Wright, N. (2002) ‘Group Supervision’, The Christian Counsellor, July-September, Issue 13, pp22-23.
We have a pastoral counselling team in the church which provides a listening ear and low-level counselling support for people in the church and wider community. There are 7 people in the team, all volunteers, who make themselves available on an as-needed basis. My job, also part-time, is to oversee the team and provide supervision for each of its individual members. I'm finding it quite difficult to find time to offer regular supervision for so many people and would value any tips on group-working as well advice on the pros and cons of group supervision as one alternative way forward.
I was reminded when reading your note of Moses' experience in Exodus 18. In light of Jethro's good advice, one option to consider would be whether anyone else in the church, or within the team itself, could be trained to provide supervision for individual team members or, perhaps, sub-groups with you acting as overseer/mentor.
Group supervision itself can take various forms; e.g. supervising the whole group together; supervising sub-groups of 3 or 4 people; delegated members acting as supervisor for sub-groups; acting as facilitator while group members offer one-another supervisory support; group members meeting together to offer one-another peer support. Your role within groups can also take various forms; e.g. 'guru' - acting as supervisor to individuals within a group session; 'mentor' - acting as consultant to another supervisor within a group session; 'facilitator' - acting as guide to the group as members supervise one-another.
The first things to think about, therefore, might be what kind of group(s) could be used to achieve the team's purposes and what kind of role(s) you would feel confident and able to fulfil at this stage. Following that, I'd suggest thinking about what kind of support (e.g. training) you, too, might need in order to take things forward, bearing in mind that undertaking training could initially add to your time pressures but, in the longer-term, help to reduce them.
In my experience, working with groups can be both time-saving on the one hand and time-consuming on the other. It is relatively rare for groups to be completely self-managing and some group supervisors find that they spend as much time planning, organising, administering, facilitating and following-up groups as they spent previously working on a 1-1 basis. The question may really come down to one of cost-benefit; that is, how you can best use the limited time you have to achieve maximum positive impact.
In my experience, I have found that some of the main benefits for pastoral counsellors working in groups are:
Increased awareness – are a counsellor’s experiences unique to him or herself?
Shared learning – what can group members learn from one-another’s experiences?
Skills development – what skills can members develop by supervising one-another?
Peer support – how can the group be used to help reduce feelings of stress/isolation?
The main benefits to me as supervisor have been:
Development – opportunity to broaden my own group-based skills/experience
Focus – time in 1-1 supervision to attend to issues that are more individual-specific
I have to confess that the occasions on which I have tried to move too quickly from providing 1-1 supervision to setting up self-facilitating peer-supervision groups have been largely unsuccessful (with groups floundering and disintegrating after the first few meetings) and so I would certainly caution against the temptation to reduce time pressures with ‘quick fix’ solutions of this nature(!).
A way forward that might be worth exploration for you could be:
Arrange a meeting with all counsellors together to explore (a) pros and cons of the current supervision arrangement, (b) alternative supervision models – including possibility of groups and (c) agreement on what could be done as a group and what would still need to be done as individuals.
Try meeting as a group for 6 meetings (e.g. 1 hour bi-monthly) with you acting as group supervisor/facilitator, allowing 10 minutes at the end of each session to invite feedback on what they found helpful and what could improve things at the next session. “What did you find helpful about what I/each other did in the group and what could be even more helpful next time?”
Try meeting for a further 6 meetings with you acting as mentor to individuals within the group who would like to try out the role as group supervisor/facilitator, again allowing 10 minutes at the end of each session for feedback.
Review the experience with the group and revisit point 1 above.
There are a number of books that should be available via your local library and which could well be worth looking at for further ideas. Those that I have found particularly useful in this area are:
Hawkins & Shohet: Supervision in the Helping Professions (Open University Press)
Jaques: Learning in Groups (Kogan Page)
Doel & Sawdon: The Essential Groupworker (Jessica Kingsley)
Foskett & Lyall: Helping the Helpers (SPCK)
Widdicombe: Meetings that Work (Lutterworth Press)