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A Team Approach
One of the great ironies of our profession is that therapists, those maestros and apostles of connection, so often toil away in isolation. According to University of Ottawa psychologist David Pare, the usual attempts to break out of that isolation—supervision and consultation groups, agency staff meetings, workshops, and conferences—often are inadequate because they don't provide the immediate engagement that comes from vigorous, empathic, ongoing discussion that blends the personal with the intellectual. Now Pare and a few colleagues believe they've found a way to enhance therapists' sense of connection and rekindle their excitement in new discoveries: Collaborative Practice Groups (CPGs), biweekly or monthly meetings of up to 12 practitioners that use various approaches of the reflecting teams developed by therapists Tom Andersen and Michael White.
Pare believes that reflecting teams, originally used in supervision, encourage the kind of nonjudgmental, open-ended inquiry that avoids the competitive quest for a single answer or a collectively uniform point of view. At each meeting, a member presents a topic—a case, a new therapy approach, clinically relevant research, sometimes even a live session. The reflecting team then shares their reactions and thoughts with one another, scrupulously avoiding any judgments. The notion is that such freewheeling discussions without the immediate need to respond to or "solve" a problem encourage new ways of thinking and a more generative dialogue that can lead to new meanings and possibilities.
In one recent CPG, a counselor working with teenage mothers in assisted living expressed the lack of support she felt treating such a tough, vulnerable population. As the reflecting team shared their thoughts and reactions, one agency supervisor realized that she herself had been so busy and focused on problem-solving that she'd become disconnected from her supervisees. She returned to her agency with the understanding that, even though she'd answered her staff's questions, she hadn't been supportive because, she was simultaneously communicating that she didn't really have time for them.
"We were worried when we set up the groups that people would feel the process of reflection took up too much time," says Christine Novy, a CPG facilitator. "Instead we've found the reflecting team approach actually saves time." After the discussion described above, not only did the supervisor come to an important insight, but the counselor who'd been feeling so much at sea realized that if she stopped trying to provide all the answers, her clients might be better able to come up with some of their own.