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Supervisors: Speak up more to help students

For therapists in training, group supervision with seasoned psychologists and fellow students offers a prime opportunity to discuss difficult clients and other professional struggles. But only 61 percent of psychology interns feel encouraged to do so, according to a study of 124 supervisors and 145 psychology interns, published in the November issue of Training and Education in Professional Psychology.

What's more, while 42 percent of trainees said their group supervisors rarely or never talk about their own professional struggles, 80 percent of the supervisors claimed that they do.

Students' hesitancy to open up may stem from following the lead of supervisors or from fears of being judged and harshly evaluated, says the study's lead author, Randi Smith, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "It's a sad reality that group supervision can be somewhat of a double-edged sword," Smith says.

Without a skilled supervisor to guide talks about professional struggles, students may inadvertently disclose information that's more appropriate for a group therapy session, where privacy is protected, says Smith. In fact, 46 percent of students said supervisors never or rarely told them at the start of group supervision whether their comments would remain private. In contrast, 82 percent of supervisors said privacy was discussed at least sometime at the outset.

So how can students get the most from group supervision? Ask questions, Smith says. By inquiring about how appropriate it is to talk about their feelings, students can prompt the group to set its own standards and foster a supportive environment. Students may also want to ask for a written description or an informal discussion about how supervisors include group supervision in their evaluations, Smith says.

One of the most widely used methods to train psychologists, group supervision could become as effective as it is efficient — if supervisors explain the goals and ground rules and do not engage in dual relationships with students, she says.

—Rebecca Voelker