LPC Supervision

As a part of a standard audit by the licensing board, I had to provide a synopsis of the style of supervision I provide to clinicians who are seeking their license. I might as well post it here as well:

My primary identification regarding a treatment modality is gestalt. Gestalt can be viewed as a synergistic interplay between existential phenomenology, systemic, cognitive behavioral, and humanistic modes of psychotherapy.

Respectively, I help the supervisee gain greater sensitivity to the clients’ response to the human condition and fears of death and loss, patterns and forces inherent in context and family of origin, the way thoughts/beliefs affect mood/behavior, and the natural aspirations towards an actualized self and self-preservation.

There is a strong emphasis on *self-of-therapist*. This is due to the belief that the self is the most effective instrument of therapy. I value authenticity and transparency and, even if the supervisee does not wish to prioritize these aspects in their work, I help them see how their “self” will come out in their “work” whether they’d like it to or not. Therefore I discourage compartmentalization of self-as-therapist against the rest of one’s life. I encourage an integration *self* and *therapist* so their work is a graceful extension of a clear world-view and a true desire to be of service (as opposed to a harmful counter-transference and/or a stagnating hypocrisy).

I do not encourage supervisees to identify with gestalt. Rather, I encourage supervisees to identify with (and intensely study) the theories that make the most sense to them and what will bring out the gifts, talents, and strengths of their personality. I do not discuss techniques. I encourage the deeper striving towards mastery of theory. Throughout the course of supervision, I employ the concepts (per Carl Whitaker) of the Battle for Structure and the Battle for Initiative. These concepts are applicable to any school of thought – any style of therapy – any interpersonal relation.

Battle for Structure: we look at how every behavior of the therapist is a creative act that builds the structure of the therapy relationship. I want therapists to build the structure deliberately. This, again, is universal across the different styles of therapy. Therapists choose the structure they’d like to create based on the theory from which they’re operating.

Battle for Initiative: we look at how the goal of the therapy is for the client to be successfully discharged and have no further need for the therapist. I want therapists to be deliberate about how they help the client tap into their own creativity. We want to leave clients excited about and invested in the creation of the remainder of their lives. We are careful not to create a dependence on the therapist. This, again, is universal across the different styles of therapy. Therapists will choose how they go about this depending on their school of thought.

 

In sum, I help therapists develop their ability to:

(1) Theory: Understand why things are happening the way they are.

(2) Battle For Structure: Be aware of and deliberate about the structure of the relationship they’re creating.

(3) Battle For Initiative: Be aware of and deliberate about bringing forth the client’s creativity.

Power, the Structure of Therapy, and Existential Responsibility

These thoughts and connections were fueled from something I came across in which a therapist was advocating for the use of workbooks and activities in order to, “make sure we get somewhere.”

I love both gestalt philosophy and gestalt therapy so I am going to take that phrase and hold it under some gestalt lenses.

The “somewhere” gestalt wants “to get” is: Here. Now.

Why?

*The power is in the present.*

Gestalt unapologetically wants to make its clients more powerful. In the past, I imagined one day opening a practice called “Power and Peace.” I appreciate how those words complement each other and seem to express the polarity of the *centrality* of peacefulness and a *reach* of power.  (Saying the “power” alone makes it sound like we want a bunch of narcissists or Napoleons running around?)  Psychological growth really seems like it’s made up of centralizing and expanding.

The reason the power is in the present is because it’s the only time we can DO anything. The past and future are extremely important too, but with a key difference. We can’t DO anything in the past. We can’t DO anything in the future.  Our power is within what we can do – what we can create.  The only time we can do anything is now. Here. Where you are. You can imagine doing something 5 minutes from now, but that’s you, now, imagining. If you’re under water, you can imagine breathing all you want but it won’t do you any good.   You need actual movements towards actual air.  I was really struck the first time I read PHG say, “the wholly inadequate motions of thinking.”  I was probably offended.  I treasure(d) my thinking.

Therefore, one of the results of gestalt therapy is the consistent movement closer and closer to the now. Closer and closer to one’s power. And also closer and closer to one’s peace. It reminds me of the phrase, “the only zen you find at the top of a mountain is the zen you bring.” The task is to learn how to appreciate the now. The better we do at that task, the less it matters what’s actually happening in the now.  This touches some ontological stuff – the appreciation or even amazement that this (life) is even happening.  This is a child-like quality that unfortunately a lot of us lose.  Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning is a great place to jump-start this concept.

So you see how the words look through that lens? Using a workbook “to make sure we get somewhere”… do we want to get better at living in workbooks? Not from a gestalt perspective. We want to get better at living in the now.  The now is where you can do things.  The now is where you can have fun.  The now is where you can find meaning.  The now is where you actually are.

The other key piece that ties in is the structure of therapy. From an existential perspective, the therapeutic growth is the increase of “responsibility” of authorship of one’s life: Yes, this is my situation. Yes, I have created it. Yes, I am responsible for what happens next.  Carl Whitaker said, “you’re responsible for what happens, not for what you say you wanted to happen.”

The benefit of leaving the canvas of the therapeutic structure blank for a client to use (as opposed to a workbook) is it’s the microcosm and bridge for the same concept in the general, larger (scarier, harsher) sense. By having a client *feel* the structure-less-ness, it provides a *safe* opportunity to examine the relation between creative-self and empty-canvas. It’s such a heavy relation. It’s such a scary idea that we’re creating our one chance at existence. A “structureless” therapy (a blank canvas) lets the client get the feel of the paintbrush, to splash around with paints, to begin to get mastery over certain types of strokes and previously unknown colors, to examine the painting and make critical decisions about its aesthetic satisfaction – to look at how and when the client turns away from the canvas or drops the paintbrush – and then supports the client in the often painful task (there’s always a good reason we drop the paintbrush) of picking it back up. The existential responsibility is the sense of holding the paintbrush and being open to the possibility you created the painting.

On the flip side, let’s go a layer deeper into this and weave.  It’s a paradox – or at least a misnomer – to say the therapy is structureless.  The interplay of canvas and paintbrush is the structure.  It’s a very specific structure.  And the therapist is very deliberate and heavy-handed in providing the canvas and examining the relation of creative-self and empty-canvas.  That’s the therapist’s one and only agenda.  Interestingly, what ends up on the canvas is the agenda of the client.   So, said in a different way, the therapist’s agenda is in support of (or at least in relation to) the client’s agenda.  It’s this interweaving of agendas Whitaker refers to when he talks about purposely “winning” the Battle for Structure and purposely “losing” the Battle for Initiative.  To put the therapist’s energies into words, it’s something like: “hey, we’re going to be examining your creative power and we’re not going to be doing anything other than that” (winning the Battle for Structure) while also: “in the end, I deeply believe you know what’s best for you.  I’d like you to be consistently fine-tuning your ability to check inwards to find your truths, so I’m not going to tell you what to do with your paintbrush.  Your paintbrush is yours and yours only.  And I’m really happy to support you while we play around with the difficult brushstrokes you’ve been hoping to improve” (losing the Battle for Initiative).

Here are two separate PHG quotes which will take us full circle back to power.  The first one contrasts on the continuum of “existential responsibility” and the second one is very clear about how we want our clients to be powerful.  (“Weapons” is a pretty powerful word, yes?)

“An unknown number, perhaps a majority, believe they would have no troubles if the world would just treat them right. A smaller contingent does have, at least at times, a vague recognition that they themselves are responsible for the ills that beset them, at any rate in part, but they lack techniques for coping with them.” Techniques for coping?  How about psychological weapons:  “We wish to strengthen and supply [the client] with more effective weapons.”

How strong do you feel?  Do you feel like you have the weapons necessary to handle your current obstacles?  What brushstrokes are you being challenged to make?  What parts of your situations are you deeming outside of your control?