of loss and grief clinical content to supervision frameworks, ethical issues, and modalities of supervision. Counselor educators and doctoral program coordinators may consider integrating VG both to draw attention to the possibility of one’s own encounter with VG as a counselor and counselor educator, and to provide opportunities for processing and self-reflection. Through purposeful instruction and modeling of strategies for supervision, doctoral student supervisors are better equipped not only to manage their own reactions, but also to recognize and facilitate understanding of their CITs’ reactions, ultimately supporting client well-being (Cicchetti et al., 2016). As such, we suggest that faculty of doctoral programs critically examine clinical topics discussed within courses meeting the CACREP supervision standards and purposefully integrate loss, grief, and VG into course content. Further, the use of case studies as a means of illustrating practical strategies that counselors and supervisors can use is a well-documented practice within the counseling scholarship (Kelly, 2016). Hence, in order to support doctoral students in their preparedness to apply the practical strategies discussed in this article, we present a case study as an example that can be used with doctoral students to support their training around VG in supervision.

Case Study
     The following fictional case study illustrates features of VG (i.e., Type 1 and Type 2; Kastenbaum, 1987; Rando, 1997; Sullender, 2010) evident with Cynthia, a CIT, during clinical supervision with a doctoral supervisor. Doctoral supervisors working with CITs experiencing VG are advised to use the information previously outlined to pay attention to the grief reactions presented in the case. Drawing on Bernard and Goodyear’s (1992, 2019) discrimination model, we discuss interventions that supervisors can use to attend to VG in supervision. Supervisor collaboration with practicum instructors to facilitate the management and potential amelioration of VG is also discussed. The case study highlights the important role supervision plays in facilitating the CIT’s awareness about the process of both leaving and returning to one’s “chair” (Rothschild, 2006, p. 201).

The Case of Cynthia
     Cynthia is a master’s-level CIT who is approaching the end of her practicum experience in the midst of COVID-19. During supervision, Cynthia discusses her clients’ experiences with multiple forms of loss and associated grief resulting from the pandemic, ranging from the deaths of loved ones to COVID-19, to job loss, loss of financial security, loss of special plans, loss of social connection, and an overall loss of “normal life” as they knew it. When Cynthia’s supervisor asks her how it has felt for her to help clients process their feelings of grief, Cynthia shares that when her clients share their grief with her, she becomes simultaneously reminded of her own losses (e.g., loss of social connection, daily routine, and normalcy) resulting from the pandemic, as well as her own associated grief response that she finds becomes activated in and outside of session. Cynthia shares that her own grief has been triggered by hearing her clients’ experiences and that her satisfaction with and sense of personal accomplishment surrounding her clinical work is starting to diminish.

Cynthia shares that she has also begun avoiding talking or thinking about their grief-related experiences in session. In supervision, she shares that since the pandemic, she worries that she is not doing enough for her clients and reports feeling a general sense of hopelessness associated with her work with them. Although she feels as though she is hearing her clients share stories about their loss and grief “constantly,” she also indicates that she is trying to stay motivated to continue to work with her clients and believes in her ability to help them. She also reports, however, that bearing continuous witness to their grief, fear, and overall uncertainty associated with the losses they are enduring because of the pandemic is becoming emotionally difficult to manage.

     A Brief Analysis: Type 1 and Type 2 VG. As illustrated above, the case of Cynthia depicts manifestations of Type 1 and Type 2 VG during supervision. First, Type 2 VG is evidenced by Cynthia’s report of being reminded of her own losses following those of her clients and her resulting grief response. Within this instance of Type 2 VG, in response to the reported grief of her clients, Cynthia is reminded of her own losses as well as her own unfinished grieving. Second, Type 1 VG is evidenced by Cynthia’s report that her own grief response has been triggered after hearing her clients’ experiences of grief. Unlike Cynthia’s experience of Type 2 VG, in which her own unfinished grief was elicited, in this instance, Cynthia exclusively feels what it is like to be in the griever’s (i.e., client’s) position. When using a case study such as this with doctoral students, it may be beneficial to have them identify and discuss the types of VG present and begin to process how they might attend to both within supervision.

     Attending to VG in Supervision. According to Bernard and Goodyear (1992, 2019), the three primary roles that are associated with clinical supervision are: counselor, teacher, and consultant. Given that these roles all fall within the domain of supervision, CITs can be afforded a broad variety of developmentally appropriate interventions throughout supervision. In considering common and specific factors of supervisory models, it has been suggested that the supervisory relationship is paramount to positive clinical outcomes (Crunk & Barden, 2017). Doctoral student supervisors, when addressing the intense emotional reactions of VG with their CITs, may benefit from focusing on the quality of the supervisory relationship to encourage openness, honesty, and increased willingness to process feelings of grief related to client work. When using a case study for experiential purposes, doctoral students can be asked to consider how, along with the use of common factors, the trifecta of roles presented by the discrimination model can be called on by supervisors to offer CITs guidance surrounding the challenging terrain of VG, regardless of the supervisor’s theoretical supervisory orientation.

     Counselor. Although the intent is not to provide therapy, doctoral students can consider how the role of counselor remains constant throughout the supervisory relationship and can facilitate CITs’ understanding of and ability to manage their personal feelings and reactions as they emerge throughout their work with clients (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019). Initially, after the origination of the COVID-19 pandemic and its loss-related effects on Cynthia’s clients, Cynthia exhibited VG as well as hopelessness surrounding her clinical work during supervision. By facilitating Cynthia’s processing through reflecting her feelings of hopelessness and asking her to reflect on how her feelings may be affecting her work with clients, the doctoral student supervisor might guide Cynthia in expressing her underlying emotions that are associated with her VG response and impacting her clinical work. Given the potential for CITs to feel challenged in sharing clinical and personal information within supervision (Lonn & Haiyasoso, 2016), doctoral students examining this case study can consider how as a supervisor they might also use a check-in with Cynthia at the beginning of supervision (Doyle, 2017), in order to normalize her personal grief reactions and encourage her to be proactive about self-care surrounding her VG. Furthermore, in the case of COVID-19, this case study can highlight for doctoral students how a supervisor might attend to their own feelings of grief and demonstrate their willingness to model transparency and vulnerability to Cynthia in order to assist her in acknowledging and managing countertransference and VG. Ultimately, in more closely examining the role of counselor, doctoral students can more clearly imagine how they might be able to help Cynthia examine her feelings and emotions associated with her VG to her clients and her clinical work to reduce the potential for disturbance in her therapeutic relationship.

     Teacher. In the role of teacher, the supervisor assumes the primary responsibility for the CIT’s learning (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019). In the case of Cynthia, as teacher, doctoral students can contemplate and discuss how as a supervisor they might work to help her understand her reactions to her clinical work as VG. In addition to providing education about how counselors are called to attend to their clients’ needs during a crisis, the supervisor might also provide Cynthia with psychoeducation about VG, as well as examples of symptoms and information pertaining to distinguishing it from countertransference, compassion fatigue, or burnout. This knowledge would be provided to Cynthia to help normalize and validate manifestations of indirect grief which makes these reactions easier to manage, with the case study providing opportunity for doctoral students to evaluate their own knowledge of these areas and seek support from peers or faculty to grow their knowledge.

Furthermore, doctoral students examining this case study may also be prompted to examine how they could bolster Cynthia’s learning and enhance her preparedness to work with her grieving clients by bringing Cynthia’s experiences to the attention of her practicum instructor. This provides opportunity for doctoral students to consider how to collaborate with faculty so that instructors might provide additional educational support surrounding the concept of VG during group supervision. Through discussion around how to effectively integrate didactic components into the supervisory process and attend to Cynthia’s learning, doctoral students are able to practice how a supervisor can work toward ameliorating a CIT’s VG.

     Consultant. In the role of consultant, the supervisor might work with Cynthia to identify strategies that minimize the impact of VG and allow her to engage in self-care practices. By examining this case study, doctoral students can consider how to balance the teaching role, in which they adopt the role of the expert, with the consultant role, in which the supervisor works to foster Cynthia’s independence, autonomy, and empowerment (Bernard & Goodyear, 2019). Given that Cynthia demonstrated motivation to engage in supervision and learn more about her VG, as consultant, the supervisor might provide her with structured guidance surrounding how to approach her work with clients. Doctoral students may benefit from discussion around how to promote amelioration of Cynthia’s VG through providing her with resources regarding self-regulation and offering to help her brainstorm ways to be more present with her clients in session during discussions of grief. By examining a case study, doctoral students are provided the opportunity to further consider how, as consultant, they might communicate to Cynthia that she handled this situation ethically and professionally by sharing her feelings of VG with the supervisor. 

     Given the dearth of research on grief literacy in counselor education and without sufficient standards around loss and grief training for counselors (Doughty Horn et al., 2013; Ober et al., 2012),
our conceptualizations, discussion, and recommendations for doctoral student supervisors and CITs encountering VG in supervision are inherently limited. Thus, we cannot be certain these recommendations would significantly influence the supervisory experience and its effect on client and counselor well-being. We believe there is sufficient evidence within the current literature suggesting that attention to VG within supervision is warranted, but further research is necessary to more completely understand the role of supervision in identifying and managing VG responses.

Further, our exploration of VG is limited to an academic setting as we believe specific attention to these competencies lies in the inclusion of loss and grief training within counselor education (Doughty Horn et al., 2013). However, given the ubiquity of grief in life and within counseling (Chan & Tin, 2012; Doughty Horn et al., 2013; Hill et al., 2018), it would be remiss for us to not acknowledge that this discussion about doctoral student supervisors is just one of many situations in which a counselor or clinical supervisor may find themselves faced with experiences of VG. Our conceptualization of VG and many of our suggestions may even ring true for clinical supervisors at various stages of their career within that role. Further research must consider how supervision occurs in contexts outside of academia and the impact of VG for counselors and supervisors at more advanced stages of their career.

Future Directions
     Given the continued pervasiveness of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is impossible to understand its long-term effects, but the immediate impacts to the profession of counseling speak to the necessity of recognizing reactions to grief within clinical work and supervision. Although the supervision literature abounds with approaches for supervising counselors, as highlighted by this article, the counseling literature lacks empirical studies on VG in supervision, despite its occurrence and impact on clinicians and supervisors alike. In the absence of such research, we call for VG in supervision to be an emerging area of focus for the profession of counseling, particularly within doctoral counselor education.

However, although the scope of this article is aimed at recognizing and managing VG by doctoral student supervisors, it is our hope that drawing attention to the complexities of this experience brings further conversation to experiences of VG in all types of clinical supervision. It is of benefit to all supervisors, doctoral students, and clinicians both new to the role and with seasoned experience that increased attention is directed toward validating specific supervisory techniques developed to attend to counselors’ experience of VG in supervision. It is our goal that this discussion acknowledges the impact of VG on clinicians and promotes further research and development of best practices for managing VG in supervision, both within counselor education and beyond.


CITs and counselor educators face the possibility of experiencing VG in their respective work with clients and CITs who have experienced loss. Counselor educators in supervisory roles can help CITs mitigate VG through facilitating awareness of the impacts of grief-related clinical content into the supervision process and attending to CITs’ unique needs in the roles of teacher, counselor, and consultant. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting landscape of increased loss and related mental health needs, it is especially critical for counselor educators and supervisors to be equipped to attend to the needs of CITs who are experiencing VG. In this article, we aimed to address this need by defining VG, discussing its potential impact on CITs and doctoral supervisors, and presenting a case study illustrating interventions that counselor educators can use when addressing VG in supervision.


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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Samara G. Richmond, MA, MS, NCC, LGPC, is a doctoral candidate at The George Washington University. Amber M. Samuels, MS, NCC, LGPC, is a doctoral candidate at The George Washington University. A. Elizabeth Crunk, PhD, NCC, LGPC, is an assistant professor at The George Washington University. Correspondence may be addressed to Samara G. Richmond, 2136 G St NW, Washington, D.C. 20052,

The Common Factors Discrimination Model: An Integrated Approach to Counselor Supervision

A. Elizabeth Crunk, Sejal M. Barden

Numerous models of clinical supervision have been developed; however, there is little empirical support indicating that any one model is superior. Therefore, common factors approaches to supervision integrate essential components that are shared among counseling and supervision models. The purpose of this paper is to present an innovative model of clinical supervision, the Common Factors Discrimination Model (CFDM), which integrates the common factors of counseling and supervision approaches with the specific factors of Bernard’s discrimination model for a structured approach to common factors supervision. Strategies and recommendations for implementing the CFDM in clinical supervision are discussed.

Keywords: supervision, common factors, specific factors, discrimination model, counselor education

Clinical supervision is a cornerstone of counselor training (Barnett, Erickson Cornish, Goodyear, & Lichtenberg, 2007) and serves the cardinal functions of providing support and instruction to supervisees while ensuring the welfare of clients and the counseling profession (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). Numerous models of clinical supervision have been developed, varying in emphasis from models based on theories of psychotherapy, to those that focus on the developmental needs of the supervisee, to models that emphasize the process of supervision and the various roles of the supervisor (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). However, despite the abundance of available supervision models, there is little evidence to support that any one approach is superior to another (Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007; Storm, Todd, Sprenkle, & Morgan, 2001). Thus, a growing body of clinical supervision literature underscores a need for strategies that integrate the most effective elements of supervision models into a parsimonious approach rather than emphasizing differences between models (Lampropoulos, 2002; Milne, Aylott, Fitzpatrick, & Ellis, 2008; Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007; Watkins, Budge, & Callahan, 2015). Common factors models of supervision bridge the various approaches to supervision by identifying the essential components that are shared across models, such as the supervisory relationship, the provision of feedback, and supervisee acquisition of new knowledge and skills (Milne et al., 2008; Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007). Other common factors approaches to supervision draw on psychotherapy outcome research, aiming to extrapolate common factors of counseling and psychotherapy—such as the therapeutic relationship and the instillation of hope—to clinical supervision approaches (Lampropoulos, 2002; Watkins et al., 2015)

Although reviews of the supervision literature allude to commonalities among supervision approaches (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014), there is a dearth of published literature offering practical strategies for bridging common factors of counseling and supervision. Perhaps even more limited is literature that addresses the necessary convergence of both common and specific factors, or the integration of common factors of supervision with particular interventions that are applied in various supervision approaches (e.g., role-playing or Socratic questioning; Watkins et al., 2015). In a recent article, Watkins and colleagues (2015) proposed a supervision model that extrapolates Wampold and Budge’s (2012) psychotherapy relationship model to specific factors of supervision, encouraging supervisors to apply such relationship common factors to some form of supervision. However, there remains a need for a structured approach to supervision that integrates the common factors of counseling and supervision with the specific factors of commonly used, empirically supported models of clinical supervision.

Because the common factors are, by definition, elements that are shared among theories of counseling and supervision, it can be argued that common factors approaches can be applied to almost any supervision model. However, we argue for the integration of common factors with the discrimination model for several reasons. First, the relationship has been found to be the essential common factor shared among counseling (Lambert & Barley, 2001; Norcross & Lambert, 2014) and supervision approaches, and is often cited as the most critical element of effective supervision and other change-inducing relationships, such as counseling, teaching and coaching (Lampropoulos, 2002; Ramos-Sánchez et al., 2002). The supervisory roles of teacher, counselor and consultant are built into the discrimination model, providing supervisors with natural avenues for fostering a strong supervisory relationship. However, the proposed Common Factors Discrimination Model (CFDM) expands on the discrimination model by providing specific recommendations for how supervisors might use such roles as opportunities for developing and maintaining the supervisory relationship. Second, we consider Bernard’s (1979, 1997) discrimination model to lend itself well to common factors approaches to supervision, as both are concerned with process aspects of supervision, such as tailoring supervision interventions to the needs of the supervisee. Finally, because the discrimination model is widely used by practicing supervisors (Timm, 2015), common factors approaches are likely to fit naturally with customary supervision practices of more experienced supervisors who espouse the discrimination model, yet the CFDM is concise enough for novice supervisors to grasp and apply. Thus, the purpose of this manuscript is to build on Watkins and colleagues’ (2015) model by presenting the CFDM, an innovative approach to supervision that converges common factors identified in both counseling and supervision and integrates them with the specific factors of Bernard’s (1979, 1997) discrimination model. Specifically, we will (a) review the relevant literature on common factors approaches to counseling and supervision and the discrimination model; (b) provide a rationale for a model of supervision that integrates the specific factors of the discrimination model with a common factors approach; and (c) offer strategies and recommendations for applying the CFDM in clinical supervision.

The Common Factors Approach

The notion of therapeutic common factors resulted from psychotherapy outcome research suggesting that psychotherapies yield equivalent outcomes when compared against each other and, thus, what makes psychotherapy effective is not the differences between therapies, but rather the commonalities among them (Lambert, 1986). Wampold’s (2001) landmark research revealed that the theoretical approach utilized by the therapist (e.g., psychodynamic therapy) explained less than 1% of therapy outcome. In light of these findings, researchers and clinicians have been urged to minimize the importance placed on specific clinical techniques and interventions; instead, an emphasis on the commonalities among therapies that are associated with positive outcomes (Norcross & Lambert, 2011), such as the therapeutic alliance, empathy, positive regard, and collaboration within the therapeutic relationship (Norcross & Lambert, 2014; Norcross & Wampold, 2011), is more useful for describing therapeutic changes.

Among the most influential common factors approaches is Lambert’s model of therapeutic factors (see Lambert & Barley, 2001, for a review). Although lacking in stringent meta-analytic or statistical methods, Lambert and Barley (2001) presented four primary factors that are shared among therapeutic approaches (with the percentage that each factor contributes to therapy outcome indicated): (a) extratherapeutic factors (i.e., factors associated with the client, as well as his or her environment; 40%); (b) common factors (i.e., relationship factors such as empathy, warmth, positive regard, supporting the client in taking risks; 30%); (c) placebo, hope, and expectancy factors (i.e., the client’s hope and expectancy for improvement, as well as trust in the treatment; 15%); and (d) skills/techniques factors (i.e., components specific to various therapies, such as empty chair or relaxation techniques; 15%). Although a variety of common factors have been identified in the psychotherapy outcome research, numerous meta-analyses have identified the therapeutic relationship as the sine qua non (Norcross & Lambert, 2011, p. 12) of common factors that account for positive outcomes irrespective of the specific treatment utilized (Norcross & Wampold, 2011). They stated: “although we deplore the mindless dichotomy between relationship and method in psychotherapy, we also need to publicly proclaim what decades of research have discovered and what tens of thousands of relational therapists have witnessed: The relationship can heal” (Norcross & Lambert, 2014, p. 400).

Although the common factors are necessary for producing positive counseling outcomes, this does not mean that specific factors are irrelevant (Norcross & Lambert, 2011). On the contrary, prior research indicates that engaging in specific treatment interventions is associated with the working alliance and with positive counseling outcomes (Tryon & Winograd, 2011; Wampold & Budge, 2012). Watkins and colleagues (2015) noted that treatment interventions are necessary in maintaining client hope and expectations for positive counseling outcomes, stating, “The specific ingredients create benefits through the common factor of expectations, and respecting that interdependent common/specific factor dynamic is vital to treatment outcome” (p. 221).

Common Factors Approaches to Supervision

Although the concept of common factors in counseling and psychotherapy is not a new one and has been the focus of considerable empirical research (Frank, 1982; Lambert & Barley, 2001; Lambert & Ogles, 2004; Rosenzweig, 1936), applying the common factors approach to clinical supervision is relatively novel (Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007). Counseling and clinical supervision are distinct interventions; however, Milne (2006) makes a case for extrapolating findings from psychotherapy research to supervision, as both share common structures and properties of education, skill development, problem-solving and the working alliance. Furthermore, Bernard and Goodyear (2014) noted, “because therapy and supervision are so closely linked, developments in psychotherapy theory inevitably will affect supervision models” (p. 59).

Despite frequent reference to the similarities among supervision models, literature that specifically addresses common factors of supervision approaches is scarce (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). In our review of the supervision literature, we identified five articles that endorsed common factors approaches to supervision and counselor training (Castonguay, 2000; Lampropoulos, 2002; Milne et al., 2008; Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007; Watkins et al., 2015). Following Castonguay’s (2000) seminal work on training in psychotherapy integration, Lampropoulos (2002) was among the first to address the parallels that exist between common factors of both counseling and supervision, advocating for a theoretically eclectic approach to supervision and for the prescriptive matching of common factors to supervisee needs. For example, Lampropoulos (2002) suggested that supervisors might integrate psychodynamic theory as a means of increasing supervisees’ awareness of countertransference and attachment patterns, or cognitive theory in order to restructure supervisees’ unhelpful thoughts about counseling and supervision.

In contrast to Lampropoulos’s (2002) model, which extrapolates common factors of counseling to supervision, Morgan and Sprenkle (2007) and Milne and colleagues (2008) endorsed approaches that bridge similarities between supervision models. Morgan and Sprenkle (2007) identified a number of common factors among models of supervision, grouping these factors into the following three dimensions falling on their respective continua: (a) emphasis, ranging from specific clinical competence to general professional competence; (b) specificity, ranging from the idiosyncratic needs of supervisees and clients to the general needs of the profession as a whole; and (c) supervisory relationship, ranging from collaborative to directive. The authors (Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007) then proposed a model of supervision that applies these three dimensions of supervision to the supervisor roles of coach, teacher, mentor and administrator. In contrast, Milne and colleagues (2008) conducted a best evidence synthesis of the supervision literature to summarize the current state of empirical research on supervision practices and applied their findings to a basic model of supervision. Although both models (Milne et al., 2008; Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007) contributed viable descriptive models of common factors approaches to supervision, they were limited in providing specific strategies for supervisors to employ in a given situation. Furthermore, neither model specifically addressed the intersection of common factors of counseling and common factors of supervision. Thus, noting that common factors of counseling and specific factors of supervision approaches are interdependently related, Watkins and colleagues (2015) proposed a common/specific factors model, designating the supervisory relationship as the crowning common factor and encouraging supervisors to apply this relationship-centered model to the specific factors of “some form of supervision” (Watkins et al., 2015, p. 226). Following Watkins and colleagues’ recommendations, we therefore present an integrated approach to supervision by applying the common factors of counseling and supervision to the specific factors of the discrimination model.

 The Discrimination Model

The discrimination model (Bernard, 1979, 1997) provides a conceptualization of clinical supervision as both an educational and a relationship process (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014; Borders & Brown, 2005). In essence, the discrimination model involves the dual functions of assessing the supervisee’s skills and choosing a supervisor role for addressing the supervisee’s needs and goals. The supervisee is assessed on three skill areas, or foci: (a) intervention (observable behaviors that the supervisee demonstrates in session, such as demonstration of skills and interventions); (b) conceptualization (cognitive processes, such as the supervisee’s ability to recognize the client’s themes and patterns, as well as the supervisee’s level of understanding of what is taking place in session); and (c) personalization (supervisee self-awareness and ability to adapt his or her own personal style of counseling while maintaining aware-ness of personal issues and countertransference). Furthermore, over 30 years ago, Lanning (1986) proposed the addition of assessing the supervisee’s professional behaviors, such as how the supervisee approaches legal and ethical issues.

When the supervisor has assessed the supervisee’s skill level in each of the three foci, the supervisor utilizing the discrimination model assumes the appropriate role for addressing the supervisee’s needs and goals: (a) teacher (assumed when the supervisor perceives that the supervisee requires instruction or direct feedback); (b) counselor (appropriate for when the supervisor aims to increase supervisee reflectivity, or to process the supervisee’s internal reality and experiences related to his or her professional development or work as a counselor); or (c) consultant (a more collaborative role that is assumed when the supervisor deems it appropriate for the supervisee to think and act more independently, or when the supervisor aims to encourage the supervisee to trust his or her own insights). It is important to note that the supervisor does not take on the singular form of any of the three roles, but rather makes use of the knowledge and skills that are characteristic of each role (Borders & Brown, 2005). The discrimination model is situation-specific; therefore, supervisor roles and foci of assessment might change within a supervision session and across sessions. Consequently, supervisors are advised to remain attuned to the supervisee’s needs in order to attend to his or her most pressing focus area and to assume the most suitable role for addressing these needs rather than displaying strict adherence to a preferred focus or role (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014).

The discrimination model is considered to be an accessible, empirically validated model for supervisors and can be adapted in complexity depending on the supervisor’s level of readiness (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014; Borders & Brown, 2005). Using multidimentional scaling in an empirical study of the discrimination model, Ellis and Dell (1986) provided validation for both the teacher and counselor roles, although the consultant role did not emerge as a distinct role. Their findings are consistent with other studies that provided support for the teacher and counselor roles, but not for the consultant role (Glidden & Tracey, 1992; Goodyear, Abadie, & Efros, 1984; Stenack & Dye, 1982). Thus, the consultant role might be more difficult to distinguish from the teaching and counseling roles, perhaps, as Bernard and Goodyear (2014) noted, because the consultant role requires supervisors to put aside their position of expert or therapist and act more collaboratively with their supervisees. Ellis and Dell provided an alternate (and conflicting) explanation, suggesting that consultation might be an underlying component of both the teaching and counseling roles. These findings indicate a need for future research and possible modification of the discrimination model; however, the discrimination model is generally supported by empirical research.

Rationale for an Integrated Model

Watkins and colleagues (2015) stated: “Akin to the ‘great psychotherapy debate’ about effectiveness (Wampold, 2001), a ‘great psychotherapy supervision debate’ about effectiveness is eminently likely” (p. 17). Several cross-cutting models of clinical supervision have been proposed (Milne et al., 2008; Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007), as well as models that extrapolate common factors of counseling to supervision practices (Lampropoulos, 2002; Watkins et al., 2015); however, there has yet to be a model that systematically converges both. Given the abundance of empirical support for common factors in counseling, we have conceptualized a new model, the CFDM, to integrate a supervision approach that is grounded in effective counseling and supervision practices. Furthermore, Watkins and colleagues encouraged supervisors to apply common factors of counseling to the specific factors of some form of supervision; however, to our knowledge, no such model integrating common factors with the specific factors of an empirically supported model of supervision has been published. Thus, the CFDM combines essential factors of supervision models, converges them with common factors of counseling approaches, and applies them to the specific factors of Bernard’s (1979, 1997) discrimination model for a structured approach that bridges effective elements of both counseling and supervision.

Bernard and Goodyear (2014) pointed to the supervisory relationship as one of the most essential factors in supervision; however, a major criticism of the discrimination model is that the model itself does not thoroughly address the supervisory relationship (Beinart, 2004). Similarly, Freeman and McHenry (1996) found that supervisors ranked the development of clinical skills as their top goal for supervising counselors-in-training and identified that supervision involves taking on the roles of teacher, challenger and supporter, but relationship building did not surface as an emphasis of counselor supervision (Bell, Hagedorn, & Robinson, 2016). Thus, the CFDM builds on the discrimination model by incorporating tenets of the supervisory relationship that are consistent with common factors of counseling and supervision, such as the working alliance (Bordin, 1983), the real relationship (Watkins, 2015), and the instillation of hope (Lambert & Barley, 2001; Lampropoulos, 2002). Historically, the supervision literature suggests that novice supervisors, in particular, might manage feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty by employing a highly structured supervision style, focusing on providing supervisees with feedback on counseling techniques or client diagnosis and placing less emphasis on attending to the supervisory relationship (Hess, 1986; Hess & Hess, 1983). Furthermore, whereas building rapport is a top priority in many therapeutic relationships, counselor supervisors might prioritize other factors instead, such as scheduling, paperwork, and evaluation, before establishing a relationship with the supervisee (Bell et al., 2016). Because the discrimination model is a widely used approach to supervision (Timm, 2015), experienced counselors who wish to incorporate common factors of supervision and counseling into their customary supervision practice will likely find the CFDM to be an intuitive supervision approach. The following section provides a description of the four primary tenets of the CFDM, as well as strategies and recommendations for applying the CFDM in supervision.

The Common Factors Discrimination Model

The CFDM is an innovative model of supervision that aims to integrate the common factors of counseling and supervision with the specific factors of Bernard’s (1979, 1997) discrimination model for a structured, relationship-centered approach to clinical supervision. The CFDM builds on existing supervision models that extrapolate common factors of counseling to supervision practices (Lampropoulos, 2002; Watkins et al., 2015). The CFDM also draws on the discrimination model (Bernard, 1979, 1997) as a method of assessing supervisee needs and tailoring feedback and support accordingly. Although the melding of common factors with the discrimination model has yet to be empirically tested as an integrated approach to supervision, both approaches have received substantial empirical support as standalone models. Empirical research supports common factors approaches to counseling and other change-inducing relationships; however, the CFDM’s underpinnings in the more prescriptive discrimination model provide a structured approach to common factors supervision. In addition, there is evidence to suggest the effectiveness of common factors approaches across cultures (Dewell & Owen, 2015).

We have proposed a model that combines effective common factors of counseling and supervision with the specific factors of Bernard’s (1979, 1997) widely used, empirically supported and accessible discrimination model for a structured approach to common factors supervision. The primary tenets of the CFDM were derived by reviewing the literature on common factors models of supervision and purposively selecting the most common elements, including: (a) development and maintenance of a strong supervisory relationship, (b) supervisee acquisition of new knowledge and skills, (c) supervisee self-awareness and self-reflection, and (d) assessment of supervisees’ needs and the provision of feedback based on the tenets of Bernard’s (1979, 1997) discrimination model. The following section provides a brief fictional case illustration followed by specific strategies for applying the CFDM to supervision. Specific examples for matching common factors with tenets of the discrimination model are provided in Table 1, based on an illustrative case example, followed by a discussion of the primary tenets of the case to the CFDM.


Case Illustration

André, a master’s student in mental health counseling, is completing his first semester of clinical practicum at his university’s community counseling center. Although André demonstrates competency across many clinical and professional domains, as a novice counselor trainee he struggles with reflecting feeling with clients in session. His supervisor has noticed that André tends to sidestep emotional topics in session and, instead of reflecting feeling, responds to emotional content by asking the client unrelated questions or by changing the subject. In the few instances in which he has attempted to reflect feeling, André has been inaccurate in his reflections, undershooting the intensity of the client’s feelings or misreading the client’s emotions altogether. This has sometimes led to tension and frustration between André and his clients. Using the CFDM, his supervisor might utilize the following strategies in supervision with André. In the following section, the case of André is discussed, integrating the primary tenets of the CFDM.


Application of the CFDM

The Supervisory Relationship

Bernard and Goodyear (2014) suggested that the supervisory relationship is a critical factor in effective supervision, regardless of the model of supervision that is followed. Thus, the central tenet of the CFDM is the development of a collaborative supervisory relationship that is characterized by the Rogerian conditions of empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard (Lampropoulos, 2002). Utilizing the CFDM with André, the supervisor approaches her supervisory roles of teacher, counselor and consultant with warmth and acceptance as she addresses André’s difficulty reflecting feeling with his client, rather than using a confrontational or critical approach. Furthermore, she explores with André his personal experiences with emotion, taking into consideration his background and cultural factors that could play a role in his relationship with emotion.

The real relationship. The real relationship (Lampropoulos, 2002; Watkins, 2015) refers to a supervisory relationship that is unaltered by transference or countertransference and is characterized by empathy, warmth, genuineness, unconditional positive regard and trust. The expression of humor and optimism also is recommended in developing a common factors-influenced supervisory relationship. Extrapolating from Gelso’s (2014) tripartite model of the psychotherapy relationship, Watkins (2015) defined the real relationship as “the personal relationship between supervisor and supervisee marked by the extent to which each is genuine with the other and perceives/experiences the other in ways that befit the other” (p. 146). Factors of the real relationship are critical in supervision, as they allow supervisees to develop trust in the supervisory relationship and provide safety for supervisees to disclose vulnerabilities, mistakes and personal concerns (Storm et al., 2001).

Because the evaluative and hierarchical nature of supervision might make the supervisory relationship vulnerable to supervisory ruptures (Burke, Goodyear, & Guzzardo, 1998; Nelson & Friedlander, 2001; Safran, Muran, Stevens, & Rothman, 2007), the CFDM utilizes a collaborative evaluation process (Rønnestad & Skovholt, 1993), in which supervisees have the opportunity to practice evaluating their skills independently throughout their training either by journaling or by completing an evaluation form about their session and submitting their self-evaluation to their supervisor. Supervisee self-evaluations are then processed in supervision. The CFDM supervisor in the case illustration might use this strategy with André to allow him to raise self-awareness and to receive regular feedback on his skills. Furthermore, assuming the teacher role of the discrimination model, his supervisor might direct André to conduct a self-assessment of his reflections of feeling following each session, which he could bring into supervision to discuss and receive her feedback.

Because the supervisory relationship is the central tenet of the CFDM, it is advisable to evaluate and monitor the relationship throughout supervision. Furthermore, Lampropoulos (2002) recommended that supervisors identify and attempt to repair ruptures as soon as possible, as ruptures can be deleterious to supervision process and outcome. One such measure for evaluation of the supervisory relationship is the Supervisory Relationship Questionnaire (SRQ; Palomo, Beinart, & Cooper, 2010), a 67-item assessment of the supervisee’s perceptions of the supervisory relationship. Other plausible measures include the Working Alliance Inventory (Bahrick, 1990) and the Revised Relationship Inventory (Schacht, Howe, & Berman, 1988). Allowing André to assess the supervisory relationship and give his supervisor feedback can provide insight into André’s perception of their relationship and can allow the supervisor to consider making changes in her approach, if necessary. This also conveys to André that his feedback is valuable and that their supervisory relationship is collaborative.

The working alliance. The working alliance in supervision refers to the collaborative development of goals and tasks for supervision (Bordin, 1983; Constantino, Castonguay, & Schut, 2002; Lampropoulos, 2002). The working alliance is established in the CFDM by collaboratively developing a supervision contract between the supervisor and the supervisee (Lampropoulos, 2002) at the very beginning of the supervisory relationship. Goals for supervision that are addressed in the contract include evaluating supervisees’ strengths and areas for growth and identifying specific skills to be learned, as well as issues related to supervisee theoretical orientation. The tasks used to reach these goals can include process notes, live supervision, and interpersonal process recall (IPR; Kagan & Kagan, 1997) as a collaborative approach to processing André’s strengths and areas for growth, and for facilitating André’s self-reflection and self-awareness. The purpose of these tasks is to provide structure and opportunities for instruction, feedback, and evaluation, while allowing the supervisee to engage in self-evaluation, application of new skills, corrective action, and exploration of alternative approaches. The CFDM draws from the discrimination model when developing the contract as a means of evaluating supervisee’s three levels of foci (i.e., intervention, conceptualization and personalization). For example, when developing the supervision contract with André, the supervisor would consider André’s current level of competency with regard to techniques and clinical skills, case conceptualization skills, and self-awareness and personal style.

Instillation of hope and the creation of expectations. Frank and Frank (1991) noted the impact of positive expectations and hope in effecting change in counseling. Placebo, hope and expectancy factors emerged as a single common factor among most counseling approaches, with Lambert and Barley (2001) noting that instillation of hope accounts for 15% of client outcome. Watkins (1996) addressed the issue of demoralization in supervision, stating that beginning counselors can experience poor self-efficacy and might feel overwhelmed as they navigate their professional identity development. Watkins (1996) stated that supervisors are able to utilize the supervisory relationship as a means of encouraging supervisees and providing structure within the relationship to foster hope. Recently, Watkins and colleagues (2015) endorsed the creation of expectations and the provision of some method of supervision as a pathway by which supervisee change occurs. CFDM supervisors can incorporate hope and expectancy into supervision by using the consultant role of the discrimination model to explain to supervisees the process of supervision, and by collaborating with supervisees to provide supervision that builds on those expectations. Practical tools that André’s supervisor might implement to promote hope and positive expectations include developing a supervision contract with André or providing him with a professional disclosure statement in order to explain the process of supervision and to set supervisory rituals in motion (Watkins et al., 2015). Lampropoulos (2002) also suggested setting short- and long-term goals with supervisees as a means of instilling hope.

Supervisee Self-Awareness and Self-Reflection

An additional tenet of the CFDM is supervisee self-reflection concerning issues that influence professional development (Lampropoulos, 2002). CFDM supervision emphasizes the importance of encouraging supervisees to explore their strengths and areas for growth, and personal issues that might affect their work in counseling, as well as their therapeutic styles (Lampropoulos, 2002; Milne et al., 2008). The CFDM attempts to facilitate supervisee self-reflection by implementing strategies such as collaborative evaluation and the supervision contract (discussed above). Furthermore, the CFDM utilizes IPR (Kagan & Kagan, 1997), in which the supervisor and supervisee watch videotape of a supervisee’s counseling session together, pausing the tape at moments that either the supervisor or supervisee deems critical for further inquiry and processing. Taking on the role of counselor, the supervisor utilized IPR to explore what André was experiencing during that moment of the counseling session that might have prevented him from demonstrating reflection. Consistent with the common factors model, the supervisor confronted André with warmth, empathy and acceptance.

Acquisition of Knowledge and Skills

According to the discrimination model (Bernard, 1979, 1997), one of the primary roles of the supervisor is that of teacher. Thus, in addition to providing support and feedback, supervisors are in a position to impart knowledge and to facilitate supervisees’ acquisition of skills—a factor of supervision that surfaces in the majority of supervision models (Milne et al., 2008; Morgan & Sprenkle, 2007). Lampropoulos (2002) stated that supervisees might learn through direct instruction, through shaping (i.e., gradual learning of a desired behavior) and through their own personal experience. In addition, supervisees have opportunities to learn by imitating the behaviors of their supervisors and other counselors (Lampropoulos, 2002). Given that skills and techniques factors account for 15% of counseling outcome (Lambert & Barley, 2001), supervisors are in a position to model skills and techniques of counseling in supervision as a means of fostering supervisee learning and skill acquisition. Integrating common factors with the discrimination model, André’s supervisor might take on the role of teacher to watch a video clip with André of a recent counseling session in which André struggled to reflect feeling, directing him to role-play with his supervisor other ways that he could respond to his client when emotional content is disclosed. André’s supervisor also could provide him with a list of “feeling words” or other relevant resources in order to help him to increase his awareness of emotion and to broaden his feelings vocabulary.

Assessment of Supervisee Needs and the Provision of Feedback

A final tenet of the CFDM is assessment of supervisee needs and the provision of feedback utilizing the roles and foci presented in the discrimination model. Using the CFDM, the supervisor would implement tailoring (also referred to in the counseling literature as prescriptive matching)—or adapting supervision to fit the characteristics, worldviews and preferences of the supervisee—as would be done with clients in common factors approaches to counseling (Norcross & Halgin, 1997). In their review of the literature on clinical supervision, Goodyear and Bernard (1998) identified attending to supervisees’ individual differences as an essential component of effective supervision. Furthermore, tailoring is inherent in the discrimination model, which recommends matching the supervisor’s role to supervisee needs (Bernard, 1979, 1997). As a beginning clinician, André might express a greater need for structured, directive supervision compared to more experienced supervisees (Stoltenberg, McNeill, & Crethar, 1994). Because André self-disclosed his perception of emotion and how this relates to his identity as a male, his supervisor should include this in her conceptualization of André and how he approaches work with clients. Furthermore, this is a value that she might continue exploring with André in future supervision sessions if it could have an impact on his clinical work with clients. Multiple supervision models have recommended matching supervision to the supervisee’s therapeutic approach and cognitive and learning styles (e.g., level of cognitive complexity; Loganbill, Hardy, & Delworth, 1982; Stoltenberg, 1981), and Norcross and Halgin (1997) suggested beginning the supervisory relationship with a needs assessment to determine the supervisee’s unique needs, goals and preferences for supervision. Although tailoring can pose unique challenges for supervisors providing triadic or group supervision, individual differences such as supervisees’ level of experience, learning goals, gender and ethnicity can be taken into account in these formats.

Table 1

CFDM: Examples of DM Focus and Role Intersections and Common Factors Strategies (CFS)

Supervisor Roles (DM)
Supervision Focus Area (DM) and CFS




Intervention André reports that he is uncertain of how to perform a lethality assessment. André struggles to reflect feeling and meaning with clients. André is interested in using children’s books in session with elementary-aged children.
Common Factors Strategy: Supervisor teaches André the necessary steps of assessing for lethality, then the dyad engage in a role play in which the supervisee tests his new knowledge by performing a lethality assessment with the supervisee acting as the client.(Acquisition of New Knowledge and Skills) Supervisor asks André to reflect on the fact that he demonstrates empathy toward his clients while in supervision but struggles to show empathy by reflecting feeling and meaning in session.(Self-Exploration, Awareness, and Insight) Supervisor provides André with resources for using bibliotherapy in child counseling and offers to help the supervisee brainstorm methods for utilizing this intervention in counseling.(Acquisition of Knowledge and Skills)
Conceptualization André struggles to provide client with accurate diagnosis. André perceives himself as being an ineffective counselor because he has difficulty choosing interventions in session. André requests more information on client stages of change.
Common Factors Strategy: Supervisor and André practice diagnosing fictional clients using case studies from a DSM-5casebook. Supervisor then assigns André homework to practice completing a few case studies independently. Supervisor and André review and discuss André’s answers collaboratively during following supervision session.(Acquisition of Knowledge and Skills) Supervisor reflects supervisee’s feelings of inadequacy, offers encouragement, and normalizes the developmental challenges of supervisees. (Supervisory Relationship – Instillation of Hope and Raising of Expectations) Supervisor assists supervisee with locating information on client stages of change and discusses with supervisee the idea of conceptualizing client’s progress in counseling within the context of the client’s stage of change. (Acquisition of Knowledge of Skills)
Personalization André exhibits behaviors that resemble racial microaggressions. André’s performance anxiety causes him to appear distracted in session. André shares that a client reminds him of his deceased mother.
Common Factors Strategy: Supervisor reviews videotape of session with André and identifies an instance in which he exhibits a microaggression toward client. Supervisor gives André feedback on microaggressions and encourages André to engage in self-reflection on personal biases. (Provision of Feedback) Supervisor reflects André’s feelings of anxiety and asks André to reflect on how his anxiety may be affecting his work with clients. (Supervisory Relationship – The Real Relationship) Supervisor offers to help André process countertransference and communicates to André that he has handled the situation ethically and professionally by sharing with his supervisor his feelings of countertransference toward his client. (Supervisory Relationship and Provision of Feedback)

Practical Challenges and Limitations

Utilization of the CFDM might pose challenges that warrant discussion. For example, the CFDM might intensify the parallel process due to its similarities to the structures and processes of counseling. Moreover, CFDM’s parallels to counseling might blur the lines between supervision and counseling, making it important for supervisors to clearly delineate the role and functions of supervision. Thus, the CFDM endorses utilizing the Rogerian condition of genuineness to facilitate an open, collaborative discussion between the supervisor and supervisee when potentially problematic issues of parallel processing arise in supervision. Furthermore, the CFDM might be vulnerable to challenges in dual relationships, as the various discrimination model roles that the supervisor might assume could blur the lines between the supervisory relationship versus other relationships that the supervisor might have with the supervisee, such as that of instructor. Therefore, supervisors utilizing the CFDM are encouraged to have an open discussion with supervisees from the beginning of supervision concerning the purposes, limitations and boundaries of the supervisory relationship. Such conversations can be facilitated with the use of a professional disclosure statement that outlines the supervisor’s roles (Blackwell, Strohmer, Belcas, & Burton, 2002; Cobia & Boes, 2000).

Because the central tenet of the CFDM is the identified supervisory relationship, a potential challenge that is perhaps inherent in the CFDM is addressing weaknesses and ruptures in the supervisory relationship. The CFDM might also be challenging for supervisors or supervisees who inherently struggle to establish strong supervisory and therapeutic relationships. Supervisees who demonstrate limited ability to establish a strong therapeutic relationship might benefit from direct instruction on behavioral skills that facilitate the therapeutic relationship, such as reflections of feeling and meaning. Lampropoulos (2002) recommended that gatekeeping measures be implemented for students who consistently demonstrate deficiency in establishing a strong therapeutic relationship with clients. Finally, outcome research is indicated to examine the validity of applying common factors principles of psychotherapy to clinical supervision, as well as the empirical merit of an integrated common factors and discrimination model of supervision.


The supervision literature abounds with approaches for supervising counselors; however, there is little evidence that any one approach outperforms another. Common factors approaches to counseling and supervision draw on the components that are shared among models for a parsimonious approach that places emphasis on the factors that are essential in producing positive counseling and supervision outcomes. However, although such factors are necessary, they are not sufficient for yielding positive change. Therefore, Watkins and colleagues (2015) noted the necessity of applying the specific factors of some form of supervision to a common factors approach. We have responded to this call by presenting the CDFM, which integrates the specific factors of Bernard’s (1979, 1997) discrimination model with the most common elements of counseling and supervision approaches: (a) the supervisory relationship, (b) supervisee acquisition of new knowledge and skills, (c) supervisee self-awareness and self-reflection, and (d) assessment of supervisees’ needs and the delivery of feedback according to the tenets of the discrimination model.

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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A. Elizabeth Crunk is a doctoral candidate at the University of Central Florida. Sejal M. Barden is an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida. Correspondence can be addressed to Elizabeth Crunk, University of Central Florida, College of Education and Human Performance, Department of Child, Family, and Community Sciences, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., P.O. Box 161250, Orlando, FL 32816-1250,