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Section 6
Supervisor-Employee Relationship Conflicts

Question 6 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed methods to help improve your supervisee's therapist-client relationships by making sure you are on the same page with your supervisee regarding such session basics as preparation; beginning; exploration; and creating contracts; or whatever system you deem appropriate in your practice.

In this section, we will examine ways to evaluate and identify problems in the supervisor-therapist relationship and in the therapist-client relationship: identifying avoidance of conflict and the "Interview Session Checklist".

Karl met his supervisee Beth for a bi-weekly supervision meeting. Lately, Karl had noticed that, although Beth had more than competent skills in empathy, she was lacking in evaluation. However, when they met for their supervision meetings, Karl, the supervisor, only emphasized the good aspects of Beth's tactics such as her empathy and glossed over her lack of evaluation skills. If you recall in section 4 due to a dual relationship with the supervisee, the supervisor did not enhance his supervisee's skills and gave him an inflated recommendation.

Karl wished to avoid any conflict and used a tactic known as "smoothing over" which we will discuss later in the section. As a result, Beth's evaluation and assessment skills did not improve as they could have. When the time came for her annual evaluation, Beth was surprised to see that her supervisor had given her a negative rating. Beth became resentful and filed a complaint against Karl, stating that he had never addressed her lack of competence in client assessment until now. At the hearing, the licensure board decided in favor of Beth. Had Karl confronted Beth with the problems she needed to improve, she may have improved her evaluation skills.

So if you feel you have conflict avoidance, here is a conflict avoidance tactic for you.

♦ Technique: Conflict Avoidance Tactics
I feel one of the most destructive aspects of conflict in a supervisor-supervisee relationship is avoidance of conflict. Often, this avoidance arises out of a desire not to hurt the interaction, or even out of intimidation from the supervisee towards the supervisor. The lack of conflict management skills and the avoidance of confrontation... Can you see how they are a chicken-egg situation? Here's what I mean by a chicken-egg situation. If you avoid the conflict, you can't develop your conflict management skills, however, you may be avoiding the conflict due to your lack of conflict management skills.

10 Favorite Supervisor Excuses
Some of the most favored excuses I have heard for supervisors not addressing an issue include the following:
1. Importance. Have you ever thought that the issue was not important enough to discuss?
2. Time Constraints. Did you ever use the excuse that there was not enough time to sufficiently cover the entire issue?
3. Avoiding being "anal." Did you ever wish to appear rational over appearing "nit-picky"?
4. Waiting it out. Did you ever hope that "Time will take care of it"?
5. Gunnysacking. Have you ever been guilty of "Gunnysacking"? This means to pile up grievances as if in a gunnysack and carrying the sack slung around your shoulder.
6. Smoothing over. Do you gloss over any conflict that might arise and emphasize the strong areas?
7. Small sighted. Do you focus on the details to avoid addressing the big issues?
8. Being PC. Do you avoid conflict out of politeness?
9. Impartiality. Did you ever think that confrontation will hurt your objectivity towards your supervisee?
10. Aggressiveness. Do you instead attack your supervisee?

There are many more, and I might encourage you to add to your list of avoidance tactics. Karen, a supervisee at a clinical facility, had absentee problems and would skip her sessions especially for her evening group. Thus, another staff member had to take over the group, not to mention the lack of continuity and confusion experienced by the group by continually having different co-leaders.

However, her supervisor, Roberta, hoped that Karen would "grow out of her problem" and wanted to "wait it out" and see if Karen's behavior improved over time. Roberta was exhibiting the conflict avoidance tactic of "waiting it out." Do you ever display any of these characteristics?

♦ Technique: Interview Session Checklist
In evaluating the therapist-client relationship of your supervisee, I have found a specific method most reliable, because sometimes they do forget the basics. Recall the previous section in which we discussed facilitating therapist client relationships. For each specific stage I mentioned, I comprised an "Interview Session Checklist" that can easily help me identify the weaknesses and strengths of my supervisee's interviewing skills.

One of my supervisees was strong in her preparatory stage, which was outlined in the previous section, but was not sufficient in her exploration stage. The checklist I used for the exploration stage included the following. The score I used for the evaluation will be read at the end of the statement. A one indicates that I strongly disagreed, a two that I disagreed, a three that I agreed, and a four that I strongly agreed.

7-Point Checklist for the Exploration Stage
# 1. Supervisee can effectively use the skill of asking questions (3).
# 2. Supervisee can effectively use the skill of seeking clarification (3).
# 3. Supervisee can effectively use the skill of reflecting content (2).
# 4. Supervisee can effectively use the skill of reflecting feelings (1).
# 5. Supervisee can effectively use the skill of reflecting feeling and meaning (1).
# 6. Supervisee can effectively use the skill of partializing (3).
# 7. Supervisee can effectively use the skill of going beyond what is said (1).

As you can see, her assessment was efficient in asking questions, seeking clarification, and partializing, however, she was less than proficient in reflecting content, reflecting feelings, reflecting feelings and meaning, and going beyond what is said. I addressed these issues in our weekly supervision session and gave her practice formats to use during a session.

To improve her skill of reflecting feelings and meanings, I suggested that she say "You feel _____and_____;" and "You feel _____ because _______." However, there are no formats for going beyond what is said. I suggested that she combine reflecting feelings with her own interpretations of the situation. For instance, in her next session with her client, the supervisee stated, "You feel guilty because of the last words you said to your son before he died. Do you sometimes feel that if you hadn't yelled at him about those dirty clothes, he might somehow still be alive?"

As you can see, the supervisee successfully interpreted the client's beliefs in her own situation without specific statements.

In this section, we discussed ways to evaluate and identify problems in the supervisor-therapist relationship and in the therapist-client relationship: identifying avoidance of conflict and the "Interview Session Checklist."

In the next section, we will examine the basic skills in empowering your supervisee: nurturing, coaching, and mentoring.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Borelli, J. L., Sohn, L., Wang, B. A., Hong, K., DeCoste, C., & Suchman, N. E. (2019). Therapist–client language matching: Initial promise as a measure of therapist–client relationship quality. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 36(1), 9–18.

Graham, K. A., Dust, S. B., & Ziegert, J. C. (2018). Supervisor-employee power distance incompatibility, gender similarity, and relationship conflict: A test of interpersonal interaction theory. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103(3), 334–346. 

Liu, C., Yang, L.-Q., & Nauta, M. M. (2013). Examining the mediating effect of supervisor conflict on procedural injustice–job strain relations: The function of power distance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(1), 64–74.

Mammen, M. A. (2020). Attachment dynamics in the supervisory relationship: Becoming your own good supervisor. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 30(1), 93–101. 

What are two ways to correct problems resulting in the supervisor-therapist relationship and therapist-client relationship? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 7
Table of Contents