Directiveness in Clinical Supervision
60 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2010
Date Written: March 1, 1993
This article, first published in 1993 but not previously available on SSRN, explores the attitudes and practices of clinical law teachers relating to issues of “directiveness” in their clinical supervision. The inquiry focuses on the tension between the educational value of student autonomy and clinicians’ professional interest in ensuring high quality client representation. The authors conducted a survey of clinicians teaching at law schools throughout the United States.
After discussing the attributes of directive and nondirective approaches to clinical supervision, the article turns to discussion and analysis of the survey results. In responding to survey questions about how supervisors should behave in situations involving decision making, information sharing, and task performance, most clinicians endorsed relatively nondirective approaches. However, in responding to questions about client service obligations, a large majority also endorsed an ideal of providing clinic clients with the “best possible” service, drawing on the combined best efforts of the supervising attorneys as well as the students. The authors discuss the tension between this view of client service and the educational goals of clinical programs, a tension particularly acute for clinicians who believe in a nondirective model.
The article also examines clinicians’ perceptions of tension between educational and client service goals. Nearly all survey respondents reported experiencing concern about directiveness in their supervision, and most felt that at times they supervise more directively than they should. Responses to questions about how clinicians actually supervise also suggested that their practices are often more directive than their beliefs. The article explores variables that may affect a clinical teacher’s beliefs and practices.
In conclusion, the authors suggest that clinicians favoring a nondirective approach should be open with students about the necessity, and normalcy, of occasional supervisor intervention to safeguard client interests. They also suggest that clinical teachers need to carefully draw a distinction between the “best possible” client service, which may be impossible to achieve without having supervisors take over performance in a way that undermines a clinic’s educational objectives, and highly competent, even excellent, client service, which can coexist with substantial student autonomy.
Appendices to the article provide a copy of the survey, a tabulation of the responses, and comments written by survey respondents on a variety of issues relating to directiveness.
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