06 September 2009


Developmental models of supervision have dominated supervision thinking and research since the 1980s. Developmental conceptions of supervision are based on two basic assumptions:

  1. In the process of moving toward competence supervisees move through a series of stages that are qualitatively different from one another,

  2. Each supervisee stage requires a qualitatively different supervision environment if optimal supervisee satisfaction and growth are to occur (Chagon and Russell (1995).

Three influential models reflecting the developmental perspective are presented (see Bernard & Goodyear, 1998).

Littrell, Lee-Borden, & Lorenz Model (1979)

This model attempts to match supervisor behavior to the developmental needs of the supervisee. Briefly summarized, there are four stages to this model:

Stage 1 : Characterized by relationship building, goal setting, and contracting

Stage 2 : The supervisor vacillates between the role of counselor and teacher as the trainee is faced with affective issues and skill deficits

Stage 3 : The supervisor adopts a more collegial role of consultant as the trainee gains confidence and expertise.

Stage 4 : The supervisor’s role becomes “distant” and he or she serves as a consultant. At this stage the supervisee takes responsibility for his or her learning and development as a counselor.

The Stoltenberg and Delworth Model (1987)

Stoltenberg and Delworth revised the earlier contribution of Stoltenberg (1981) and included aspects of the Loganbill, Hardy, and Delworth model (1982). Stoltenberg and Delworth described three developmental levels of the supervisee and eight dimensions;

  1. Intervention skills,

  2. Assessment techniques,

  3. Interpersonal differences,

  4. Client conceptualization,

  5. Individual differences,

  6. Theoretical orientation,

  7. Treatment goals and plans,

  8. Professional ethics.

The three structures proposed to trace the progress of trainees through the levels on each dimension are:

  1. The trainee’s awareness of self and others,

  2. Motivation toward the developmental process,

  3. The amount of dependency or autonomy displayed by the trainee.

The Skovholt and Ronnestad Model (1992)

This model, one of few that is grounded in research, went beyond focus on trainee development and recognized that therapist development continues throughout the lifespan. A brief description of the stages follows.

Stage 1: Competence

Persons at this stage, although possibly having some experience with clients, are untrained. They may stay at this level for many years. The central task at this stage is to use what one already knows; the conceptual system is based upon “common sense.”

Stage 2: Transition to Professional Training (First year of graduate school)

The central task at this level is for the trainee to assimilate information from a number of sources and apply this information to practice. The conceptual system is driven by the urgency to learn conceptual ideas and techniques.

Stage 3: Imitation of Experts (Middle years of graduate school)

The trainee’s central task is to imitate experts at the practical level, while maintaining openness to a diversity of ideas and positions; the trainee is developing a conceptual map of some sort, though typically, it is not complex.

Stage 4: Conditional Autonomy (Internship)

Trainees have the central task of functioning as professionals; they have begun to develop a refined mastery of conceptual ideas and techniques.

Stage 5: Exploration (Graduation-2-5 years)

There is a move to explore beyond what is known. There will be rejecting of some previously held ideas and models.

Stage 6: Integration (lasts 2-5 years

Professionals work toward developing authenticity. Their conceptual system has become individualized, thus enabling them to act in natural and productive ways. They are most likely integrative or eclectic in their approach to working with clients.

Stage 7: Individuation (lasts 10-30 years)

Its central task is a highly individualized and personalized conceptual system. There is a move toward an even deeper authenticity.

Stage 8: Integrity (lasts 1-10 years)

The task is to become oneself and prepare for retirement. At this point, the conceptual system is highly individualized and integrated.


Bernard and Goodyear (1998) recognize that “a developmental approach to supervision is intuitively appealing, for most of us believe we have [or will] become better with experience and training” (p. 26). It is also important to keep in mind that most empirical investigations of developmental modes report “partial” or “some” support. See Worthington (1987) and Stoltenberg, McNeill, and Crethar (1994) for reviews of developmental models of supervision

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