CSAR

Affect Regulation in the Supervisory Relationship
An Experiential Dynamic Approach

by Natasha Prenn

Affect regulation refers to the ability to maintain or increase positive feelings and well-being and to minimize or regulate stress feelings and defensive states. Here I want to focus on affect regulation in the supervisory relationship.

First, let me introduce myself to you: I am an AEDP therapist and supervisor; the theory and practice of AEDP—Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy—inform this blog.

Now a bit about AEDP.  Healing in orientation, AEDP’s experiential-relational approach synthesizes attachment research, emotion theory, somatic techniques, and affective neuroscience into a coherent theoretical framework. The AEDP therapist and supervisor explicitly focuses on the transformational interactions that take place within an emotionally regulated and regulating therapeutic or supervisory dyad. S/he seeks to provide positive new experiences in the here-and-now by micro-tracking the patient’s or supervisee’s somatic, emotional, and—most importantly for our purposes— relational experience.

In supervision, as in psychotherapy, therapists and clients develop and grow through novel, positive relational experiences. The same kinds of experiences and skills that transform us in our individual psychotherapies change us in our supervisory experiences. How do we promote new positively valenced interactions in supervision and minimize or regulate anxiety and defensive strategies?

I remember vividly my first transformational experience in supervision. I was struggling to help a client and I suspected that my interactions with her were being colored by my experiences with my rather unpredictable mother. As I talked about my mother in supervision, I was prepared for a neutral experience at best and, at worst, a feeling of shame or embarrassment.

Imagine my surprise when my supervisor leaned forward and said, “Oh, I am so glad you told me. I had a mother rather like that too.”

Her self-disclosure, her joining intervention, shifted how I felt. Shame and stress were replaced almost instantly with a sigh of relief, and instead of thinking, “How can I avoid embarrassment and criticism in supervision,” I thought, “How can I share more of myself in our meetings?” Her vulnerability allowed me to be more vulnerable. Her self-disclosure, her saying “Me too,” calmed my nervous system and created safety in that moment.

It was the first of many iterations of corrective emotional and relational experiences in supervision[1] that changed how I felt about myself and how I felt in my interactions with others.

My supervisor was not content with the look on my face.  Wanting to make further growthful use of our interaction, she explored further. How did it feel to know this about her, she asked; that she too had a mother a bit like mine?

“Oh! Relieved,” I said. “Thank you. Calmer, I think.”

“And, how is that, to feel calmer inside…physically, right now?”

“Solid,” I said. “I can breathe more deeply.  My spine feels straighter.”

This personal vignette introduces some of the skills we use in AEDP supervision and therapy to regulate affect.

Notice what my supervisor did: She self-disclosed judiciously on my behalf. She undid my potential feelings of aloneness and shame when she said “Me too.”

She affirmed my vulnerable self-disclosure to her and met it with her own vulnerability. And then she processed—or what we call in AEDP metaprocessed—my reaction to her self-disclosure. We learn more from our experiences when we are able to reflect on them. She then helped anchor this transformational experience—this shift inside of me, inside of her, and between us—by exploring and helping me know its markers somatically.

AEDP believes that most of our affect regulatory difficulties come from unwilled and unwanted unbearable aloneness[2] in the face of emotions that have historically overwhelmed us and that threaten – so our nervous systems believe—to do so again. That’s why the stance of an AEDP therapist and supervisor is to bring herself or himself into the relationship as affect regulating ballast from the very first moments of a very first meeting.

Supervision is an incredibly important experience and an opportunity for a pivotal relationship in the lives and careers of all psychotherapists. Yet there is comparatively little written about how to promote growthful and enjoyable experiences in supervision and how to maintain openness in supervisees— and supervisors! A supervisee recently wrote that AEDP supervision is different from other kinds of clinical supervision because it feels good[3]. When we roll up our sleeves and tackle helping clients together, the experience is invariably positive – and by positive I don’t mean happy, necessarily, but I do mean that it feels right.

Both in therapy and supervision we are helping people build their capacities to become more and more effective clinicians. We do this through our interpersonal interactions.  When the interaction between supervisor and supervisee goes well, both are transformed in the process.

 

Natasha Prenn, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, supervisor, speaker, and life coach. As a senior faculty member of the AEDP Institute (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), she was drawn to AEDP because of its explicit focus on how to help people change. She is a collector of therapy modalities, cataloguer of interventions that work and student of how to adapt to each and every client and supervisee.

Natasha, an engaging presenter, is noted for her ability to translate AEDP theory into user-friendly steps, and for her enthusiastic belief that the mechanisms of the magic of experiential-dynamic work are teachable and therefore learnable skills. Her obsession with languaging interventions and skills training has led to her co-authoring a monograph for APA: Supervision Essentials for Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. This book, which Natasha wrote with Diana Fosha, is filled with practical skills to wield the power of AEDP’s theory and practice into psychotherapy supervision.

Natasha pioneered the AEDP Essential Skills and Advanced Skills training courses. She is a founding editor of Transformance: The AEDP Journal, and the author of the forthcoming AEDP Skills Manual. Some of her articles and book chapters are available on the AEDP website.

 

[1] Ladany, N., Inman, A.G. et al. “Corrective relational experiences in supervision,” in Transformation in Psychotherapy: Corrective Experiences across Cognitive Behavioral, Humanistic, and Psychodynamic Approaches, (pp. 335-352), Castonguay, Louis G. (Ed); Hill, Clara E. (Ed). (2012).  American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

[2] Fosha, D. (2000). The Transforming Power of Affect: A Model for Accelerated Change. Basic Books, New York, NY.

[3] Prenn, N.C.N. & Fosha, D. (2016). Supervision Essentials for Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

January 30, 2017
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