The psychological aspect of supervision
University of Helsinki
(Report from the Lisbon Congress round table on supervision, September 2004. Convenor: Andrew Chesterman)
I discussed some of the psychological aspects of supervision, based on a Finnish book I had read when I started supervising, and which I found very helpful. The book is
Juha T. Hakala 1996. Opinnäyte ja sen ohjaaminen (‘The thesis and its supervision’). Helsinki: Gaudeamus.
Hakala places his analysis of the supervision relationship in the context of three historical cases.
(a) Socrates, who relied on conversation, forced his “students” to justify their claims and positions, offered no ready answers, and aimed to stimulate thought.
(b) Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci: master and apprentice. Verrocchio maintained a strict discipline (> time managament, targets), taught by example, and encouraged teamwork and cooperation between master and apprentice.
(c) Freud and Jung: not a model relationship! Freud’s authoritarian attitude led to conflict and eventually to Jung’s rebellion.
Hakala’s own analysis of the supervision relation is based on three role models, which somehow need to be combined. These models are partly the result of his own empirical work and questionnaire studies, and partly adapted from other research in organization psychology.
Counsellor. This role requires sensitivity to the emotional dimension, to the student’s life situation, encouragement; trust; a counsellor is a good listener. He/she creates a positive atmosphere and positive attitudes. But a counsellor is not a therapist.
Instructor. An instructor gives practical advice, help with formal requirements, style, problem-solving, evident weaknesses. He/she aims at a balance between convergent (> explanatory) and divergent (creative, fresh) thinking, which may be needed at different stages in the research process.. A key notion is critical thinking.
Evaluator. This role may clash with the others, but the supervisor has to give both positive and negative feedback. This role may arouse fear, because the supervisor obviously uses power in this role. A good evaluator underlines the objectives of the thesis.
Supervision can be difficult in situations where these roles seem to clash.
Hakala’s own research indicated that supervisors themselves thought that their main weaknesses concerned their ability to advise on methodology issues (the instructor role). Students, on the other hand, complained mainly about their supervisors’ lack of psychological and communication skills (the counsellor role).