Tymur Hussein is the Director of Care Services at The Lighthouse Foundation.
The value of supervision in work with adolescents
The value of supervision in work with adolescents
Tymur Hussein describes the value of reflective practice in his work with adolescents.
This article is part of a series of resources being released during our “Focus on… supervision in work with adolescents”.
I have worked with adolescents now for almost 15 years, 10 of those with survivors of abuse and neglect. However it wasn’t until I had my own children, in combination with clinical supervision, that I truly began to appreciate the personal impact of this work.
When my children were old enough to run off with their friends at social gatherings, I noticed that my reaction was different to that of my extended family and friends. Compared to them I was more pre-occupied with maintaining a line of sight or checking-in more regularly. The other parents seemed to be able to go for hours engaged in conversation with one another, responding to their children only when they hurt themselves or needed the toilet.
I was confused by my hyper-vigilance. Was this a normal reaction? Was I just a “hands on” father? What the hell was going on? Coming from a Middle-Eastern background, large family gatherings were common, so this was a dynamic I was regularly exposed to.
At first, I did not raise this concern in clinical supervision; I discussed it with my wife instead. This was a mistake. Not because of my wife’s incapacity to provide sound counsel – she has guided me through many of life’s mysteries. It was a mistake because my wife has a long history in child protection and community services, and completely validated my hyper-vigilance with, “Yes… of course we need to be hyper-vigilant … they’re our children… you can’t trust anyone.”
While initially receiving some validation from my wife, due to the stark contrast of my behaviour to those around me I decided to raise this concern in clinical supervision. Through the process I realised that I saw the world and people in a similar way to that of many of my clients: dangerous and untrustworthy.
This perception was very different to my experience of the world. I was raised in a stable family that had its own fair share of dysfunction, but the adults around me were safe, trustworthy, and behaved appropriately. So how did this mismatch occur? When did the transformation take place?
Pearlman and Saakvitne (1995) describe vicarious trauma as “the inner transformation that occurs in the inner experience of the therapist (or other professional) which comes about as a result of empathic engagement with clients’ trauma material”.
Through supervision, particularly the reflective component, I realised that due to my prolonged exposure to stories of abuse and neglect, my internal working models or cognitive schemas were transformed from ones that reflected my experience of the world to those which reflected the experiences of my clients.
Voller (2010) has described this process as a “purposeful focusing on thoughts, feelings, sensations and behaviour in order to make meaning from those fragments of experience. The outcome of this reflection is to create new understanding which in turn may lead to: increased choices, making changes or reducing confusion.”
This was very true of my experience. Clinical supervision, particularly the reflective component, was key to reducing my confusion about the origins of my hyper-vigilance. This insight increased my choices and led to the confronting question of ‘what changes do I need to make now that I am aware of the impact of the work?’
In my case, those changes involved lifestyle choices that would lead to the amelioration of my vicarious trauma. I made a point of catching up with friends during the week. Working in a crisis-driven environment can often involve managing incidents after hours, and it is not difficult for one intense day to merge into another. Making time for friends during the week broke this cycle and ensured timely injections of laughter, perspective, and support.
Re-engaging with the arts was also critical, but I had to ensure that I varied the themes so that they did not solely reflect my work. I recall standing at the box-office, initially planning to see Polisse, a French drama about a police child protection unit. Reflecting on my intake of trauma-related material, I decided to see The Intouchables – a feel-good French comedy – instead.
Interestingly, another key element has involved being mindful of all the examples of extraordinary parenting I see on a daily basis, whether it be at my children’s’ school or the local swimming club.
While I may hear stories of parental betrayal regularly, I know that I am also surrounded by committed parents daily.
Pearlman, L. A., & Saakvitne, K. W. (1995). Trauma and the therapist: Countertransference and vicarious traumatization in psychotherapy with incest survivors. New York: Norton.
Voller, H. (2010). Developing the understanding of reflective practice in counselling and psychotherapy. D. Prof, University of Middlesex.
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