3 Ways to Transform Your Experience of Supervision

20 03 2018


Supervisor and supervisee in discussion

“Water the flowers, not the weeds.”  Fletcher Peacock

 Guest Author: Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC

Clinical work can be incredibly difficult and fraught with multi-layered problems.  It is for these reasons that supervision is a must for all of us, should we desire to develop our practice and enhance the clinical skills of our staff. Sometimes, our dedication to solving the problems of our staff and clients can lead to a loss of perspective on “what is working” in our work environment and clinical practice. The results can be devastating to both our colleagues, clients, and supervisees.

As a solution-focused consultant and trainer, my hope in this post is to make the supervision process more human and effective.  Below are three ways to enhance the process of supervision by adding a dimension of strategy to each meeting we have with our staff.

1. Make a Positive Start

Supervision is a parallel process.  Building rapport is essential in developing the kind of relationship that produces remarkable clinical results.  Before getting to work on goals, it is important to relax both the minds of the supervisor and the supervisee.  We can do this by spending the first few minutes of supervision targeting confidence.  Increasing confidence allows for both goal creation and goal consensus in the supervisory relationship.

Increase confidence by simply assisting the supervisee to recognize their strengths and successes through the use of process questions (i.e. How did you do that?).  If we are able to teach our staff to self-validate, they become more resilient, work more independently, and demonstrate more approach (goal driven) behaviors.

[Try this: Obtain competencies in your staff.  Begin by asking your supervisee, “What have you done that you are you most proud of since our last meeting?” or “Where have you been more successful since our last meeting?”

For a first time supervision meeting, ask, “Please tell me about your best accomplishment thus far in your life.”  Continue to ask how they achieved this success and what character strengths are reflected from that experience that can be used in the current clinical work.

Studying our supervisees’ patterns of success allows us to understand how they learn, use their skills, and overcome difficulties.  All these dimensions can be transferred to their clinical work.]

2. Maintain a Goal Focus

Understanding the nature of the supervisory relationship means first clarifying the goal of supervision itself (which may change at each meeting).  Maintaining a goal focus each meeting keeps things intentional, increases motivation, and avoids emotionalism that can disrupt the supervisory relationship.

[Try this: Start by asking your supervisee, “What’s your best hope in our meeting today?”  This assists in focusing the conversation and allows the supervisee to communicate their immediate need.  With continued practice, the supervisee becomes more and more aware of appropriate use of supervision and comes prepared for supervision.  This also communicates respect, as the supervisee is seen as a collaborator and their needs viewed as important during the supervision process.

As the supervisee’s agenda is addressed early in the supervision, urgency does not build and you will have an easier time communicating your own agenda as supervisor during the time you both are together.]

 3. Work on Progress

Discussing and looking for signs and signals of more progress is helpful for both supervisors and their staff.  Helping to build off success, rather than fixing what is broken, maintains positive momentum and engagement in the learning process.  As clinicians study their success, they are not as prone to having to protect their ego and have greater capacity to learn from error.

It is important that supervisors take a growth mindset with their supervisees, recognizing that failure is necessary for learning to take place.

[Try this:  Look for exceptions.  For example:   If your supervisee says that he really wants to get better at leaving work on time; have them pay attention to times when they are able to keep to their schedule either at work or in their personal life.  Ask them “How were you able to make that happen?”  Studying the exceptions can open up more awareness of possible solutions to their current difficulty.]


The employee experience produces the client experience. The way we engage in the supervisory relationship has a deep impact on those we train and educate as well as the way they deliver services to their own clients.  When we change what we focus on in supervision, the focus of our supervisees’ changes, and that can make a world of difference for their clients.  Become a good gardener; water the flowers, not the weeds.  Teach your staff to do the same.

References and Resources


The Cycle of Excellence: Using Deliberate Practice to Improve Supervision and Training by Tony Rousmaniere, Rodney K. Goodyear, Scott D. Miller, Bruce E. Wampold, 2017

Strength Based Clinical Supervision: A Positive Psychology Approach to Clinical Training by John C. Wade and Janice E. Jones, 2015

Handbook of Positive Supervision: For Supervisors, Facilitators, and Peer Groups by Fredrike Bannink 2015

The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact  by Chip and Dan Heath

1001 Solution-Focused Questions by Fredrike Bannink

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Its Effective Use in Agency Settings by Teri Pichot

The Heroic Client: A Revolutionary Way to Improve Effectiveness Through Client-Directed, Outcome-Informed Therapy by Barry L Duncan, Jacqueline A. Sparks, and Scott D. Miller

The Heart & Soul of Change: Delivering what Works in Therapy by Barry Duncan, Scott Miller, Bruce Wampold, and Mark Hubble


The Centre for Solution Focused Practice www.brief.org.uk 

Seligman with positive psychology questionnaires (including VIA character Strengths survey) www.authentichappiness.org

Solutions in Organizations Link (SOL), solution-focused coaching and management. www.solworld.org

International Center for Clinical Excellence (ICCE), worldwide community dedicated to promote excellence in behavioral healthcare services (Scott D. Miller) www.centerforclinicalexcellence.com


Mick Cooper, “The Facts are friendly” Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94mk843AsLg

Mick Cooper, “The Facts are friendly” Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEYJyq-Peaw

Mick Cooper, “The Facts are friendly” Part 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtRr0kRcBfY

Author Bio:

DaniDan Lawson, LMHC, CASACel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC, works in private practice in Buffalo, NY. He specializes in a variety of areas including solution-focused supervision. Dan is a passionate, eclectic practitioner and bases his practice heavily on a solution-focused approach to therapy.  He also uses DBT, positive psychology, mindfulness, CBT, existential, motivational interviewing, and narrative therapy. Dan has an additional specialty in supporting Catholic men and women as he combines his faith with his psychological training to provide therapy deeply rooted in Catholic Theology and Philosophy. As a balanced professional, he works effectively with his clients regardless of their spiritual/religious beliefs.  Prior to starting a private practice, Dan worked at Horizon Health Services for ten years. In addition to his clinical experience, Dan is a dynamic trainer, keynote speaker, and provides individual and organizational consultation and training services.  Visit his websites for information or to contact him at: http://catholictherapysolutions.com  and www.counselorscorner.net/clinicians.html

Men & Trauma: 5 Dynamic, Solution-Focused Questions to Use in Therapy

7 09 2017

Guest Author:

Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC

man in therapy







“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” –  Karl Jung

Jung penned these words in 1965, and I find myself returning to them often in my work. The intention of this blog post is to provide clinicians with tangible and pragmatic tools to enhance treatment effectiveness with men who have with trauma histories.  As a solution-orientated therapist, the tools I use are questions.

My hope is that in using these questions effectively with the men you serve, they become more of who they are, and less of who they aren’t.

QUESTION 1: “What has been the greatest accomplishment of your life?”

Whenever I do an initial intake, I spend at least five to ten minutes at the beginning of the appointment with this question.  Asking your client about what they have achieved, builds awareness of their patterns of success.  This also helps the client feel at ease and competent.

Naturally, this question also helps men build confidence.  Confidence in many ways is a requirement for successful goal formulation.  Confidence also decreases men’s fears about treatment and making change.

Sometimes, the client may respond saying that they have not achieved anything great in their life.  As the therapist, it’s important to add, “not yet.”  If a client gives that response, it becomes a very appropriate time to talk about goals and ask, “Well, what would you like to say someday is one of your great achievements?”

QUESTION 2:  “What helped you survive?”

Often times our work as a therapist is to reframe the experience of our client.  This question alters the client’s perception from a place of being a “victim” to being a “survivor.”  This creates different expectations and also allows the client to see that in fact they have done something valuable.  It may also allow them to see other strengths that they possess as well as ways to build upon them.

It is important to note that male trauma survivors may habitually destroy their own self-worth, abusing themselves and ruminating on past failures. This question subtly harnesses the power of positive blame, demanding the client to take responsibility for their success and good decisions.

QUESTION 3: “How do you think other people have gotten through something similar to you?”

One crucial element in maintaining the therapeutic relationship and achieving positive treatment outcomes is respecting the client’s theory of change.  This question begins a conversation about what the client believes about their diagnosis/prognosis and their preferred method for recovery.  This also empowers male clients, offering them a way to collaborate and contribute to their own treatment process.

Sometimes the answers clients give reveal the client has very little hope in therapy in general.  In those cases, it becomes more important to explore ways to increase hope before more recommendations are made.

Clinicians can also use this as an opportunity to task clients to do some “research” and identify people who have recovered from similar situations.  Stories of others’ success increase hope and motivation for change.

 QUESTION 4: “Since this all happened, when have you felt at your best?”

Traumatic experiences can alter our observational skills.  Often times, periods when symptoms are less intense (or absent) remain outside of our client’s awareness.  If a client has no clearly defined goal, or they seem to “complain” habitually in session, it is very useful to provide the client with observational tasks.

This question increases the client’s awareness of what is working in their life and has a meditative quality, allowing them to be more present for greater periods of time.  It also enhances confidence and hope that may set the groundwork for the client to begin communicating about future goals for therapy.  Remember that attention is a limited resource, so whatever your client focuses on gets bigger.

 QUESTION 5:  “Who do you feel closest to in your life?”

David W. Smith coined the term “Friendless American Male” during the 1980’s recognizing the consequences associated with disconnected men.  Many healthy men prefer to connect and socialize with each other through experience rather than dialogue.  In building a positive post-traumatic identity, men can benefit from the company and friendship with other men.

This question helps to identity places of support and connection already in place in the client’s life.  Each client is different and therefore patterns and preferences for connection may be vastly different.  However, this is a respectful way to enhance the client’s support network and enhance their awareness of their process of connection. Once recognized, it may be replicated.

Sometimes, clients may respond saying that they are close to no one in their life.  In those cases, it may be useful to ask them if there was anyone they were close to in their past. If so, how did they go about that process?


Remember that all people are patterns that persist.  Change the pattern you focus on, change the life you lead.  Have the courage to ask better questions with your clients.  Our lives are the answers the questions we ask.  Better questions can mean a better life for your clients.


Post Traumatic Success: Positive Psychology and Solution-Focused Strategies to Help Clients Survive and Thrive by Fredrike Bannink 2014 (book)

101 Solution-Focused Questions for Help with Trauma by Fredrike Bannink  2015 (book)

American Psychological Association “10 Factors of Resilience”

Based on TIP 56: Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men KAP Keys for Clinicians (SAMHSA)   

 TIP 56: A Treatment  Improvement Protocol Addressing the Specific Behavioral Health Needs of Men 

 Grit: The Power of Passion and Purpose by Angela Duckworth (book)

Essential Research Findings in Counseling and Psychotherapy, the Facts are Friendly by Mick Cooper (book)

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 1” – Mick Cooper

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 2” – Mick Cooper

Video-“Facts are Friendly Pt 3”  – Mick Cooper

1001 Solution-Focused Questions by Fredrike Bannink (book)

Quick Steps to Resolving Trauma by Bill O’Hanlon (book)

BRIEF, an SF training institute in London

ICCE, a worldwide community dedicated to promoting excellence in behavioral healthcare services

Pennsylvania University  Positive Psychology Center (Seligman)

Penn University with positive psychology questionnaires (VIA Character Strengths Survey)

 Author Bio: Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC, works in private practice in Buffalo, NY. He specializes in working with men to overcome issues with relationships, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, death of a child, childhood trauma, or feelings of anger. Dan is a passionate, eclectic practitioner and bases his practice heavily on a solution-focused approach to therapy.  As a result, many of his clients see the results they are looking for in less than six sessions. Dan also uses DBT, positive psychology, mindfulness, CBT, existential, motivational interviewing, and narrative therapy. When working with men, he focuses on restoring hope and connecting them to their ability to do what it takes to heal. In every session, clients leave with a plan to begin improving their life. In addition, Dan also specializes in supporting Catholic men and woman. He effectively combines his faith with his psychological training to provide therapy deeply rooted in Catholic Theology and Philosophy. Dan is a balanced professional and works effectively with his clients regardless of their spiritual/religious beliefs.  Prior to starting a private practice, Dan worked at Horizon Health Services for ten years. In addition to his clinical experience, Dan has experience in training provision and clinical supervision services.  Visit his websites for information at:






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