Martin Halifax's column 'The wrong hoops' about assessment of written work in cousellors training in April's Therapy Today struct a chord that resonates for me about supervisor training as well
Martin Halifax’s column ‘The wrong hoops’ about assessment of written work in counsellor training in April’s Therapy Today struck a chord that resonates for me about supervisor training as well, and raises very live issues about the increasing pull to academic assessment structures and priorities that have arisen as counsellor training has slid more and more into university settings and into becoming a ‘graduate profession’.
I am an external assessor for one supervision course, and co-direct, tutor and assess both practice and written work on another. I see supervision – and counselling too – primarily as a practical and relationship focused process, that has to be informed by a developed capacity confidently to articulate theory-practice links. A capacity to write is also necessary for the role. To be credible in organisational settings, a counsellor or supervisor has to be able to write grammatically and clearly, and give a coherent account of the rationale for the interventions made in any work, especially around ethical dilemmas. All supervisors will be asked to write reports for accreditation, references, and many will have to do trainee reports. As Martin Halifax says, none write essays.
Our supervision certificate assessment gives priority to practice, and if a participant is not yet able to meet our explicit and transparent practice requirements they would either be supported to do so through more frequent feedback about observed practice, discouraged from doing the final written work, or would not be able yet to pass the course. I would not want to be a client or a supervisee of a practitioner whose practice had not been reviewed rigorously, so this seems to be an essential first element of assessment. Studies of gatekeeper roles on courses1 indicate that most students fail because of interpersonal or intrapersonal issues, not for lack of literacy.
However, some more complex problems lie in the other direction: when written work is hard to assess because of dyslexia, or because of a lack of confidence in producing written work for assessment, or a rigid apparently unreflective portrayal of theoretical elements, the writing may fail to give a fair reflection of the practice of the participant. How then to be rigorous and yet enabling? The accreditation systems struggle with this too, I think.
One solution we have developed for our diploma in supervision is that individuals create a Personal Learning Contract (PLC) initially. Shorter pieces of reflective writing about learning in supervision groups or on training days (500-1,000 words) have to demonstrate links to course criteria and to the individual PLC. Participants are invited to write about how their practice will be influenced by this input. A peer initially assesses every piece of writing using all these criteria to give written feedback. The tutor then comments both on the piece and the feedback. Tutors offer coaching about how to meet criteria and how to give encouraging feedback to build both confidence and competence in essential supervisory skills, in a manner that has clear relevance to the task and role.
I support Martin Halifax’s invitation to challenge ourselves about how we assess training, and hope others in all sorts of training settings will engage in constructive debate about how to design written assignments that mirror and thus will extend the work and the participant’s professional development.
Supervisor and Co-director of Cambridge Supervision Training
1. Brear P, Dorrian J, Luscri G. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research. 2008; 8(2):93-101.
© British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy 2011.