Training Program Turns Tables On Therapists: Clients Offer Insight On Therapists' Skills

September 18, 1997

ATHENS, Ga. -- A program developed by a College of Family and Consumer Sciences professor at the University of Georgia allows counseling clients to "turn the tables" on their therapists.

"By directly obtaining feedback from clients about their experience of the therapy events and the therapist's actions, the therapist and supervisor are better able to focus their energy on helping the client," said Bill Quinn, a FACS professor who will present his project at the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists meeting Sept. 20 in Atlanta.

In this new style of supervision, clients are invited to meet with their therapists' supervisor and view one of their therapy sessions on videotape.

"The clients hold the remote control and stop the tape whenever they want to comment on something that occurred during the session," Quinn explained. "This enables them to step back from the session, react to what impacted them the most, and explain what they thought or felt at various points."

The session between the client and supervisor also is videotaped and later used by the therapist and supervisor to explore a variety of issues, Quinn said.

The benefit of incorporating client voices in supervision, according to Quinn, is the elimination of guessing on the part of the supervisor and therapist as to what a client was thinking or feeling at a particular point in therapy.

As an example, he describes a session that involved the mother of a toddler who was considering placing her child in day-care.

"During the interview, the client stopped the tape at a point where the therapist was offering a number of day-care options," Quinn said. "The client explained that what she really needed at that point was to explore the emotional issues of placing her child in day-care, not the practical issues."

By seeing the video of the client and supervisor, the therapist was able to realize that he sometimes was too quick to find a concrete way to "fix" a problem, rather than exploring all facets of an issue.

While clients are sometimes critical, Quinn said his experience has shown they generally have a positive feeling toward their counselor.

"Mostly clients are confirming their therapists," he said. "I'd say the positive comments outweigh the negatives 3-1."

But the client's involvement is not just about what is positive or negative, Quinn said. It's also about allowing clients to explain themselves, which helps the therapists increase their understanding of the therapy process.

Quinn said he has used client-based interviews at all stages of therapy.

"We've done it a short time after a client's begun therapy, at times when the therapist is feeling stuck' as to how to best help a client, even following highly emotional sessions," he said. "Clients seem to recognize that this provides an opportunity to help their therapist and, in effect, to help themselves."


University of Georgia

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