Opening Plenary for Clinical Supervision Conference

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Informal Supervision: A Significant and Overlooked Aspect of Therapists’ Training

While clinical supervision is an integral aspect of learning to do the work of psychotherapy, one aspect of this process has been consistently and surprisingly neglected in the literature: the extent to which beginning therapists rely on “informal supervision” from colleagues in their program, a significant other, or their own therapist. Informal supervision can be thought of as the process wherein therapists in training engage individuals who are not their formally assigned supervisors in significant conversations about their clinical work.

Although trainees tend to prefer learning from their formal supervisors, therapeutic work is often overwhelmingly stressful, requiring more consultation and support, especially of the ad-hoc variety, than once-weekly supervision, even exceptionally good supervision, can provide. Thus, when beginning therapists feel particularly challenged by a patient, believe they’ve made a critical mistake, or feel uncertain about how they should proceed or even whether they’re good enough or skilled enough to be doing this work, nearly all seek some form of informal supervision, both for clinical assistance and emotional validation and support. Informal supervision often provides trainees with the space and safety to discuss those clinical and personal issues that are often not disclosed or are carefully curated in sessions with formal supervisors.

This presentation will focus on the nature, process, and consequences of informal supervision. Why do trainees seek out informal supervisors? Whom do they tend to seek out for this work? What qualities do trainees value most highly in choosing informal supervisors? What are their perceptions of the strengths and limitations of both these approaches to learning? What are the ethical concerns involved in engaging in informal supervision? What are the consequences and implications for formal supervision and clinical training programs in recognizing more explicitly the inevitability and value of this practice?

Learning Objectives:

  1. To understand the role of informal supervision—including the rationale for it and the value of it—within a training environment.
  2. To understand the ethical issues involved in sanctioning informal supervision within a training environment.

Barry A Farber, Ph.D., Teachers College, Columbia University

Barry Farber grew up “next door” in Bayside, Queens and went to Queens College. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1978, and the next year became a member of the clinical psychology faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he’s been ever since.

Dr. Farber served as Director of Clinical Training there for 24 years, and also served two stints as Department Chair. He has varied interests within the area of psychotherapy research, including the ways in which patients and therapists construct and use representations of the other to further the work of therapy, the nature and consequences of therapists’ provision of positive regard, and the extent to which patients, therapists, supervisors and supervisees do and don’t disclose to each other and sometimes even lie to each other. It was out of this work on supervisee disclosure that he and his students developed an interest in studying what they are now calling “informal supervision.”

He is currently working on a book entitled Secrets and Lies in Psychotherapy, essentially a follow-up to his 2006 book, Self-disclosure in Psychotherapy. He is also the proud author of a book on Carol Rogers as well as book called Rock ‘n Roll Wisdom: What psychologically astute lyrics can teach about life and love. In addition to the research, writing, and teaching he does, he maintains a small private practice of psychotherapy, serves on the executive council of APA’s Division 29 (Psychotherapy,) and is editor of Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session.

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