Understanding Parallel Process in Supervision

Parallel process is one of many elements included in psychotherapy supervision. In supervision, a therapist relays their client’s issues to their supervisor. The supervisor then takes on the role of the therapist and the therapist in training; the trainee then assumes the role of the client. “Without endorsing unconscious determinants, parallel process is also recognized as an important aspect of supervision in developmental and interactional models of supervision,” said Terence J.G. Tracey of the Counseling and Counseling Psychology Department of Arizona State University and lead author of a recent study. “The focus of the present study was on examining the processes of supervision and therapy conjointly. Specifically, we sought to determine whether parallel processes existed in supervision, and if so, their relation to therapy outcome.”

Tracey and his colleagues examined 17 supervision sessions and looked specifically at affiliation and dominance. He found that in nearly every session, the therapists and supervisors changed their behaviors according to the theory of parallel process. “Therapists in the role of trainee altered their behavior away from their usual in supervision to act somewhat more like particular clients did in the previous therapy session,” said Tracey. “This was also true for the supervisors, who would act somewhat like the therapists in the previous therapy sessions with those particular clients. This pattern for therapist and supervisor was found for both dominance and affiliation.”

When parallel process occurs, Tracey insists that clear communication is essential. “The supervisor may choose to communicate with the trainee about how the trainee (in the therapist role) and client are communicating, as well as how the trainee and supervisor are communicating,” said Tracey. “In this way, the supervisor makes the implicit aspects of the parallel process more explicit for the trainee.” Tracey added, “The results of this study will help inform future theory and research continuing to elucidate the extent to which the process of supervision replicates the process of therapy and vice versa, as well as the means by which awareness of these parallel processes can be deliberately and appropriately used to facilitate the parallel goals of client improvement and trainee professional development.”

Tracey, T. J. G., Bludworth, J., & Glidden-Tracey, C. E. (2011, December 19). Are There Parallel Processes in Psychotherapy Supervision? An Empirical Examination. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026246

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  • Phil

    January 10th, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    I see this working for not just training and acquainting trainee therapists but also giving the clients a new outlook.They could not only talk to the trainee but also the supervisor therapist and it will be something like a two-therapist help for the client.

  • Charlotte R

    January 10th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    So this would mainly be used for training and not to wrongly share clients stories with others?

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