Reconsidering Parallel Process in Psychotherapy Supervision: On Parsimony, Rival Hypotheses, and Alternate Explanations

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Abstract

A much hallowed concept, parallel process has been referred to as supervision’s signature phenomenon, having now been a part of psychoanalytic and psychotherapy supervision for over 60 years. But I propose that much of parallel process is a fiction, and in what follows, I consider why I believe that to be so. Though promising, parallel process research is still in embryonic form (Tracey, Bludworth, & Glidden-Tracey, 2012; Watkins, 2015c), and the primary “evidence” for parallel process remains the clinical case report, case example, or anecdote. But how much real evidence do such reports, examples, and anecdotes provide? I consider that question subsequently, selectively examining parallel process case examples and anecdotes across the last 6 decades. On the basis of that examination, the following problems were identified: (a) case examples involving highly conflicted supervision relationships and questionable interpretations (e.g., where the supervisor instigated the very conflict that she/he then interpreted as a patient–therapist parallel process issue bubbling up into supervision), (b) case examples being far more easily explained by rival hypotheses and alternate explanations, and (c) mismatches between parallel process definitions and case examples. In constructing clear and usable parallel process case examples, 3 intertwined recommendations are proposed: (a) provide a clear definition of parallel process, (b) provide a definition-consistent case example, and (c) provide case commentary that makes clear how the interpreter arrived at her/his interpretations (i.e., showing the thought process involved).

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