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Strength Based Supervision

Previous articles and trainings have identified that Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) is one form of treatment that works well with both mental health and substance conditions. It stands to reason that an effective way to promote SFBT is to utilize the same concepts in our clinical supervision and case consultations. I recently read an article on Solution Focused Supervision by Rene’ N. Ledford (LCSW, BCBA). Below are some excerpts that I hope you enjoy. Try these in your next supervision or case consult and enjoy.

Solution-focused supervision is based on the principles of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) and uses the same tools as SFBT as outlined by Waskett (2005) including:

◊ Eliciting strengths and resources.

◊ Developing the supervisee’s preferred future or outcome.

◊ Taking a “not knowing” position and asking appropriate questions.

◊ Using scales to measure and develop progress.

◊ Remembering to notice positive movement in small practical steps.

◊ Offering appropriate evidenced compliments.

◊ Staying curious, respectful and flexible.

The following compares solution-focused therapy and solution-focused supervision: Waskett (2005)

Solution-focused therapy

  • Seeks to be helpful to the client in his or her agenda for therapy.

  • Focuses on history of resources and strengths and the “solution story” rather than the “problem story.”

  • Pragmatic – Helps the client notice what works, their good qualities, abilities in the face of difficulties, etc.

  • Collaborates with the client on his/her agenda.

  • Listens constructively for client’s unique strengths and resources.

  • Invites clients to talk about and develop details of their ideas of their preferred future.

  • Uses scales and circular questioning to note and measure progress towards client’s preferred future and goals.

  • Maintains professional boundaries of time, place, confidentiality and ethical practice.

  • Strives for best therapeutic practice.

Solution-focused supervision

  • Seeks to be helpful to the supervisee in his or her agenda for work.

  • Focuses on abilities, learning, and strengths that the therapist already has.

  • Pragmatic – Helps the therapist notice what works, their skills, abilities, creative ideas, etc. in the service of the client/patient.

  • Collaborates with the therapist on the agenda for work with clients/patients.

  • Listens constructively for the therapist’s unique strengths and resources in order to aid clients and his/her practice generally.

  • Invites and develops therapists preferred future in terms of being as good a therapist as they can possibly be for clients in their working context.

  • Uses scales and circular questioning to note and measure progress towards the therapist’s best practice.

  • Maintains professional, ethical boundaries of time, place, etc., as well as appropriate accountability and care for clients/patients.

  • Strives for best practice in supervision.

Thomas (1996) outlined additional guiding principles for the solution-focused supervisor, based mostly on the work of O’Hanlon and Weiner-Davis (1989), as well as Cantwell and Holmes’ (1995), and others. These include:

◊ It is not necessary to know the cause or function of a complaint in order to resolve it.

◊ Therapists know what is best for them. This assumes that the therapist has the resources necessary to solve problems in the therapy context.

◊ There is no such thing as “resistance” (deShazer, 1984). The supervisor’s task here is to work with the learning experience and style of the therapist so the therapist is able to generate and choose new options and directions.

◊ The supervisor’s job is to identify and amplify changes. This concept results in solution talk, not problem talk.

◊ A small change is all that is necessary. Increasing feelings of competence and small successes can lead to a “ripple” or “snowball” effect that will allow the therapist to draw on other resources and in turn lead to additional success.

◊ Change is constant, and rapid change is possible.

◊ Supervision should focus on what is possible and changeable.

◊ There is no right way to view things.

◊ Curiosity is indispensable. It is completely necessary to the process of solution-focused supervision that the supervisor has a genuine desire to know the opinions and perspectives of the therapist.

Clinical supervision continues to evolve and is shaped by clinical practice trends. Whatever specific strength-based approaches and techniques are used, the underlying philosophy remains one of respect and appreciation for the talents of others. Applying models of strength-based therapy to supervision can both alleviate the anxiety therapists and students feel while in an “evaluative” process and lead to greater competence.


• Cantwell, P. and Holmes, S. (1995). Cumulative Process: A Collaborative Approach to Systemic Supervision. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 14, 35-47.

• DeShazer, S. (1984). The Death of Resistance. Family Process, 23, 79-93.

• O’Hanlon, W. H. and Weiner-Davis, M. (1989). In Search of Solutions: A New Direction in Psychotherapy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

• Thomas, F. (1996). Solution-Focused Supervision: The Coaxing of Expertise. In Handbook of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Eds. Miller, S., Hubble, M. and Duncan, B. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

• Waskett, C. (2005). The Pluses of Solution Focused Supervision. Healthcare Counseling and Psychotherapy Journal 6(1).

Submitted by Bill Walker, MFT

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