Monday, October 15, 2012

Anna Bravesmith - Supervision and Imagination

"The role of imagination in supervision is central and imaginative activity in both supervisee and supervisor discovers the unconscious layers of the analytic work which cannot be known consciously at the outset. The supervisor needs to be open to playful reverie and fully able to associate freely to material that the supervisee brings. In this paper the main argument is that imagination itself is essential but that, to borrow a metaphor from engineering, reasonable deduction acts as a fulcrum for the pivotal actions of the imagination. The argument is elaborated to differentiate two kinds of activity which might be thought of as use and misuse of imagination. These two kinds of internal activity have been further differentiated and described as ‘imagination’ and ‘the imaginary’ by Colman (2006, p. 22); he says:

imaginary fantasies lack the substance and depth of real imagination [using] fantasy as a way of defending against all those aspects of reality concerned with absence and loss.

Without the fulcrum of reason and reality checking defensive and misleading fantasies can arise in the supervisor and embroil both participants in the supervision in a fantasy world. This is like a lever with no fixed point which then becomes dysfunctional. In contrast grounded imaginative activity is an incredibly subtle and versatile tool.

The deeply integrative potential of supervision emphasized by Searles (1955), Perry (2003), McGlashan (2003) and others rests largely on the maintenance of a mutual relationship in which closeness and distance are both accepted as complementary and equally valuable attributes. In closeness the supervisor comes alongside the supervisee and has an emotional and imaginative experience which, at some level, is analogous to what is happening in the therapeutic work. With distance the supervisor is able to evaluate, reflect and constructively criticize or ‘break the enchantment’ (Schaverien 2003) of over identification between analyst and patient. This evaluative function is often emphasized in organizations where supervisors take a monitoring role with close links to management and its structures. Indeed the word ‘supervision’, for most people outside the field of psychotherapy, is still associated with its historical roots as a term for the overseeing of work on the factory floor and a simple fixed hierarchical relationship. In analytic circles the word has been expanded to include what Gediman and Wolkenfield called the ‘complex multidirectional network’ (1980, p. 236) of influences between patient/therapist/supervisor, with dynamic shifts in distance and closeness. The supervisor's surrender to imagination also necessitates a temporary lowering of ego function as she/he has to allow stray associations and sensations to enter consciousness without censorship. This momentarily changes the hierarchical model in favour of greater mutuality and shared experience. The supervisor at times has to relinquish the bastion of the ego in the same way that this has to happen in the analyst in an analysis.

The term supervision has been universally adopted and is unlikely to be replaced by any other term but Perry (2003, p. 190) says:

The term ‘subvision’ may be more evocative since both supervisor and supervisee are concerned with what happens beneath surface consciousness. ‘Prismatic vision’ seems to me to be an even better name for the process.

He explains that prismatic vision is the process whereby material is brought to the consultation like undifferentiated white light which gains its visibility and colour when seen through the supervisory prism, or process.

The role of imagination in supervision is closely related to this idea of giving colour to experience which may be initially undifferentiated, white or grey. However imagination can be mercurial, shifting in its value so that it may sometimes appear as the ‘deceiving elf’ of fancy as in Keats's ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (1819) quoted above. This can happen when the supervisor and supervisee are enraptured in a joint fantasy which they forget to analyse and instead retreat into, thereby ignoring their subjectivity and the emergence of a third position. As Zinkin (1996, p. 247) states:

supervision is actually a shared fantasy… it works best if both remain aware that what they are jointly imagining is not true. Both can profit enormously … there is teaching and learning to be found in this joint imaginative venture.

My interpretation of Zinkin's contentious remark is that the imagination generates working hypotheses in supervision which can be negated, altered, extended as we go along but that if we are attached to defending their ‘truth’ at any stage we are probably in a defensive state of mind. He goes further by saying that this can be a folie รก deux where both supervisor and supervisee collude.

In exploring the role of imagination in supervision I will examine the differentiation between defensive and creative imaginative functions with particular reference to my work as a training supervisor for an analytic psychotherapy organization. This is linked with the use of a Jungian perspective which I have found particularly useful in the practice of supervision because the Jungian understanding of the ego-self relationship is congruent with openness to parallel process phenomena. The emergence of feelings, images, thoughts and atmospheres which derive from the patient in direct experience in supervision is most commonly called parallel process and is the factor which transforms supervision from a dyadic activity into a triadic one. In reality it often constellates as multi-layered, including the mirroring of dynamics in more than three relationships.

The Jungian conceptualization of an internal mutually rewarding communication between ego and self provides a frame for the techniques I describe in supervision. These are essentially the same as those used in analysis but need to be harnessed differently in order to avoid simply becoming analysis of the supervisee. The techniques are harnessed and the supervisor even ‘blinkered’ to achieve a focus only on the track ahead—that is the further understanding of the supervisee's work with a patient and excludes the analysis of other wider aspects of his/her personality, no matter how tempting it may be to go down that path. For example when supervising a supervisee who appears to be detached from his/her patient the supervisor may feel that this reflects an incapacity to connect with others on an emotional level. This may be a difficulty which is observable in the work with more than one patient over years, thus suggesting that the block lies within the supervisee's personality and is possibly part of a schizoid pattern. The temptation might be to interpret the defensive nature of the supervisee's pattern going deeper into its origins, relating it to the transference to the supervisor and to archetypal complexes. However this would erode the boundary between supervision and analysis and compromise the supervision. The supervisee would probably feel intruded into and any concurrent analysis going on elsewhere could be compromised. This situation can be an unconscious acting out of the supervisor's rivalry with the supervisee's analyst or simply an over-entanglement with the supervisee." (pp. 101-103)

Anna Bravesmith (2008). Supervision and Imagination. Journal of Analytical Psychology, Vol. 53, pp. 101-117

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