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Here’s a suggestion: Whenever you conduct a supervision session, leave one empty chair in the room. [1]

Why? This is to remind both parties, that we are talking about someone else who is not present in this meeting.

Taken from an entirely different world, Amazon’s chief, Jeff Bezos says his biggest competitive advantage is “obsessing over customer experience… start with the customer and work backward.” [3]

(I previously blogged about Bezo‘s philosophy about “focusing on what‘s not going to change”. You can read it here.)

To keep this beyond just a platitude, at every meeting, the Amazon team is touted to reserve one empty seat to represent their customer.

Elsewhere, I found that different cultures have this practice of leaving an empty chair. Read here.

I don’t know your thoughts about this, but at times talking about someone without them being present feels like gossip to me.

Beyond the Empty Chair

Besides the metaphorical representation of our client in an empty chair, there are 2 other ways to bring the voice of the client in the supervisory environment:

  1. Have outcomes and alliance graphs in the supervisory conversation,
  2. Analyse the conversation with session recordings.

In Reigniting Clinical Supervision (RCS) web-based workshop, I’d teach you how to augment supervision with the use of feedback-informed clinical data, coupled with a specific method to analyse session recordings, using the Impact of Session Grid (ISG).
More, we’d go into the weeds of not just “coaching for performance” (i.e., helping supervisees with “one client at a time”), but also “coaching for development” (i.e., helping practitioners move towards their individual frontier by designing individualised learning objectives).

Here’s a visual guide of the RCS roadmap:

Edward Watkins, leading researcher in the area of clinical supervision reminds us of an obvious but non-trivial point:

If we cannot show that supervision affects patient outcome (emphasis mine), then how can we continue to justify supervision? [3]

The evidence of the impact of our defaults ways in clinical supervision is soberingly weak. A recent replication study on supervisor variance mirrors past findings on that supervision accounts for less than 1% on client outcomes. [4] For more, read this blog, The Scandal of Clinical Supervision (Part I of II)

I believe we can change this.

p/s: Today is the last day (31 July 2020) to sign up for the Reigniting Clinical Supervision (RCS) web-based workshop. It’s personalised learning, at your own pace, with guidance and a community. It’s not a yearly- subscription. It’s a lifetime access. We hope to see you there.

[1] Same thing applies if you are conducting supervision virtually. In fact, leave 2 chairs empty. One in the supervisor’s room, the other in the supervisee‘s.


[3] p. 238 of Watkins, C. E. (2011). Does Psychotherapy Supervision Contribute to Patient Outcomes? Considering Thirty Years of Research. The Clinical Supervisor, 30(2), 235-256. doi:10.1080/07325223.2011.619417

[4] Whipple, J., Hoyt, T., Rousmaniere, T., Swift, J., Pedersen, T., & Worthen, V. (2020). Supervisor Variance in Psychotherapy Outcome in Routine Practice: A Replication. SAGE Open, 10, 215824401989904. doi:10.1177/2158244019899047

Photo by Tom van Hoogstraten

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