[ Return to previous part of this chapter! ]Return to part 2 of this chapter (Examples; Case studies).

Examples 5 and 6. Message versus Metamessage

My last two examples are two similar cases, each of which focuses directly on the contrast between teaching something merely cognitively, and conveying "the same message" in an existentially consequential way. (To borrow a pair of terms from anthropology, perhaps with some change of sense though not of spirit, one might characterize this contrast as between "thin" and "thick" knowledge.)

All the previous examples have been concerned with the way in which self-reflection helps bring learning "alive." But these last examples show "in purer culture" the difference learning through self-application (a phrase which emphasizes the pragmatic aspect of self-reflection) can make. Two famous psychoanalytic educators, Harry Stack Sullivan and Erich Fromm, teach their students important (and entirely valid) lessons, including pointing out to the students dysfunctional consequences which follow from ignoring the lesson being taught. In each of the pedagogical situations to be examined, however, we will see that those exact consequences occur because the participants (including the famous teacher) fail to apply the lesson to the learning situation itself. In both cases, I will propose that the lesson could easily have been applied in and to the learning situation, self-reflectively, to both eliminate the dysfunction and effectively accomplish the pedagogical objective.

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Example 5. "Don't Waste Time Being Ashamed to Say Something!"

This example is from a transcript of a seminar given by Harry Stack Sullivan, who was a highly communication-oriented psychotherapist. Twenty-five years after the seminar occurred, the students who had participated (Sullivan was long deceased) reconvened and re-examined the original conversations. The published outcome of these subsequent conversations (Kvarnes, Ed., 1976) reproduces the original seminar proceedings, and adds the participants' later thoughts as they looked back and assessed what had happened.

In the seminar, the students presented case material, which Sullivan himself critiqued, as well as soliciting students' opinions about the material. At one point, the presenting student-therapist describes his patient's difficulty in speaking about certain, presumably for the patient, extremely "uncomfortable" (embarrassing, shameful, etc.) topics. Sullivan interjects:

...I am not going to give any tacit agreement about things in mind that are just too impossible to say. God, we have enough that won't be in mind without having this patient going through things that must not be said. The whole doctrine of reservations comes in here. What little I have learned about reservations is this... the damn thing can grind up an incredible amount of time by becoming a recurrent preoccupation. (Kvarnes, Ed., 1976, pp. 114-5)
In reviewing the seminar twenty-five years later, the participants noted that they had interacted with Sullivan as if they were far less competent than they were. They wondered why this had happened:
...there must have been some dynamic between him and the people in the group that made them be as fumbling as they were. Because, after all, there is a bunch of bright guys and some of these guys are out in left field.... (pp. 127-8)
At this point, another participant figures out the reason: "They are trying to say nothing" (p. 128).

The seminar participants had felt so intimidated by Sullivan that they just tried not to say anything that would get them in trouble. Thus the progress of the whole seminar was impeded by an unmentionable topic (the endeavor to avoid Sullivan's [anticipated] harsh judgment) -- in the same way as Sullivan was pointing out (in the seminar!) that therapy is impeded when a patient keeps not talking about something important. It may be coincidental (but then again, maybe not) that when, a little further on in their twenty-five years later reflections (p. 132), the participants comment about how well Sullivan spoke in the seminar, so that the task of editing it for publication would not be too difficult, one of them cites as an example of Sullivan's discourse which flows particularly well the piece I have quoted above, but starting after (i.e., omitting!) the first sentence where Sullivan said he didn't want any tacit agreements about things that won't be said (thus restricting the scope of Sullivan's proscription from situations in general to the particular client being studied).

Even in retrospect this "bunch of bright guys" do not see the self-reflective dimension of what was going on. They reach only to the point of recognizing that they felt intimidated by Sullivan's magisterial presence, and posthumously complimenting his not having "come across as an authoritarian figure in this seminar; [but rather] he comes across as having a genuine respect for relationships and the language and the process and so on" (p. 131).

It is often said that good will is not sufficient to make good therapy. It seems similar here. Sullivan's [hypothesized] kindness may have limited the adverse emotional effects of the interaction on the students, but it did not help the interaction produce significant pedagogical progress. Even in retrospect, nobody said:

Excuse me, but it looks like we're trying to avoid talking about something here and it's getting in the way of discussing this case, just like we've seen this patient we're talking about was doing in therapy. We won't get anywhere until we get what's standing in the way off our chests, just like he won't. And the reason is the same in both cases, too: we're both afraid of the consequences. Well, in our case, it's that we're afraid of your judgment, Dr. Sullivan, and we need to feel secure that if we say what we think and it's stupid, you'll help us understand better but not rub it in.
If Sullivan himself had seen what was going on (and, as the teacher, he really is the one who should have been able to help guide his students, rather than vice versa), he might have said:
Hey, you guys. You're trying to avoid something, and it's wasting our time here, just like the kind of patient I've been talking about wastes time in therapy. There's got to be trust in both situations so that we don't waste time this way in defensive maneuvers. I'm going to try to get the ball moving by guessing that you're afraid that if you really give me your opinions I'll criticize you and make you look stupid and you'll be embarrassed in front of each other. Let me see if I can handle the seminar situation so that won't happen, just like I'm trying to show you how to handle the therapy situation so that the same thing won't happen with the patient. Let's get it out so we can see it's not so awful, and, more important, so we can get beyond it.
Near the end of their retrospective discussion of the seminar, the participants do approach the idea that more attention to process might have been helpful, but with a misconception which shuts the door as soon as it is opened. They compare Sullivan's seminar with something which was fashionable at the time of their review (1972): sensitivity training, which was often [in my opinion] far more an introspective than a self-reflective communicative form. One participant speculates:
Well, a big question in this whole thing is, Can a task-oriented group also become a group-oriented group in order to enhance the effectiveness of working on the task? (p. 181)
Another replies:
Well, of course, nowadays I think people would be more sensitive to that. But isn't there always a question of how far you can go with that? At some point the orientation toward the group, as you indicated, would swallow up the whole--- (p. 181)
These speculations arise in the context of the participants reflecting on a particular interaction in the original seminar: The presenting student had said something which, because it was "uncomfortable material," all the other participants misheard in a way that made the original presenter look like he had done something stupid when in fact he had done well. Nobody, not even Sullivan or the presenter himself, had corrected the mishearing. In consequence, the whole seminar proceeded down a long path of argumentation about why the student committed and how he could correct his [in fact, nonexistent] mistake (pp. 150-2, 174).

To the respondent's speculation about the possibility of self-reflection "swallowing up the whole," the participant who broached the issue of the potential role of self-reflection replies: "Right. No question of it" (p. 181). --This fear, that reflecting on the process in which one is engaged necessarily leads to involutional self-absorption, is, it seems to me, a major impediment to my proposal (like its Husserlean-phenomenological base!) really getting a fair testing out. The evidence accumulated in this dissertation, however, weighs in the opposite direction: that when the ongoing process is not attended to, if the unfolding communicative interaction does not fortuitously happen to go well, then, as in fact happened in the interaction the seminar participants were here reflecting on, the process is likely to be swallowed up by its inattended internal dynamics.

[ Return to TOC! ]Return to Brad McCormick's dissertation Table of Contents.

Example 6. "Intimidation By Authority Figures Causes Trouble!"

My last example comes from a therapist, Alan Grey's, description of his experience of being supervised by Erich Fromm (Grey, 1993). The first case Grey brings to the supervision is a man, a "journalist... compulsive, acerbic, and unremittingly dissatisfied with everything... [especially] his treatment results.... His every communication echoed with disparagement of [Grey's] professional contribution or of [Grey's] person" (p. 645). Apparently, a client Grey was having difficulty treating -- ergo, a case very much in need of supervisory assistance.

In his interaction with Fromm about this case, Grey felt reduced to despair. Fromm impatiently told Grey what was happening in the case, insisting: "Isn't it obvious? [The patient] regards himself as a package, a commodity..." (p. 645). Grey couldn't understand what Fromm was telling him; Grey found Fromm's explanations "absolutely bewildering" (p. 645). On the other hand, Grey could not simply dismiss Fromm's assertions as wrong, because Grey believed Fromm's "ideas were opening new vistas in psychoanalysis" (p. 645). Grey explains how the impasse was finally overcome:

After a few more sessions of existential turmoil for me, somehow we shifted to another case. It may have been a deliberate mutual decision. In any event, subsequent meetings came closer to my initial hopes for understandable challenges. No longer was there cause to agonize over an impasse so foreign to my comprehension as to shake trust in my own immediate experience. (p. 645)
We may ask whether it was merely passage of time or also the stressfulness of the experience which caused Grey to be unable to remember exactly how he and Fromm handled the situation. It seems reasonable to infer, however, that the "turmoil" was not resolved in a way which Grey experienced as reparative, cathartic, etc. (he would have been unlikely to forget that). It seems the problem was not resolved at all, but rather circumvented by "shifting" to doing something else (a far more easily forgettable, because less clearly articulated process). Looking back many years later, Grey sees that he had been intimidated by Fromm, although, at least as I read Grey's reflections, Grey still continues to see the problem as situated in himself and not in his teacher:
Looking back brings with it a question about what deterred my customary argumentativeness in defense of my own views. In answer, Fromm's image rises once again to my mind's eye. There he sits with his air of utter conviction, a presence both awesome and dismaying. (pp. 645-6)
Grey adds that he has encountered accounts by other therapists who experienced Fromm's "no-nonsense style" (p. 646), but who had been able to "[take] it more in stride" (p. 646). This too sounds like the student blaming his own personal limitations for the difficulty he experienced. Grey then offers a defense of Fromm:
Had Fromm been less assured, he would have found it difficult to maintain his productive iconoclasm during an era of prevailing psychoanalytic dogmatism. (p. 646)
Grey's next remark, with which he brings these reminiscences to a close, seems somewhat unclear in its reference:
Much of Fromm's writing was addressed to the kinds of themes suggested by our early supervisory encounter -- culturally generated character patterns, nonproductive relations to authority, the link between human needs and social values. (p. 646)
Does Grey here show some sense, at least in retrospect, that Fromm had been subjecting him, in the supervision, to the same kind of authoritarian forms against which Fromm theoretically argued eloquently? (Or is Grey referring all these themes solely to theory of therapy, i.e., to Fromm's non-self-reflective teaching about what happens outside the supervisory situation? Is the ambiguity I [think I] detect "unconscious" on Grey's part? There is no evidence about this in the article.) It does seem clear that Grey was not cognizant of any such irony at the time he was in supervision with Fromm: The two had talked about liberating human existence from authoritarianism; their talking itself took place under authoritarian conditions, in which the student found himself, due to the esteem in which he held his teacher, both doubting his own immediate experience and unable to dismiss firm opinions offered by his teacher which he could not understand. Nowhere, apparently, did Fromm say to the student anything such as: "You are intimidated by me. That's what I'm talking about here."

Grey notes that Fromm did not believe it routinely important in therapy to focus on the therapist's contribution to the patient's emotional responses to the therapist, and that Fromm advised that the primary focus of therapeutic inquiry should be the patient's life outside therapy (pp. 669-70). Prima facie, this orientation makes sense, insofar as the patient's troubles arise from interaction with dysfunctional factors in the outside world, and also must be resolved there. It is analogous to the orientation which believes supervision should focus on the student-therapist's work with his or her patients.

Of course the primary goal of therapy is external to the therapeutic situation: to reorganize the patient's life in a more satisfying way. The primary goal of supervision, similarly, is external to the supervisory situation: to enable the supervisee to be a more effective therapist. Grey characterizes Fromm's treatment style as "direct" (p. 670), and his supervisory style as "no-nonsense" (p. 646); he speaks in these regards of Fromm's "honesty" (p. 670). According to Grey's description, it does seem Fromm's style was direct and honest in the sense that Fromm stated unpleasant facts about a patient's life or a supervisee's work to the person bluntly. That style, however, also passes over in silence (which is not direct and, if intentional, would not be honest) the relationship between therapist and patient, or supervisor and supervisee. On account of the disjuncture between the explicit message verbally conveyed and the implicit message deutero-taught by the interaction as a whole, this style may not so "directly" lead to the hoped-for changes in the orientation in life of the persons so addressed.

Somewhat analogous to the concern we saw in the Sullivan example that self-reflection in supervision might lead to the supervisory process becoming involuted and losing instead of strengthening its connection with helping the supervisee become a better therapist, Grey presents a criticism of Fromm's failure to engage with the ongoing interaction, from a perspective which minimizes the apparent importance of such engagement:

Schecter, for instance, said that although Fromm's honesty helped the patient to distinguish between fantasy and reality, it also created a problem. It impeded one's need "to be allowed to fully develop and express his most dependent and infantile feelings in the analysis before he can face them and find alternatives for his life" (1981, p. 478). This assumes, of course, that infantile dependency is the crux of the therapeutic task for all patients, and also that directness in this matter necessarily inhibits the patient's awareness. (p. 670)
At least in the present example, we have seen, to the contrary, that Fromm's style [iatrogenically] produced so-called "dependent and infantile feelings": self-doubt and uncomprehending respect for the authority figure's assertions. I propose that self-reflection in the relationship could have led in another direction: Had Fromm been really direct, instead of allowing Grey to continue confusedly and anxiously in his submission to authority, had Fromm told Grey: "I have intimidated you. You are treating me as an authority figure...", then Grey might have been freed to have the experience of a more adult kind of interpersonal relating, in terms of which to understand Fromm's theories about freedom and authority in a more authentic way, with significant effects both for his general orientation in life, and in his work with his patients' problems with authority (e.g., the patient whom Fromm "directly" told Grey regarded himself as "a package, a commodity," but which instruction at the time only made Grey feel shamefully bewildered).

The value of self-reflection in supervision or therapy does not assume that "infantile dependency is the crux of the therapeutic task for all patients" (or supervisees); it sees the crux more in being self-accountable [a.k.a.: adult] in the present. Neither is self-reflection a way of avoiding directness of expression; it does argue against a kind of pseudo-directness which may be shocking but obscures the context of discourse and thus contributes to mystification (indeed, the shockingness can rhetorically contribute to the mystification, as a bomb set off in one place may distract the police from a robbery occurring nearby).

Grey himself notes that a number of Fromm's former supervisees, including himself, took the path in therapeutic style which I have here advocated for supervision, of focusing more self-reflectively on the ongoing interaction itself:

While such practices go beyond Fromm's explicit advice, they are logical extensions from his own innovations. It seems hardly a coincidence that so many of those influenced by him took that logical step. (p. 670)
Grey allows that some persons were inhibited by Fromm's manner, as he himself was in presenting his first patient in supervision (p. 670). He proposes that, by "spell[ing] out screening criteria for potential patients... Fromm was recognizing that not everyone was responding to his methods" (p. 670). "Given the wide variation in possible human psychological difficulties," Grey concludes, "it is likely that a varied repertoire of treatment methods is called for. Fromm substantially expanded our repertoire as well as our understanding of human nature. Different strokes help different folks" (p. 670).

This example raises some of the issues which seem to urge focus upon self-reflection and cultivation of self-accountability in the supervisory relationship (and in human relationships more generally). What, in retrospect, appear to have been "logical steps" may instead have been strongly motivated reactions (or even just adventitious conjunctions, for instance, of the same persons also having been influenced by Harry Stack Sullivan who was another founder of the William Alanson White Institute with which many of them were associated). If, as Grey says, Fromm was affirmatively opposed to focusing on the ongoing communicative interaction in therapy or supervision, it is at least a reasonable possibility that those of his students who later adopted a more self-reflective orientation were engaged in a larger dialectical process which, in retrospect, may be interpreted [reasonably] as a "logical" extension of his theories, but which Fromm himself may never have anticipated. From an epistemological (and humane) perspective, it may not matter greatly how, so long as we arrive at ideas which turn out to be useful, since, if we extend our gaze to the broader context, we always encounter that sustaining background of beliefs we hold because we were socialized into them as children. From the perspective of this dissertation, that, of course, is all the more reason to reflect on everything.

The "different strokes help different folks" nostrum seemingly fits in with such a humanistic eclecticism. If Fromm elaborated criteria for screening those who might benefit from his style, that could, on the other hand, be a way of helping protect a dubious enterprise from as thorough as possible evaluation. Fromm's style clearly did not work very well with Grey's supervision, in which, as frequently happens in supervisory relationships with less renowned supervisors, the participants maneuver until they find noetic territory which, although far less than optimal from a pedagogical perspective, at least allows the supervision to proceed in a mutually tolerable way for both parties (as here, it is generally the supervisee who does most of the maneuvering, in such a way as not to cause the supervisor to become aware of it[, just as patients often try to soothe their therapists for the disappointments and hurts the therapist causes the patient...]).

Grey characterizes himself as "inhibited" by his experience. We don't learn what happened with that initial patient whose diagnosis by Fromm triggered Grey's distress. It is at least plausible to speculate (1) that it was irrelevant whether Fromm's diagnosis was cognitively "on target," since it altogether missed the real target of enlightening and helping Grey, (2) that if Grey made any headway with the patient's treatment it was despite not because of the supervision, whereas (3) had Grey and Fromm been able to work through Grey's feeling (my words:) "boxed in" in the supervision, then (4) Grey might have gained insight which would have led to increased empathy for and understanding of this patient -- at the least, Grey would have gained some new energy and ideas to try to open up the "package" in which the patient was trapping himself (the "Hawthorne effect" also applies in psychotherapy and its supervision: sometimes persons "improve" simply because somebody takes an interest in them, even if, "objectively" that interest is based on wrong theory). It seems an important therapeutic, as well as pedagogical opportunity was lost, when Grey and Fromm shifted the supervision to a more tractable case. Furthermore, their very success in this modified interaction ("subsequent meetings came closer to [Grey's] initial hopes for understandable challenges" (p. 645)) hides the initial failure. Since likely the new case was less difficult than the first one, part of what is hidden is the fact that this success was of far less [pedagogical and therapeutic] value than that forgotten failure, thus making evidence for the relative poverty of such activity look like evidence for its potency ("crescit eundo"...).

Further speculations arise concerning learning about human freedom via authoritarian communicative interaction (this is an issue which, of course, is theoretically relevant for Fromm, with his strong advocacy of human authenticity and autonomy). I am reminded of Nietzsche's dictum that what doesn't kill me makes me stronger. Did "I" become stronger because of the experience, or despite it? What about the "cost" in terms of resources consumed and opportunities foregone (when does the learning experience become a Pyrrhic victory?)? What about those learners who succumb? Submissive (deutero-learning) of a theory of human freedom might even produce dogmatic liberals (when Fromm asked Grey: "Isn't it obvious?", was he deutero-teaching his "productive iconoclasm" as [albeit a new] "psychoanalytic dogmatism" (pp. 645-6)?)....

As throughout this dissertation, it is appropriate to reemphasize here that all assertions about a particular example are perforce speculative, because we cannot bring the persons before us and really discuss the matter with them (even if we could, we still could not definitively elucidate the past experience reported in the example, but only our new interaction, "here-and-now"). The examples -- all examples in the human sciences -- have ultimately limited use, because the same situation cannot recur. Therefore the primary use of examples is not to "get the example itself exactly right," but to help strengthen and enrich our capacity for dealing with changing and often unforeseeable situations. In this example, I argue we can help prepare ourselves for the future by imagining, when Fromm asked Grey: "Isn't it obvious?", the upshot of (1) Grey saying to Fromm:

No, Dr. Fromm, I'm sorry, but it's not obvious to me. I'm having trouble following you, and I'm having trouble dealing with this whole situation because of the awe I feel toward you. You talk about submission to authority and all these things I believe are very important. [pause] Excuse me, I really hesitate to say this, but here I think I find myself having a problem dealing with your authority.
Or (2) Fromm saying to Grey:
I may be wrong, but it doesn't look to me like it is obvious to you, Grey. Now I believe in human autonomy and responsibility, and you don't seem to be being very autonomous or responsible at the moment. How can I take responsibility, right here and now, to foster what I believe in?

Are you intimidated by me, Grey? It's hard for me to see it, sitting here in the supervisor's seat, but I've got to admit that if I was in your chair, I might feel pretty frustrated.

Come on! Let's look at what's going on between us, and maybe I can learn better how to foster human freedom and autonomy like I write about in my books, and you can learn what I'm trying to tell you about how to help your patient become freer and more autonomous. We may even find that one reason you are confused is not just that I've intimidated you, and failed to make my explanation clear to you, but because what I was trying to teach you wasn't so great.

Read examples of the peremptory discourse of petty power in daily life.
[ Return to TOC! ]Return to Brad McCormick's dissertation Table of Contents.

Some Reflections on the Examples

The examples I have chosen mostly operate in a gray area between manifestly successful and manifestly unsuccessful communication. To continue with the last example, if Fromm's style was to be blunt, it was not to be frustratingly bewildering. In each example, two (or more) persons engaged in situationally defined interactions, so that, had the situation been different, their styles would also have manifested themselves differently. Had Grey begun his supervision with the second case, Fromm's directness might have come across from the first as stimulating and challenging. Even without thematized self-reflection, a lot of communicative interactions turn out well (a challenge with which this dissertation is concerned is that not all do).

As it turned out, after Grey and Fromm shifted to that second case, Grey felt he did get a good learning experience. Similarly with the other examples [except perhaps #4]: I have not criticized failures (or worse, disasters), but rather communicative situations where, both from the participants' perspective and ours, productive work was done -- but the process and/or its results were vaguely unsatisfying, and the participants saw no way to transform the situation into something exemplary. Part of what I am calling the "vaguely unsatisfying" tone of the examples is that the participants generally did not even try to make the interaction exemplary, but, if anything, were relieved to succeed merely in having the interaction run its course untraumatically. I have further pointed out how, in such situations, real but relatively small accomplishments can cause the participants to forget larger tasks and the failure successfully to deal with them.

The traditional method of psychoanalytic training and supervision, despite its authoritarian tilt, has worked well enough to achieve its main aim, which is to graduate competent analysts. Because it works and because it is subject neither to internal nor external pressure to change, like any ongoing system, it is likely to resist change. (Epstein, 1986, p. 408)
I believe I have shown a way that the system could be improved, by greater attention to the ongoing communicative process in supervision. Because every choice is a selection of "this" option from among (i.e.: in the context of) all the known alternatives, insofar as persons become more cognizant of self-reflective options, they will find themselves in differently shaped situations, so that they will no longer be able to make exactly the same choices as before [(because they will now be aware of previously unknown alternatives)].

The theoretical framework in terms of which I have proposed the re-scripted examples is: Where unaccountable, impersonal, unwitting process was, there self-accountable, responsible action could have become (Freud's dictum which is more usually translated: "Where id was, there ego shall be"). In order for these developments to be able to arise from within interactions rather than requiring a deus ex machina in each case, I argue that an appreciation of this theoretical framework needs to be incorporated [(literally: made part of their bodily insertion in life...)] by the interactants themselves.

The effective motivation for anyone adopting this notion will not likely and probably should not be an abstract argument, but rather its value in experience: One salient attribute of each of the rescripts would have been an existential epiphany of mutual recognition for the participants in their "here-and-now"s, i.e., an experience of richly satisfying human relationship at this point in their respective days.[1] In each case, the key test of the theory would be whether it made the persons involved feel better in the situation, whether it energized them to deal more "synergistically" with the matter at hand (the supervisee's case work), etc. To return to Grey and Fromm, I imagine, instead of, quasi-amnestically, having written that "somehow we shifted...", Grey might have clearly recalled something like:

We went on for a few sessions of what I can only describe as existential turmoil for me, and which I can't remember clearly because it wasn't clear at the time. But then I remember Fromm being quiet and looking at me penetratingly, and everything just came to a kind of stop. And he said: "I think you're confused, and I think you feel intimidated by me. You've been treading water and I've just kept talking on. I apologize to you for taking so long to notice how our interaction has been pushing you further and further into a corner...." All of a sudden, I no longer felt hopeless, and we began mutually to talk about the difficulties I was having with my patient....
Because these experiences would have been not merely undergone but also thematically reflected upon and "mined" for their pedagogical and larger humane value, another important consequence would be to enhance the participants' expectations of life and their efficacy in "going after" these good things, both in general, and in their roles as therapists vis-à-vis their patients (I like Alice Miller's characterization of the therapist as the patient's: advocate (Miller, 1979/1986, pp. viii-ix, 66), in this connection).

In each case, a communicative situation which was relatively "thin," "narrow," "opaque" (etc.) would have been opened up to greater clarity and wider possibilities for future action; anxiety would have been reduced and the supervisee's self-confidence enhanced; etc. These benefits would have hap- pened because, in fact, the conversants self-reflectively cultivated the conversation in which they were engaged, in terms of bringing that conversation to account for itself. The next step would be for the participants to become clearly aware that this is what they had done, and then to resolve intentionally to pursue such cultivation of their conversation as one of their relationship's [(their lives'!)] continuing themes. Their communicative interaction would then become self-accountable conversation, the precise shape of which would cooperatively emerge through their mutual creative endeavor of cultivating it (part of the self-accountability of their conversation would be the participants' being able to account, both to themselves and also to others, for their conversation's self-accountability, in terms of their productive activity in having shaped and continuing to shape it as self-accountable conversation...).

On the other hand, these benefits for the participants in the supervisory interaction, in each case, were shown to be potentially productive for the supervisee's work with clients (and, e.g., in example #2, for the supervisor's professional development too). In some cases the material worked through in the supervisory interaction applied directly to the supervisee's handling of the specific therapeutic case material under discussion at the moment (e.g., example #1). In example #6, what was in question was enabling the case needing supervision to continue to be supervised. This example provides direct evidence to counter the concern of the participants in the Sullivan case seminar that attention to the supervisory process necessarily leads to slighting the patient. (Of course, such involution can occur; then one thing it is needful for supervisor and supervisee to reflect on why their own relationship has become so "all absorbing".... [--The prophylaxis for the irrationality in our self-[mis-]understanding is to redouble our commitment to understand "it all".])

In all cases, insight which should prove valuable in a wide variety of therapy situations was brought forth. In each case, what the supervisee acquired was not "theoretical knowledge," which he or she would then have to figure out how to apply. Rather, in each case, the learner gained real experience of the lesson(s) being "taught," and then [in conversation / the experience of conversation] worked through what he or she had experienced to a richer theoretical understanding and self-confident orientation to whatever might happen in therapy (or in other areas of life). The rescriptings transformed the examples into "mutative" experiences. I think the kind of learning exemplified in my rescripts of the examples illustrates that particularly valuable kind of development which we call growth in wisdom.

These are only examples. But each is representative of kinds of situations which occur frequently in supervision (and other areas of life) and is also imaginatively evocative. Such "opportunities" may be ubiquitous, since every communicative content ("message"), no matter what it is "about," occurs in a context which can be reflected upon and its implicit horizon ever further elucidated. As example #3 illustrated, anything a person says in a particular situation, even if its manifest content has nothing whatever to do with the situation in process, may "also" be a commentary on that process: the speaker has, after all, chosen to say just these words [about whatever "external" matter] to his or her interlocutor, in just this way, and, always, there were alternatives (if only in facial gestures, tone of voice, etc.) (see, e.g., Gill, 1982, chap. 5).

When I started looking for these situations in the literature, they started "popping up all over the place." When I started looking for examples in life, they started cropping up there too. Where I feel safe, however, I try to implement my notion of how conversation should be self-reflective and self-accountable (i.e., I try to participate in construction of self-accountable conversation), in preference to collecting more examples of how it might have been but was not. For one example, once, in presenting some of my early ideas for this dissertation to Dr. Basescu, I said something [as best I can remember] like:

I'm afraid that, with all your experience, you will see how naive these ideas of mine are. But I've got to try to accept that, and tell you anyway, so that I can get your feedback. (It's better I find out from you my ideas are all wrong than from somebody with real power over me.) Part of what I am claiming is that often supervisees do not deal with certain issues in supervision for precisely this reason of not wanting to be embarrassed, and I'm arguing that this is something the supervisor has to help the supervisee overcome, in part, by pointing it out to the supervisee. Which, I propose, is an instance of what I'm doing here with you.
Once again, I emphasize that the primary value I see in having presented the foregoing examples will be if it enriches persons' freedom and scope of imagination to enable them to be increasingly effective in their communicative interactions, by knowing more what is possible, and that always more is possible, and that, in [the transcendental even if not factual-social universality of] conversation they are not alone in trying to realize these good things.

I hope the very aspiration of supervisors and supervisees to try to make their communicative interaction self-accountable would preclude such situations as example #4 ever arising in supervision [(or anywhere else!)] in the first place. My examples have mostly been rather "serious," not in the sense that the client material being dealt with in the supervision was grave, but rather the tone of the supervisory conversation (one exception is the laugh I evoke at the end of example #3). I propose that this seriousness of tone was largely due to the fact that in each case a "difficult communicative situation" was being resolved. A consequence should be that the supervisory situation is "freed up" so that, among other good things, the supervisee can "play" with thoughts about his or her cases. Another way reality should differ from the examples is that, in exploring their conversation with the background here provided, real conversants, if they found themselves in situations similar (even better: not so similar) to the examples, would recognize this, and say to themselves and each other things like: "Ah! We see again that we were unwittingly enacting in our interaction...", or "Hummh! I wonder if we can learn something from looking at what you just said and my response to it...." Such observations should fuel further elaboration of the process by the participants themselves, thus helping the process of self-accountable conversation become self-facilitating -- and more real.

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[1[ Return to footnote trigger! ]] Alfred Schutz offers an evocative image of such sharing of life: "What we mean, then, by the simultaneity of two durations or streams of consciousness is simply... the phenomenon of growing older together" (1932/1967, p. 103; italics in original) (this image was recalled to my attention by Professor Emeritus Maxine Greene).

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Copyright © 1998 Brad McCormick, Ed.D.
bradmcc@cloud9.net [ Email me! ]
14 March 2006 [07 August 1999]
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