Creativity in Supervision

Art and Supervision

I’m really interested in the question of creativity in supervision. As a part time artist, creativity is something I frequently reflect on. In writing this piece I want to draw on my experiences both as artist and a supervisor and therapist to share some of those reflections and thoughts about creativity in supervision and psychotherapy.

How to Define Creativity?

When I was originally asked by Robin Hobbes to write an article for The Transactional Analyst (magazine of UKATA) I thought about how I define creativity, and then I did some reading. I looked at how creativity has been defined historically.  Some of the early ideas of creativity are that it is God given or from something beyond our understanding.  More recently Picciuto and Carruthers (forthcoming) write that “most theorists assume that creativity requires ideas, behaviour or products that are both novel and valuable.”  They also reference Boden (2004) who draws a distinction between “historical creativity” where “the novelty is relative to an entire society or tradition”, so for example, new movements in art and science where ideas are radical and new; and psychological creativity where an idea is new to a person in some way.  For example a new thought, emotion, way of doing, or process. I like how Edwards (1986) neatly summarises the conundrum of creativity, does it require innate talent or can it be learnt, she goes on to reference various thinkers’ ideas on the steps in the creative process.  I’m going to use this model to look at the activity of supervision and how it is a psychologically creative process for the supervisee.

Five Stage Model 

The model identifies five stages in the creative process:

First insight – a term that covers both solving existing problems and problem finding in the form of asking new and searching questions.

Saturation – the research stages

Incubation – period of reflection.

Illumination (The Ah Ha) – the sudden solution as a result of the integration of the previous stages nearly always brief.

Verification – putting the solution into concrete form and checking it for effectiveness.

IMG_20141009_152238
Pencil sketch

In my painting I’m faced with “problems” all the time. How to capture the light in a particular scene, how to use a selection of colours in a pleasing way. Most recently I have been faced with the problem of drawing buildings. I’ve felt dissatisfied with what I have drawn for quite some time, the first insight stage, the problem being how to draw buildings in a loose style and still be accurate. Alongside this I have been engaged in research, the saturation stage, practicing drawing buildings and reflecting on the results for a few months. Most recently, whilst spending time away where I was sketching every day I decided to undertake a more detailed pencil sketch en plein air (outside from life).  In using a pencil I was able to erase my mistakes and keep working on the drawing until I was satisfied I had the perspective correct. The sudden solution. Not that radical and new, but new to me in terms of process and what I had been engaged in recently.  I followed this by undertaking another painting using pen and watercolour, my preferred medium for plein air work.  I’d learnt a lot about how to draw buildings more effectively from my earlier attempts in pencil, about the quality of the lines, planning and composition, how to approach the drawing. The result was much more satisfying.

A more satisfying result
A more satisfying result

So how is this relevant to supervision?

I think that the relevance is in the process, one of problem solving creatively. I see part of my role as supervisor is to facilitate the supervisee accessing their creativity in problem solving with their clients and developing skill in being creative in the field of psychotherapy.

At the stage of first insight I will be contracting with my supervisee as to what “problem” they are seeking to solve. With some supervisees the work at this stage is often supporting them in the area of developing new and searching questions to ask. I have sometimes felt that adopting a contracting approach that seeks to define the problem too early can miss this extremely important part of the creative process, that of developing thinking around new questions to as.  By focussing too soon on what is immediately presented, then evolving questions through exploration may be missed.

Saturation, the research stages.  This takes place on an ongoing basis between client and supervisee and then in the supervision session between myself and supervisee as we discuss the client case presented. Assessment, transactional analysis, script analysis, the moment by moment, session by session experience of being with the client is part of the research process.  In the supervision one of my biggest areas of research is the parallel process.  I find it an invaluable indicator of the relational dynamics in the therapeutic relationship that exists between my supervisee and their client. I also like to be “creative” in how I facilitate supervisees in their research, looking again for new ways to ask questions. So for example using two chair work, or through encouraging movement and role play.

Incubation can take place between supervision sessions and is also part of the activity of supervision where we are reflecting on the experience of my supervisees’ relationships and work with their clients. Sometimes the period of incubation is rapid, where a supervisee may very quickly experience a sudden insight into a client. Other times incubation is much longer and takes place between sessions and the supervisee may be more reliant on the supervisor to provide solutions. Which brings me on to Illumination.  Another part of my focus is that of facilitating growth in the supervisee in confidence in generating their own solutions. That growth might mean encouraging them to undertake more research, or it might be about the first insight stage of asking different questions or more reflection time either with me or on their own.

Verification takes place when supervisees test out solutions through treatment direction and specific interventions with their clients. Reflecting on the impact of those interventions and bringing back for further discussion in supervision.

Ultimately I find thinking about the supervision process as one of creative problem solving very useful,  both in terms of what I am doing in the supervision with my supervisees, how am I being creative and when working with supervisees to facilitate them in developing their own thinking and solutions to client work.

This piece originally appeared as an article in the Transactional Analyst 2014.

Edwards, Betty. Drawing on the artist within. Simon and Schuster, 2008.

Carruthers, Peter & Picciuto, Elizabeth (forthcoming). The Origins of Creativity. In E. Paul & S. Kaufman (eds.), The Philosophy of Creativity. Oxford University Press.

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