The Lift 001 | So . . . we should write a book!
This episode is worth 0.5 BACB Supervision CEUs
Join hosts Dr. Linda LeBlanc & Dr. Tyra Sellers as they describe the motivation for the creation of the book on supervision focusing on the importance of high-quality supervision for trainees, clients, and the field at large. This is even more important given the shift to more junior people in the profession with our current growth trajectory. The podcast focuses on the importance of discussing supervision in terms of relationships that are both collaborative and bi-directional in influence. Distinctions are made between the terms: supervisor, mentor, and sponsor.
What you’ll learn in the course and be able to do afterward
- Attendees will be able to identify the percentage of our field that has been certified for under 4 years
- Attendees will be able to identify the pitfalls of supervision that is overly transactional rather than transformational in nature
- Attendees will be able to identify the differences between the terms supervisor, mentor, and sponsor
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (00:00):
Welcome to The Lift with Linda Leblanc and Tyra Sellers. Today we're going to be telling you about our decision to write a book and the content of our first chapter of our book on mentoring and supervision. Tyra, let's tell them a little bit about how the book came about.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (00:26):
Alrighty. Let's see. I suppose the ingredients are two friends, colleagues. One who was a supervisor of the other. You put those together with a bunch of ideas and one of them says, "Hey, Linda, what do you think about writing a book on supervision?" and Linda says:
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (00:52):
"No way. There's no way we can write a book. That's too hard."
Dr. Tyra Sellers (00:56):
That is absolutely true. And then we proceeded to outline the book that we weren't going to write. And then by the end of that session, I think we pretty much agreed. But seriously, it really kind of culminated from work that you and I, Linda, did together with other fabulous colleagues like Dr. Amber Valentino, work with Dr. Shahla Ala’i and Dr. Rebecca MacDonald around different aspects of supervision, because of what we were experiencing in the field. I think it was us sitting down and thinking, "Geez, you know, there's some information that's scattered across these papers and we have a lot more in our brains and I really think there's a need", and then we committed to doing it. Is that right? Is that accurate?
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (01:45):
That's how I remember it. I thought, "Oh my gosh, I don't want to do this", and I remember immediately saying, "Well, we're not going to write a book, but if we write a book, here's 10 ideas that we need to put in it". So it was really almost a one day Genesis that we then evolved and evolved and evolved, but a lot of acknowledgement of the need and positioning of the book in terms of who it might be useful to and the kinds of things we wanted to include.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (02:21):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (02:21):
That happened really in almost a dynamic one or two hour working session. So that's fun. And anyone out there thinking about writing a book, do it with a friend and a colleague that gets you excited about the things that you might have to say. I think that's why. We thought we had something to say that would be a little different than what was already being said in the field and that notion of the importance of supervision and that we can't get this wrong. The negative impact is too big if we get it wrong. The positive impact is spectacular if we get it right. I think that was motivation enough to do the hard lift of writing a book.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (03:13):
Right. Too much at stake to leave it to chance or let it just sort of be contingency shaped across the profession. And I remember as we were talking about the content, at some point, we thought, "You know, we also need to have some significant content around cultural responsiveness, cultural humility", and we both said, "Well, we're not the right people to write that content". And I believe you came up with the great idea of reaching out to Dr. Shahla Ala’i and asking her if she would be just risky enough to gamble with us and work on this book. So that's how Shahla became involved with the book.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (03:55):
And we became the tremendous trio instead of the dynamic duo.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (04:00):
Right. One thing that readers aren't going to know about is exactly the process or where the content was written. So, the content was written in our own homes. It was written together. A fair portion of some of your, and my sections, were written on an airplane back and forth. So we really dug, I think, deep in terms of when the moment struck us that we needed to get some stuff on paper. Usually it was because we were having a great conversation. We would pull out our laptops and put words on the page. I really appreciated that process in writing the book because, truthfully, most of the content came from those kinds of conversations that we were having with one another. And I learned so much from both of you writing this book. So I ended this book project so much more knowledgeable than I did before about a topic I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about in the first place.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (05:12):
Well, I couldn't agree more and I know Shahla feels the same way and she'll certainly be with us on some future episodes. That notion much like the quote for chapter one about supervision being a journey. Writing this supervision book was a journey and I think we all felt like we learned a lot from each other. I think that's how you anchor the people around you as a community of practice for support and people from whom you can learn. I think that part of the theme of the book is about the supervision you provide is going to help you learn, help you grow, strengthen you and writing the book certainly did that tenfold. Now, Tyra, I've heard you describe the importance of good supervision and the risk of bad supervision with your zombies and unicorns themes. So tell us a little bit about that. I want people to hear that if they haven't heard it already.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (06:26):
Supervision has been critically important to me for a number of years. Probably mostly born from me reflecting on my mistakes in the past and trying to be more purposeful about my supervisory practices, but also certainly becoming increasingly responsible for shaping a large number of other individual's repertoires around supervision. I think it was probably around 2014. I was prepping a talk and I was talking with a student of mine at the time, actually. We were talking about how poor supervision can be infectious without anybody really even realizing it. I said, "Yeah, it's like a zombie apocalypse. And we were preparing a presentation and simultaneously preparing supervision content to meet the BaCB's eight hour supervision requirement. My student at the time found this really great image that sort of was like day one. There's one person with an infection. Day seven there are more and it just carries on and there were sort of these cute alien zombie creatures. I grabbed that image and used it in my talk, but I didn't want to just be fatalistic because our science is about taking a purposeful approach to essentially improving the environments within which we behave. So I thought, "Well, shoot. If we're destined to a potential zombie apocalypse of crappy supervisors, or maybe not thoughtful, not purposeful supervisors that are passing along maybe insufficient or defective repertoire as well, then we can use our science to counter that if we are purposeful, if we are thoughtful", and the image of a magical unicorn kind of made it in there. So the idea is if we're not purposeful or if we allow ineffective or even damaging supervisory practices to be the norm, or even to be some proportion of what people do that that could have deleterious effects forever. And it doesn't only affect your trainees who then become supervisors because those repertoires will then filter down to their trainees who will come supervisors. It also affects all of the clients that all of those individuals work with because we have some data now coming out in our field, showing that experience level as a clinician translates into better outcomes for your clients. And so it really was just this way to have some images that I think anybody could connect with and would produce a palpable, emotional response like, "Shoot, I don't want a zombie apocalypse, but I sure want to be a unicorn".
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (09:35):
I want to be a unicorn. And listeners out there, you be a unicorn too. And that's what we're going to be talking about. How to be a unicorn.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (09:43):
Yeah. We're going to unicorn up that supervision. Then, John Austin talked about this concept called a behavioral contagion, which is a behavior analytic account of a potential zombie apocalypse or an infectious magical unicorn. It's pretty cool that not only does pop culture explain it, but we also have a behavior analytic account of it.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (10:04):
Excellent. Well, you know we do have a field where our growth trajectory is such that at least half of our current BCBAs have been certified four years or less and that shift is likely to continue. That means we have relatively newer people to the field supervising others and if we really are behavioral and how we think about things, we know to be a good supervisor, you have to learn how to be a good supervisor.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (10:46):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (10:46):
And we don't just want to wait or rely on a short contingency shaped learning history. We have to create resources that are going to help us serve as those rules and supports to be able to start out of the gate strong as a supervisor and be at least a little bit unicorn, even if you're still growing your horn.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (11:08):
That's right. And, you know, I think the idea that it's a heavy load, it's a big lift. And I think you and I were responding to the idea that maybe if we shared some of our experience, our knowledge, our failures in the past. Ideas that we came up with at work. Maybe we're lightening that lift for other people or at the very least we're making it such that they're on even ground when they're lifting that heavy load. They've got a great grip, they've got a full meal and they're ready to handle business. I think one of the most overarching important themes of the book is that it's important to think about and approach supervisory practices as a relationship versus a transaction or something to check off. So Linda, how does that resonate with you or what, in your experience sort of facilitated taking that approach to supervision for you?
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (12:21):
I think it's one of the critical things. Not only about our book, but also about the articles that we've written and the way that we approach things. I will say honestly that very early on, I don't think I knew that so much. I think it is something that you begin to recognize after you've supervised many people that the times when you were most impactful at broadest scope were when you definitely had a positive relationship with your supervisee. And I think we also felt like that was part of what we were not seeing in the resources that were being developed. That there was a lot about how to structure your feedback, how to create a checklist and I love a checklist. I'm not bashing and checklists, but that part of the heart and soul of it is the notion that your supervisees have to understand why you are supervising them and that you value supervising them rather than view it as something that you have to do. Certainly for a supervisee, you are their safety net and their ticket to progress and learning and the rest of their career. I think starting off, the supervisee is likely to value their supervisor. They need them. Even if they don't have a lot of insight into what they don't know yet, there is this strong motivation. If supervisors don't feel that same way they feel like it's more transactional. "This is my Wednesday morning event. We've got to get the hours done". Then I think the experience can feel hollow. And so to introduce that notion of as a supervisor, set yourself up to behave in ways that help people believe that they are your people. That you are connected to them. That they are connected to you. I was a professor for 15 years. Tyra, you were a professor for years.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (14:59):
Well, just a few years. Just to be clear.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (15:03):
That notion that you want to create some lasting connections to people and not just with your major professor, but why not feel that way with any supervisor who has something to offer you and who has the opportunity to help you grow. So to us, that really... we felt so strongly that that was missing from some of the other works that have been published at the time that we made it a theme and even put it into the title of our book.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (15:47):
It is a long title. Do you want to say the title for listeners?
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (15:53):
No. You say the title.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (15:55):
I'm not going to say it. I'm going to read the title. "Building and sustaining meaningful and effective relationships as a supervisor and a mentor." It is long, but I'll tell you it really is sort of the central thesis of the entire book. So it's kind of like, you can read the title and know what you about to get into.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (16:14):
And it's no lie. That's exactly what you're going to get. How to build them, how to keep them going, how to maybe repair them if they get a little bit fractured.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (16:26):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (16:26):
I think one of the things that we explored in our conversations and some of this made it into the book was I mentioned how early on you might not realize the importance of viewing these events as relationships, but we all began to talk about what we had learned from different supervisees. I'll call out when Courtney and Dylan... she's now Courtney Cotter. She got her PhD with me at Western, and you've just never met such a kind, caring, empathetic individual and thoughtful. Just a great human being. And even though I was the supervisor, she was a great model for me to let that kindness and gentleness show in a way that I probably didn't do quite as much of early in my career, because I was a young woman in an academic setting that was heavily male dominated. I squaring my shoulders and being tough and productive. But as a supervisor, when you really put yourself in a position to see what you value about each supervisee, you learn from them. So, it really is bi-directional. Both people benefit and that kind of makes you a better supervisor to the next people.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (18:24):
Yeah. You know, that idea of bi-directionality has been so important for me. I think the events that led to me really starting to explore the idea of a purposeful relationship. Not just one that happens to develop was reflecting on the fact that I learned maybe in some instances more from my students and supervisees and trainees than they had learned from me. Then that realization that, "If I'm taking away so much from this relationship, am I communicating that to them? Do they know how much I value this?" and that they are helping me become a better clinician, a better behavior analyst, a better supervisor, a better teacher. And so making sure that at the start of the relationship that was communicated, that like, "Sure. I might have some stuff to teach you, but I guarantee I'm going to make mistakes and I'm going to learn a lot from you and we're in this together." And if we aren't agreeing that we're in this together, then it might not be worth being in this. That was really important for me. And I'm so glad that we all three of us agreed on the focus of not only a relationship, but a purposeful relationship. And even though there is an inherent power imbalance that can be born out in lots of different ways, particularly when you think about intersectionality and what everybody brings to the table. The idea that at some level there needs to be an evening of the playing field early on, so that both parties are recognizing, "We both have things to lose, and we both have things to gain. This is not a one-sided transaction". That was really important to me and I love that that's apparent in every single chapter.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (20:19):
I think that Shahla had lots of things to describe. I think she is certainly that apitomy of a fantastic mentor and many of her students have commented on just she's that prototypical, fantastic caring, teaching supervisor. And I think one of the things that we all talked about is people will come behind you. They're encountering a new literature. And so in theory, they might pretty quickly know more than you, so you better stay on your toes. I do think engaging in meaningful supervision means that you have to stay up on the literature and you also have to begin to be able to describe why you make the decisions that you make.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (21:21):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (21:21):
Not just doing it, but being able to describe for someone else, "This is what controlled my decision-making." I think that positive pressure helps you grow and develop some additional skills to think about how you think. Meta thinking. I love Meta thinking. I think there really are a lot of benefits of being a supervisor. And of course, as we mentioned, it is a heavy lift, but I think it's what keeps you interested, excited, engaged and learning in the field.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (22:03):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (22:03):
Well, Tyra, let's talk a little bit about the notions of being a supervisor and a mentor and a sponsor and the difference and how hopefully relationships evolve.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (22:21):
Yeah. Let's definitely talk about that. I'm going to start by saying I think it's important to know the difference, but it's probably more important to be open to responding to the people in front of you based on contextually and functionally what they need in that moment versus having some predetermined package that you think you're supposed to deliver. That said, I do think there's value in sort of thinking about what is a supervisor, what is a mentor, what is a sponsor or any number of things. I think for us, Linda, a lot of the times maybe my perception is if you're providing high-quality fill in the blank: Supervision, mentorship, whatever. There's probably some flavor of all of them mixed in there, but supervision is usually a little bit more defined. There's usually some clear roles and some clear behaviors over which you have some responsibility that the supervisor or trainee is performing.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (23:32):
That word is critical. Responsibility. In fact, I love the article that you wrote with Shahla and Rebecca about that ethics behind supervision and that it is taking responsibility. That's what's unique to a supervisor.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (23:50):
That's right. That notion wasn't even our unique thought. That came directly from the overarching statement in the 5.0 section of the professional and ethical compliance code. That kind of sort of says, "You're responsible for the whole enchilada, supervisor." This is not just the task list or can someone do a preference assessment. You're signing on for the real deal, for the whole thing. That's kind of the idea when it comes to supervision. That it can be very directed and is about skill sets and the performance of those skills or acquisition of knowledge and the application of that knowledge in some sort of context or setting and that you are responsible for developing it in that individual and that individual maintain it and use it. And you need to be measuring how well you're doing in terms of their acquisition, as well as some social validity measures, right? We know we can be effective at changing people's behavior, but you want to do it in a way that feels good. You want to do it in a way that they can replicate and that gets to your point before about kind of tacting your thought processes and your decision points. And so that's the supervision piece. It's more structured. You may be working in the same sort of employment setting as that individual, or you might not, but it really is about being responsible for the oversight of that person's work performance in a given context. Is that an okay way to describe it?
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (25:33):
Fantastic way to describe it.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (25:34):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (25:34):
That's in sharp contrast to the word mentor where there is not necessarily oversight. Someone could be a supervisor and a mentor, but as a mentor, if that's the only role it's discretionary, I'm not responsible for you. I simply serve as that wise counselor. My minor in college was the classics. So I remembered that mentor comes from a character in the Greek literature and mentor was that friend to his mentee's father who stepped in, who counseled him, always gave him advice, helped him make decisions. That's really the embodiment of what a mentor is today. So it clearly can be compatible when you view supervision as a relationship. It might not be compatible if you're not viewing supervision that way and you're viewing it too transactionally, but that notion of a person that you could always count on to help you make decisions to be your sounding board and a mentor. Often, certainly in Greek literature, mentor was older than his mentee, but a lot of times we have people who are in that role of mentor, who are peers, I think you and Shahla and I all felt like we were mentoring each other through the book. If there was a time when we were struggling a little bit with one of the chapters, we reached out to the others and said, "This isn't flowing. It's not resonating. I can't figure out why. Let me bounce it off of you." We can each be wise in our different areas and when you feel like you trust someone's judgment and can rely on them for counsel for your decision-making, that person probably is a mentor. If you know they'll answer the phone when they have no responsebility or need to do so, but they will always answer the call, answer the email and help you when you need them, that person's likely your mentor.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (28:22):
Yeah. I think that's the key piece, right? That it is completely as you said, at the discretion of that mentor to be there and provide that support for an individual. That person, that mentor probably doesn't control any of the contingencies and I think as someone that has mentors, I count on my mentors to tell me the hard things that need to be told also. So a mentor, isn't just someone to tell you "great job" and those sorts of things. More likely the mentor is the person to tell you the truth when you need to hear it, help you make those hard decisions. And because it's someone who probably doesn't have much control over the contingencies in your life, they're likely to be giving you very honest advice or honest opinions. I think that what often happens is someone might be a supervisor in one area and they might provide mentorship in some other areas. So maybe I have a supervisor at my clinical placement who also mentors me in some decisions around grad school, right? I think there is the opportunity for supervisors to engage in mentorship. And often after someone has been a really effective supervisor, they then sort of shift and that role evolves into kind of a mentoring role.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (29:58):
Yeah. I agree. It's a great evolution. And that evolution is almost always going to be predicated on. It really was a relationship.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (30:10):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (30:10):
Revisory situation. And I will say this, you have a supervisor when you are a trainee, when you're a supervisee. That person hopefully is fantastic, is a unicorn, is infecting you to be a unicorn, but there comes a point at which you began to operate independently. You're credentialed you're out there. You're expected to be competent if not expert and getting better all the time. And I think if you don't pay attention to that need for ongoing learning, growth, counsel, it can feel lonely out there. When you've been out there 3, 4, 5, 10 years. And I think that at that point, you may have a manager at work. You might not, you might be the boss of everything. The way our field is going, people get into managerial positions quickly and you can feel like, "Where's my supervisor? Where's my lifeline?" And so if you don't have someone that you could... Listeners out there, if you don't have someone that you could point to and say, "I really feel like this person is my mentor." Whether they're your peer or not, you want to find that person, you want to keep that connectedness in your professional activities, because it's part of what helps you feel engaged and it helps you become more confident. We've got a couple of activities in the book and maybe we'll wrap up on those, but at the end of chapter one, there are a couple of activities that help you explore. Have you been someone's supervisor, mentor? Have you ever sponsored someone? Which means that you went out of your way to kind of nominate them for an opportunity, award, write that letter of rec for a job. And both perspectives are there, right? Like you, supervisor, reading this book, have you been any of those and do you think the other person also thinks of it that way? If you think you're a mentor to this person, do they think you're a mentor to them? It's one of those things where one might say that's a little bit of an indicator of the health of the relationship. If you think you were their mentor and they think they've never had a mentor, something was not quite in Unicornville. I will say this, people contact us about the book and I've had a good number of people contact me and say, "I don't think I've had a mentor. I had supervisors, but I'm just not sure I've got a name of someone in the field that I would call if an ethics situation came up or if I had to make a hard career decision."
Dr. Tyra Sellers (33:41):
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (33:42):
And I think I immediately thought, "You need a unicorn." I don't want anyone in our field to feel lonely that way. To feel like there's not someone helping them lift. I think that's part of this podcast as well, is that even though Tyra and I don't necessarily, and never will know everyone out there in such a rapidly growing field, maybe there'll be a few words of wisdom that we drop in this podcast that could help someone feel like they've been mentored a little bit. Even if it's indirectly, but maybe it inspires them to find someone in their community to even be mentors to each other.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (34:41):
Yeah. Which we call "frientors".
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (34:45):
Dr. Tyra Sellers (34:46):
Yeah. So the blending of a friendship and a mentorship and I think the flip side of that is some of the questions in chapter one activity get at is that you also need to be mindful about your role as a supervisor and your ability to maybe become a mentor or engage in supervisory collaborative bi-directional relationship in your supervisory practices. That at the very least signals to that other person, that the availability for mentorship post supervision is there. I think that the hallmark of a great supervisory relationship as it's coming to an end is that those individuals still want to stay in touch. They're still interested and wanting to make sure that each other are well and..
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (35:44):
And vested in each other.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (35:44):
Successful. Absolutely. So yes, there was the idea that you should have a mentor, but also think about how you want to proceed such that you can be a mentor to other people. I think that it's this very lovely contingency trap if you do it well.
Dr. Linda LeBlanc (36:10):
Let's wrap up this episode that was on chapter one of the book with our opening quote. This is from Dermot Barnes-Holmes and it says, "The supervision experience, at least for me, has sometimes involved sharing the best and the worst of times." So if I was to summarize the supervision experience in one phrase, it would be a shared journey of discovery. So we hope this podcast series is going to help you be on a journey of discovery. We thank you for sharing it with us and we hope you'll join us for the next podcast where we'll focus on how you start strong in supervisory relationships.
Dr. Tyra Sellers (36:58):
Yeah. Go get you a mentor and be a good mentor and have a fantastic day.