Using Action Methods in Supervision with
American Family Therapy Academy Conference 6/8/13
Paula Ochs MSW, LCSW & Jude Webster MSW, LCSW
Following is an outline of our presentation on using
action methods in supervision. Please contact me if you
have any questions, are interested in receiving this kind
of supervision, or in learning how to do it.
Help supervisors become more effective working with
therapists who are counseling couples by incorporating
action methods into the supervisory process. The work is
focused on the therapist and her/his relationship to the
clients, not on the clients.
Our work is based on Psychodrama, an interactive form of
group therapy which uses action in order to explore
thoughts, feelings and behavior; Movement Therapy, the
psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which
furthers the emotional, social, cognitive and physical
integration of the individual; and research on Experiential
Learning which support the idea that incorporating the body
and movement significantly enhances learning in a number
The use of movement or action bypasses the conscious
process in the brain and works more directly with the
unconscious process allowing an alternative to the logical
and linear way we most frequently work, thereby allowing
more possibilities when we feel stuck.
When we use this approach with action, we choose to
temporarily give up speech as a way to communicate. By
focusing on movement and the body, we can shift from
cognitive, linear thinking, to a more intuitive and creative
Action enhances learning and experience by adding
kinesthetic and affective aspects to cognitive process.
Action can tell us more than words by showing us both
conscious and unconscious aspects of our thoughts,
feelings, values, and beliefs. Action gives us an opportunity
to explore more with our supervisees because it gives us a
better picture of relationships than words alone.
Putting ideas into action and incorporating the body, helps
us move from “left brain” to “right brain” activity. The right
side of the brain is considered the more creative, intuitive
part of the brain. By moving from the cognitive, left side of
the brain, we can tap into more creative solutions with
therapists and their clients in supervision.
When we used this method in a group, we saw that
movement enhanced the therapist’s learning dramatically.
The observing group not only saw everything the therapist
wanted to portray in her presentation, they saw even more.
Thoughts and feelings that she had not yet been able to
articulate came from the movement and were transmitted to
the group who then played them back to her. It was a
powerful sequence for the therapist and the group.
3. Demonstrate the process of supervision in action
a) Talk. The therapist first describes the work being done
with the couple. The therapist identifies the problem she/he
is having with the couple. This should be stated in one
sentence. For example: “I feel that we are going in circles.”
b) The supervisor asks the therapist to create a “sculpt”
of the couple without using words. Then the supervisor asks
the therapist to put her/himself into the sculpt. The sculpt
can be static or have movement. Care should be taken to
include body position, facial expression and gaze. The
process should, however, be spontaneous and come from
the gut. Don’t let the therapist over think!
c) The supervisor asks the therapist to describe her/his
experience. The therapist should answer through “I
statements” in the here and now. For example, “I’m feeling
nauseous. I feel anxious, like something bad is going to
d) The supervisor (and group) makes her/his own
observations about the therapist’s relationship to the
couple. For example: “You seem to let your clients push you
around; you don’t seem to be in charge of the session.”
e) The supervisor asks the therapist to create a new
sculpt with the couple remaining in the same position. The
directive is to create a new sculpt where the therapist feels
more competent. For example: “Now create a sculpt where
you feel grounded and relaxed with the couple. Don’t think,
just do. You can try a few different sculpts until you find one
that works the best for you.”
f) The therapist does a new sculpt—the “solution” part of
the process. Again, the therapist does not speak.
g) The supervisor asks the therapist to speak using “I
statements” in the here and now. For example: “I feel in
control now. I feel settled.” The supervisor might move the
therapist out of the sculpt and put her/himself in the
therapist’s place so the therapist can see the solution. This
is called the “mirror” position in Psychodrama.
h) When the sculpt is complete and the therapist has
spoken from the position in the sculpt, the supervisor can
have the therapist sit and move into a more cognitive place
by processing the experience more analytically.
1. Abbey, David et al. Variations on a Theme by Kolb: A New Perspective
for Understanding Counseling and Supervision. Counseling Psychologist,
v13 n3 p 477-501 Jul 1985
2. Carter, P. D. (2010). Using action methods in post-graduate
International Journal of Education & the Arts
3. Burkard, A. W. et al. (2006) Supervisor’s Cultural Responsiveness and
Unresponsiveness in Cross-Cultural Supervision. Journal of Counseling
Psychology. 53(3), 288-301.
4. Carson, D. (1999). The Importance of Creativity in Family Therapy: A
Preliminary Consideration. The Family Journal. 7:36, 326-334.
Using Action Methods in Supervision