One aspect of supervision with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that is different from many of the other empirically-supported approaches is the emphasis on the trainee utilizing the same therapeutic processes with themselves that they are asking their clients to use. Thus, supervision typically includes an experiential element in which the supervisor serves as a guide or faciltator of the trainees experiential learning. The job of the supervisor during these times is to help the trainee utilize the processes of mindfulness, acceptance, and committed action in regards to their own “stuff” that shows up in their professional life, for example in the room while doing therapy. The ACT model holds that it’s important, perhaps essential, that ACT therapists are able to adopt the same embracing, loving, stance toward their own struggles that they ask their clients to adopt. In part, the therapist serves as a model of the very processes he/she is asking the client to test out in his or her life.

When I am working in this way as a supervisor, I am always looking for what the supervisee is struggling with, not accepting, or fused with in their work with their clients. A fair amount of supervision can focus on helping the therapist/trainee to accept, embrace, defuse from, or find a more compassionate stance in regards to difficult thoughts, feelings, memories, images, or sensations that emerge as they live their professional life.

When introducing the experiential focus on mindfulness/acceptance in supervision, I might relate three ideas:

  1. We want to create a space in supervision for the trainees own personal acceptance.
  2. We want to create a space where the trainee can openly discuss and feel his/her own thoughts/emotions.
  3. It is hard to be accepting with clients when you are not accepting with yourself.

In this post, I thought I’d share three suggestions for working experientially in supervision. The variety of ways in which you can do experiential work in supervision is endless. Here are three:

Start supervision sessions with a brief mindfulness exercise. Usually I try to vary the focus of the meditation to focus on whatever ACT process I think might relate to today’s session. For example, if I am planning to work on values in the session, I might introduce a values focus during part of the meditation.

Move the focus to the trainee’s experience in the room with the client. If the session is overly didactic, dry, or unproductive, sometimes you can increase the experiential focus of supervision by directing the trainee to focus on, contact, and relate their experience in the room with a client. Particularly useful can be to focus on times where the therapist was feeling stuck, self-critical, or judgmental of the client. Sometimes it can be useful to have the trainee remember a specific incident and bring back the details of what happened in their mind’s eye (e.g., the sights, the sounds, their thoughts, the meaning of the situation, their feelings). This can then create the opportunity to work with whatever the trainee may have been struggling with in that moment.

Ask the trainee directly about using an experiential focus. Sometimes you can ask the trainee directly whether they think that a more experiential or more didactic supervision experience would be more helpful in the given situation. For example, the supervisor might ask, “Given what you know of yourself, is an experiential barrier that calls for willingness, or is this something else?” Sometimes this can provide an opening and permission to do experiential work with the trainee..

If you have any suggestions for methods that you have used in supervision, feel free to relate them in the comments or discuss them in the Learning ACT Forum.