Early Career Psychologists

Highlights from the Early Career Task Force’s Supervision of Group Psychotherapy Conference Call

Joe Miles Ph.D.
Joe Miles Ph.D.

Periodically, the Early Career Psychologist (ECP) Task Force of the Society hosts conference calls on topics that are of interest to group psychologists. The most recent of these conference calls was held on June 16th, and focused on supervision of group psychotherapy. Over 30 people RSVP’d to participate in this conference call, which covered issues related to supervision models at various training sites, multicultural issues in supervision of group work, and issues in co-leader relationships (e.g., building the relationship, sharing power, and dual relationships). The call offered the opportunity for group psychotherapists from a variety of different settings to raise questions, discuss challenges and successes in group supervision, and to share resources with each other. Below are some of the highlights from this phone call.

Supervision Models in Various Settings

Several participants shared that they use developmental approaches to group supervision at their training sites. One such approach involves having practicum students serve as process observers who write process notes for psychotherapy groups that are facilitated by more advanced trainees (e.g., postdoctoral interns and staff). The process observers are then responsible for sharing these notes with the group in the following session. After a semester or two of process observing, these practicum students move on to co-leading a psychotherapy group with a licensed staff member. These licensed staff members serve as both models and the trainees’ supervisors. In addition, some participants mentioned that the group coordinators at their sites also meet with group trainees for one hour per week.

Another model of group psychotherapy supervision discussed was the use of agency-wide group case conferences. These provide an opportunity for the entire staff, not just the trainees, to meet, watch videos from group sessions, discuss particularly difficult situations, and to share group experiences with one another. An advantage of these agency-wide case conferences is that they provide the opportunity for licensed staff members to engage in additional learning about group work, thus providing opportunities for all participants to grow, not just trainees. These different models highlight the many levels on which group psychotherapy supervision may be offered.

In discussing different models for group psychotherapy supervision, the question was raised as to how different individuals have gotten “buy in” from other staff members about the importance of group work and group training. Several participants from a large counseling center at a major, public state university talked with pride about their group program. They stated that, in the face of ever-increasing demand for services, their center has put a lot of effort into strengthening their group program. Specifically, they said that group treatment is discussed as a viable treatment with all clients at intake, and clients are encouraged to consider group over individual treatment. In addition, this center holds a “Fall Group Kick-Off” at the beginning of the year, in order to reenergize staff about groups and to provide some group training. For example, they provide staff with client scenarios and then have the staff members discuss which groups offered at the center might be possible treatment option for the client. They also do periodic “Group Spotlights” at staff meetings about groups still accepting new member. These efforts to strengthen their group program have paid off, and have led to a “culture shift” in their center over the past few years, such that group is now seen as just as good of an option for clients as individual treatment.

Co-Leader Relationships and Group Supervision

The participants discussed the importance of talking about cultural issues among co-leader pairs, and Leann Diederich shared a handout that she, Eri Bentley (Utah State University) and Joeleen Cooper-Bhatia (Auburn University) developed on establishing effective co-leader relationships (see attached “Discussion Guide for Building Effective Co-Leadership Relationships”, along with the a handout called “The One-Minute Co-Therapist”). An important part of this handout is the discussion of “Personal Background Information,” which should include cultural information. This handout provides guidelines for sharing cultural influences with supervisees. Others shared that they find it important to openly discuss any potential biases that one might have. Participants noted that it is important to be aware of and talk about power differentials, however, when engaging in conversations about multicultural issues with supervisees, and to realize that this should be an ongoing process.

The conversation turned to some of the difficulties in managing conflict in the co-leader relationship, particularly when one co-leader is a trainee and the other is a staff member with an evaluative/supervisory role. One participant shared a resource that she has found particularly helpful: an article by Miriam Berger called Envy and Generosity between Co-Therapists (citation below). This article may be helpful for naming and talking through some of the challenges that we might expect in any co-leader relationship.

Several participants noted that, when one co-leader is a trainee and the other a senior staff member/supervisor, the supervisor might intentionally “miss” a group session, in order to provide the trainee to lead the group on her own, and to work on developing her own voice. This can also be helpful in creating a greater sense of equality in the co-leader relationship. Others mentioned that, as a senior staff member or supervisor, they often ask their trainee co-leaders to take on the role of opening and closing the group, in order to share ownership of the group, and to help the group members see the co-leaders on the same level.

Participants discussed a shared challenge of balancing between allowing a trainee co-leader to feel empowered to intervene as they deem fit in the group, with the desire to intervene themselves when they think there is a different or “better” intervention to be made that the trainee has not made. One participant said that in his own struggles with this challenge, he has learned discipline in allowing trainees to find their own voice and providing a place for them to speak, even if he sees an opportunity for a slightly different intervention. Another participant talked about setting very specific goals with supervisees, such as making sure that they are responding at least twice every half hour in the group. Another suggested that it is helpful to talk to supervisees about their different experience co-leading with different co-leaders, and to periodically have meetings where the entire staff discusses group work.

Other Issues in the Supervision of Group Psychotherapy

Participants shared a variety of different structures for supervision of group psychotherapy. For example, several suggested that it is especially helpful to set aside a half hour immediately following the group to debrief, when possible. Another participant discussed meeting in the 10 or 15 minutes directly before the group starts. He said that, in his experience, this has helped him to solidify his relationships with co-leaders, and to allow them the opportunity to discuss what they, as leaders, are bringing to the group.

A group therapist in private practice described another model of supervision, a consultation group. He described a model that he developed for facilitating consultation groups for group psychotherapists. In these 80 minute consultation groups, participants begin by talking about dilemmas that they are facing in their group work. Following this aspect of the group supervision, the second part of his consultation groups become process groups, in which group members have the opportunity to experience being group members. He ends the groups by talking about what went on for him as the leader of the process group portion, what he felt was happening in the group, and how he tried to determine the best interventions. Another participant asked about obtaining informed consent, and it was noted that there is definitely a need to attend to dual relationships in this work.

Finally, several participants discussed balancing supervision with more didactic methods. Several participants discussed having seminars in the summer, or early on in the semester, before trainees’ caseloads fill up. Another participant mentioned seminars that included both trainees and all staff members who are leading groups. This may even include discussing articles on group counseling. A few resources that were shared are listed below. Please look for information on upcoming ECP Task Force conference calls in the near future!


Berger, M. (2002). Envy and generosity between co-therapists. Group, 26(1), 107-121.

Davis, F. B. & Lohr, N. E. (1971). Special problems with the use of cotherapists in group
psychotherapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 21, 143158.

Dick, B., Lessler, K. & Whiteside, J. (1980) A Developmental Framework for Cotherapy.
International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 30(3), 6476.

Fernando, D. M., & Herlihy, B. R. (2010). Supervision of group work: Infusing the spirit of social justice. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 35, 281-289.

Gallagher, R. E., (1994). Stages of group psychotherapy supervision: a model for supervisiong
beginning trainees of dynamic group therapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 44(2),169183

Heilfron, M. (1969). Cotherapy: The relationship between therapists. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 19(3), 366381.

Hoffman, S. et. al (1995) Cotherapy with Individuals, Families and Groups,Jason Aronson McGee, T.F., & Schuman, B. N. (1970). The nature of the cotherapy relationship. Presented at American Group Psychotherapy Convention, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Paulson, I, Burroughs, J., Gelb, C., (1976) Cotherapy: What is the Crux of the Relationship? International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 26(2), 213224.

Roller, W., & Nelson, V. (1991). The Art of Co-Therapy. New York, NY: Guildford Press.

Rutan, J. S., Stone, W. N., & Shay, J. J. (2007). Chapter 11: Special Leadership Issues. In
Psychodynamic Group Psychotherapy (4th ed.). (pp. 212-225). New York, NY: Guildford Press.
**Read 212-219

See also handouts available from ECP Task Force ( “The One-Minute Co-Therapist,” and “Discussion Guide for Building Effective Co-Leader Relationships.”