Reflections on ACAT Relational Skills in CAT Supervision Course – December 2009

Coombes, J., Dunn, M., 2010. Reflections on ACAT Relational Skills in CAT Supervision Course – December 2009. Reformulation, Summer, pp.46-47.


This newly designed two and a half day residential ACAT supervision skills training course gathered together a diverse group of practitioners with varied perspectives on supervision for an intensive shared learning experience. Holland House, known to many of us as the home for the IRRAPT training seemed an ideal setting for this venture and we soon settled down into the rhythm of life together as a temporary “community of supervisors”- an ethos set by the course leaders in order to encourage a shared experience in the spirit of CAT’s analytic and dialogical approach to relational supervision. During the course there was much opportunity for learning and practice of new skills via focused taught sessions and experiential work in small “supervision groups” that enabled bonding to develop. Space was allowed for the learning experience to be reflected-on as it unfolded via shared community sessions throughout the duration of the course.

We began by working with our own material through sharing and sketching stories from childhood in “Map and Tell”. This made it possible to powerfully experience first-hand how emotional and relational processes from the past can be brought into the present moment. In our group we found this offered some surprising and profound new insights. In subsequent sessions we drew on clinical material to experiment with “Mapping the Moment” through jointly sketching and re-sketching rough maps and progressing on to more complete diagrams. We were encouraged to allow for ‘novelistic’ spontaneity and ‘sloppiness’ to become part of the creative process of making meaning together in the dialogic space. We saw how use of such sketching might be used as part of the supervision process as well as in the therapy room with clients. Later we shared an experience of “Speed Supervision” - a lively and enjoyable session where we exchanged multiple peer perspectives and versatile responses to each other’s material. This once again brought new understanding and meanings and demonstrated the benefits of seeking a relationally intelligent shared perspective on complex issues.

We saw how the CAT model of the self can be used to enhance the supervision process. Being able to recognise multiple self-states as they appear in parallel in the supervision group was the first essential element. How often do we find group members reflecting various parts of the client and their unbearable and unspoken pain? As the group becomes a ‘representation of the client’s multiplicity’ – or becomes a representation of the client’s restricted roles – the observing eye of the supervisor builds the strength of the therapist to speak and bear the unspeakable. By mapping the layers of enactment – client/therapist, therapist/supervisor, and parallel dynamics in the group – there can be collaboration within the whole group to arrive at a deep observation and naming of the process. It was new to me to think about a hierarchy of enactments within the supervision group: first, the supervisory relationship, then the therapist’s enactment with the client, followed by the development of the observing eye and sense of what is missing in the room.

In our experiential work, we were invited to reflect on our own personal history with supervision – both as supervisor and supervisee. This was astonishingly powerful and brought us in touch with the impact of past supervisory relationships and how these have shaped us. Over the years, each of us will have experienced a range of things from warm support, differing supervision styles, boundary issues, to abuse and trauma - within supervision. It proved to be very important and thought-provoking to recognise that this is all part of the baggage we carry as supervisors.

We got a lot of fun from the game where we had to write our ‘unspeakable questions’ anonymously on pieces of paper, and put them in a dish on the floor. These were the kind of questions that supervisors are meant to know the answers to, but which maybe feel too basic or embarrassing to ask – but we all need to ask them! Much enjoyment was had from reading them at random and generating possible answers, and many of them were too knotty to come up with anything approaching a definitive answer - so a really valuable exercise.

During the training we were introduced to different styles of supervision and forms of dialogue that might be used by supervisors or anticipated by supervisees. We saw that there were positives and shadow sides to different styles; that directive ‘Magistral’ and questioning ‘Mennippean’ styles had their place but might lead to more extreme and potentially harsh or destructive positions, whereas a more flexible ‘Socratic’ style can encourage reflective dialogue and multiple perspectives in a collaborative space. This linked with Bakhtin’s concept of the ‘Surplus of Seeing’ and the paradoxical position we find ourselves in with supervision where we are both in the process and reflecting on it at the same time. The idea of the supervisor offering a ‘meta-observing eye’ on the whole process was inspiring, suggesting that supervision might offer as it were ‘SUPER’vision. We saw how there are both benefits and potential dangers associated with this ‘meta-perspective’ and that as supervisors we need to mindful of using humility and caution in the process so as to guard against grandiosity or being seen as having ‘magic’ answers. The importance of discovering our own style of supervision was emphasised and we were encouraged to reflect on how we would like to see this develop in ourselves.

Our conclusion at the end of the residential intensive training was that there were elements of supervision which could be recognised in an intensive setting which would be harder to grasp otherwise. Steve Potter and Liz Fawkes inspired and held the group, and we hope that more people will have the opportunity to begin their supervisory career this way.

Julia Coombes is a CAT Practitioner and trainee CAT Psychotherapist (IRRAPT 2007-9). She currently works as a full time CAT Therapist for Berkshire Psychotherapy Services where she offers individual and group CAT to adults with personality disorders as part of the complex needs service. She has a background in occupational therapy and enjoys working creatively and incorporating dialogical aspects of CAT into her work. She is looking forward to running her first supervision group in order to put new learning into practice and complete her CAT supervision training.

Mary is a past Chair of ACAT. She is a retired Clinical Psychologist working privately in the New Forest. Her NHS work was using the CAT model with community and in-patient reformulation of Personality Disorder to inform care-planning.

Full Reference

Coombes, J., Dunn, M., 2010. Reflections on ACAT Relational Skills in CAT Supervision Course – December 2009. Reformulation, Summer, pp.46-47.

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