The concept of parallel process suggests that patterns repeat across subsystems that lie within a larger system such as your social service agency. This means that the issues your supervisees are having with their clients often show up during your supervisory conferences as they speak about their cases with you.
This also means that the ways in which you interact with your supervisees informs the ways your supervisees interact with their clients. Understanding and recognizing parallel process means you can be intentional about creating a supervisory style that remains consistent with the practice model of your agency.
As a new supervisor, I remember feeling a bit uncomfortable with my new found authority. I knew I was "in charge" and felt that I needed to be sure that I demonstrated to others that I was capable of asserting that authority. Lots of self-talk and to some extent, self-doubt, informed my initial approach to supervision. I didn't want people to see me as "soft", so I was at a minimum direct, and at times, looking back, probably engaged in too much top down decision making.
At the same time, I believed deeply in strengths-based, family-centered practice. When working with clients, I was serious about forming collaborative relationships with clients, intentional about infusing client voice into decision making, and was passionate about identifying and working with client strengths to drive the change process. This does not mean I was not still sometimes direct and did not also assert authority with my clients, but in practice, it was initially easier for me to understand how to identify strengths and use client voice in decision making than when I was a new supervisor.
Why was this? Thinking back, it had a lot to do with inexperience and to some extent, fear. We all experience fear. Fear of failure. Fear of disappointing those who trusted us and promoted us to a position of authority. Fear of people knowing that we are insecure of a new position. Fear that our supervisees would realize we don’t know it all. I laugh at this now. Of course I didn't know it all, and 20 years later, I still don't. The value of time and experience is that they provide us comfort in not-knowing and the confidence to say, "I am not sure, but let's figure this out together". But at an earlier point in my career, this negative self-talk that emerged from my lack of inexperience as a supervisor, caused me to develop a supervisory style that was in direct contrast to the practice model of my agency.
Our agency had developed a new approach called Resiliency-Based Social Learning (RBSL) that was a strengths-based approach to practice. What become clear to me was that to effectively implement RBSL, I would need to develop an approach to supervision that deliberately modeled the practice principles of RBSL. I needed to identify and incorporate supervisees' strengths into our supervisory conferences. I needed to demonstrate a belief in the capacity for my supervisees to grow and develop despite the challenges of our work. I needed to infuse supervisee voice and choice while demonstrating leadership in my guidance and direction of our team. In many ways, the practice principles of RBSL guided my own model of supervision. In this way, my supervision was not undermining implementation of RBSL, it created one more way for my workers to see how these theoretical principles looked in practice.
How do you make parallel process work for you? First, you become clear about the practice principles of your agency. Second, you remain intentional about developing an approach to supervision that mirrors the approach to practice you are hoping from your team.
This week, pay close attention to the ways your supervisees replicate your relationship with them in the field. Notice the times they use words that sound a bit like you. Notice the times they ask questions and formulate clinical decisions based on the questions you ask in supervision. Notice the ways in which their process looks similar to your process with them.
Think now about how you want your supervisees interacting with clients. Make a list of the attributes, characteristics, and process you would like to see from your team.
Identify 3 things you can do over the next two weeks to model or parallel the very aspects of practice you are seeking from your supervisees.