(This is the second part of the article I wrote for NJAMT News on professional clinical supervision for music therapists. The first part is here.)
Supervision: Part II: Peer Supervision
Roia Rafieyan, MA, MT-BC
The previous article looked at professional clinical supervision, addressing common misunderstandings about the role of the supervisor and describing what one might expect when one seeks the services of a clinical supervisor.
Another avenue for growth as a professional music therapist is peer supervision. This article will discuss the benefits of this way of learning and offer the author's experiences with her peer supervision group as one example.
What is peer supervision? How is it similar to/different from supervision with a clinical supervisor?
In contrast to professional clinical supervision, where a therapist with more experience acts as a mentor to another music therapist or a group of music therapists generally for a fee, peer supervision refers to both formal as well as informal connections between therapists who draw on each other's strengths and abilities as a means of developing their competence and effectiveness as music therapists.
Peer consultation/supervision can be as simple as posting a request for information on a music therapy email list or having a conversation with a trusted fellow clinician about a particularly difficult case. Some music therapists choose a more formal option. This involves working with a consistent group of people setting aside a specific time and place, agreeing on areas of focus and having a mutual commitment to ongoing professional growth. This piece will focus on my experience as a participant in a formal peer supervision group.
Where does it happen?
Our group chose to alternate meeting at the work sites of two of our members. Having enough physical space and access to a variety of instruments was important to us because we all felt a strong desire to use music-making as a part of our process. Just as significant was the need to find a central location since the group was spread out over a large geographic area.
How often? How long?
While meeting once a week or twice a month would be ideal, peer supervision groups can meet as often as is practical. The best our group was able to accomplish was to meet once a month. Meeting for about an hour and a half seemed to be a reasonable timeframe for our group which ranged in size from three to five people. This allowed each person to present case material and look at issues and gave us an opportunity to use the music to explore various aspects of our selves which affected the way we work with our clients.
What happens in a peer supervision group?
The group will develop its own rhythm. Ours gathered, checked in with each member, trying to find a common theme and come to a group consensus regarding the issues we wanted to focus on for that particular meeting. If no theme emerged, we did some musical exploring and improvising, starting with where we were and how we were feeling about our work. The music helped to initiate discussions through the act of listening to each other, analyzing our own musical experiences and observing the group process. Sometimes this would lead to more music-making with a more specific focus.
Different groups, because they are made up of different music therapists, will choose different approaches. While it could be a simple as a sharing of ideas and resources for music therapy experiences, it can also be a deep as supporting members to cope with profound feelings of helplessness or secondary traumatic stress and burnout.
How does this process help us increase our effectiveness as music therapists?
Music therapists have a unique opportunity to develop the skill of self-observation and to experience first-hand the dynamics and processes involved in group work when they engage musically and verbally in a self-examining peer supervision group with other music therapists.
By exploring our own feelings about and reactions to the work we do with our clients and our work situation(s) using music, we learn how to better engage our clients in a similar process. This enables us to become more effective in our work.
Helpful tips (based on our group's experience):
§ Let one or two people take responsibility for initiating, organizing and maintaining the group.
§ Meet in music therapy rooms in group members' workplaces (with permission) because it gives access to a variety of instruments (melodic and non-melodic) as well as freedom from distractions. It also provides the space needed to work.
§ Establish a date for the next supervision group before the end of each meeting (or set out a long-term schedule). This helps to create a commitment to the group and to the process. It is also helpful to send out email reminders.
§ Do not allow the group time to become a gripe session about how awful workplaces can be. Use music to explore and identify areas in which your own resistance may make it difficult to understand and support your clients.
§ Look for common themes in the stories that you share, or begin by improvising music based on what is currently being experienced by group members.
§ Watch out for the tendency to avoid using the music and to steer clear of difficult topics.
In summary a peer supervision group is one in which a group of professional music therapists come together on a consistent basis, and they use the skills they have to help each other grow as music therapists. By engaging in this process they are able to learn to be self-examining and may then, by extension, be able to take their work with clients to a deeper level.
Music Therapy Supervision (2001, Barcelona Publishers; M. Forinash, Editor) has three chapters describing peer supervision as well as experiential music therapy groups.
Chapter 12: Peer Supervision in the Development of the New Music and Expressive Therapist (E. Baratta, M. Bertolami, A. Hubbard, M. MacDonald, and D. Spragg) Chapter 14: Experiential Music Therapy Group as a Method of Professional Supervision (G. Langdon)
Chapter 15: Peer Supervision in Music Therapy (D. Austin and J. Dvorkin).
Additionally, of course, there are the many remaining chapters which focus on supervision of students during practicum experiences and internships, professional supervision, and institute training/supervision.
The Dynamics of Music Psychotherapy (1998, Barcelona Publishers; K. Bruscia, Editor) is a helpful read. While the chapters don’t specifically address clinical or peer supervision, there is a clear focus on the dynamic processes of therapy, and there are a number of chapters which focus on uncovering unconscious countertransference reactions to clients and working with elements of resistance within the therapist.
“Models of Clinical Supervision” by George R. Leddick: http://www.ericdigests.org/1995-1/models.htm
“Peer Consultation as a Form of Supervision” by James N. Benshoff: http://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0801-supervision.html
“Peer Group Supervision”- presents a model of peer supervision for those in the business world as well as in social services. It lists six phases of peer group supervision. Some of the ideas may be useful in getting your own peer supervision group started: http://www.peer-supervision.com/index.html
Specific to a particular approach to psychotherapy, but it could be very useful: http://www.contextualpsychology.org/running_a_peer_supervision_group