A Story In Two Parts: A Supervisee’s Tale Part 2

Part 2: Rupture and Repair

Last week, I did something that felt pretty vulnerable and shared on this blog about my relationship with my supervisor during internship/post doc, the special connection we have and the ways in which we used Radically Open Dialectical Behavior Therapy (RODBT) in supervision. There were many parts of this RODBT influenced journey we took together that were amazing, but being radically open and growing is also a painful process. It requires challenging long held beliefs, acknowledging fallibility, taking responsibility for personal reactions and emotions, and grieving cherished convictions. Radical openness helps us realize there may be areas of our life that need to change. RODBT also suggests that conflict is a part of any true, intimate relationship and if a relationship lacks conflict it may reflect that the relationship is superficial. My relationship with my supervisor had its share of ruptures.

Many of the things I described in the last post, such as the level of self-disclosure both my supervisor and I shared with each other, differs from some more traditional ideas about supervision, supervisor/supervisee roles, appropriate boundaries and multiple relationships. RODBT holds that therapists sometimes stretch their personal limits in order to connect with clients and I think the same concept may apply to supervisors and supervisees. Our relationship was different from the “typical” supervisory relationship and did contain boundary crossings. As we worked together in a deeper way, we learned more about each other personally during what happened to be a period of significant, life altering transitions in both our lives. In the same week I found out I was going to be a mother, my supervisor’s mother died. We worked together during my pregnancy, first year of motherhood, and a miscarriage, as well as my supervisor’s mother’s last months of life, death and her first year living without her. We supported each other as we dealt with loss, role transitions and life adjustments. At times, supervision was emotionally charged for both of us and a few times, we both cried in our supervision sessions. We informally socialized outside of work and text messaged each other, often not about work related issues.

While our interactions did not feel inappropriate to either of us, I was aware that as a supervisee, I was vulnerable in a different way than my supervisor because supervisory relationships are inherently evaluative and hierarchical. Sometimes, I felt more like my supervisor’s friend and found navigating our roles within the social context of our workplace, where my supervisor is also an administrator, confusing. It also felt like as the person with more power, she had control of deciding when we could be friends and when we had to be in more “professional” roles, which made me feel powerless at times. I was also aware of imagining that other trainees and clinical staff had thoughts or judgments about my relationship with my supervisor and was resentful that others may think I was getting special treatment due to favoritism, which I felt undermined the effort and dedication I put into my training. After feedback from other team members, my supervisor tried to establish more rigid boundaries with me. This abrupt shift in boundaries made me, an OC person sensitive to threat, feel rejected. I also felt foolish like I had read more into the relationship than actually existed and angry with her for putting me in this position. All of these emotions started to negatively affect my ability to participate in supervision.

Since I tend to be conflict avoidant, at first I considered saying nothing and trying to pretend we were fine. However, due to my attempts to “practice what I preach” and implement RODBT skills in my life and the commitments we had made to each other about discussing conflict in the supervisory alliance, I felt able, although very nervous, to directly address these issues with my supervisor. My supervisor’s receptivity and ability to listen nondefensively, acknowledge her mistakes, apologize and work with me to figure out a way to repair showed me that I mattered to her. I was able to own what I had contributed to the situation. This experience was the most impactful interaction of our supervisory experience by far. The relationship did not repair instantly and it was a painful process that we both admitted we sometimes wanted to avoid. Being OC, we both had an urge to abandon and transition me to another supervisor. We had to hold each other accountable to remaining open and sticking it out. As someone who sometimes struggles to maintain relationships, it was transformative for me that we were able to stay “in it” and work it out. It helped me learn how to work through alliance ruptures with clients, helped my personal relationships, and allowed me to reflect on my own boundaries and self-disclosures with clients, colleagues and my future supervisees when I am in the role of supervisor.

This relationship has been life changing for me. I saw the RODBT concepts come alive as we lived the skills. As we expressed more vulnerability with each other, it enhanced our relationship. The way we repaired our rupture enriched and deepened our relationship and taught us important lessons about ourselves. We both courageously faced things we didn’t want to admit or change about ourselves in order to grow. She taught me about tribe and belonging. She helped me begin to focus more on the roses in situations and in my life rather than the thorns.

I just recently finished my formal training with this supervisor, but I know we will stay connected and we promised each other to continue being brave and open and celebrating self-discovery together. I am so grateful for her and for the opportunity to learn and live RODBT. Isn’t is wonderful? 🙂

About the author: Christina Contrastano, PsyD, BC-DMT

Christina has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is pursing her license in the state of New Jersey. She is also a board-certified dance/movement therapist and has a strong interest in clinical applications of polyvagal theory. She was introduced to RODBT while on internship at Rowan University Counseling and Psychological Services in 2016. She stayed at Rowan CPS for a postdoctoral fellowship and was part of their first ever RODBT Consultation Team. In September 2018, she will begin working at Family Health and Wellness Services, a group practice in Summit, NJ that specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. She hopes to bring RODBT to the adolescents and adults there and continue to collaborate with her tribe at Rowan on RODBT research and projects.