Assimilating problematic life script themes in clinical supervision: The case of Adam

van Rijn, Biljana, Agar, James, Sills, Charlotte and Stiles, William B. (2022) Assimilating problematic life script themes in clinical supervision: The case of Adam. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 36. pp. 525-548.


In transactional analysis theory, life script themes are archaic patterns of experience and interaction, which can emerge during clinical work and impact practice. This study examined whether a newly qualified therapist’s problematic life script themes were detectable in supervision, how they were addressed, and whether addressing them led to assimilation of these themes. Seven consecutive supervision sessions with a recently-qualified male therapist (pseudonym Adam) were transcribed and analyzed using a qualitative theory-building approach. The assimilation of problematic experiences sequence (APES) was used to track changes in Adam’s life script themes. Life script themes were evident in all seven supervision sessions. They centered on two interconnected themes of abuse and rejection. Discussions of these themes in supervision focused on over-identification, protectiveness, and self-disclosure. The supervisor’s interventions included didactic work appropriate for a beginning clinician and facilitative work in supporting development of assimilation of problematic themes. Reflective supervision including exploration of the therapist’s personal process when it is triggered can enhance practice development, and be an important part of the supervision process, providing it respect teach/treat boundary. Comparisons with previous research suggested that script themes emerged differently in supervision of relatively inexperienced supervisees as opposed to experienced ones.

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