CAT Peer Supervision: An Introduction

CAT Peer Supervision

Almost 4 years ago I sent out an invitation through the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists (IACAT) for creative arts therapists (CAT’s) to join me in a supportive peer supervision group. While I was supported by other mental health professionals in multidisciplinary teams I still felt somewhat isolated from my own CAT peers. There was a regular need to explain the processes of art therapy to my professional colleagues. I knew I would not have to do this with CAT peers. On the one hand, it was a great exercise having to explain what I did, why I did it and the kind of outcomes that could be expected. It gave me a better ability to articulate my practice. On the other hand, it required an energy I did not have at times. I was also entering private practice exclusively for a period of time and figured the feeling of isolation from my CAT peers would increase.

I was not sure if people would answer the invitation. To my great surprise and relief, I had a number of responses. However, it was a scary moment as I wondered what the hell I was doing! What did I know about setting up a peer supervision group? What did I have to offer other CAT professionals? I was nervous as I didn’t necessarily want to run it or be responsible for it. I wanted to be part of a group that would self-regulate, share monthly roles and responsibilities and be able to convene and operate in my absence. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. The peers who joined me were fantastic and we were all on the same page in terms of what we were looking for. It took a few months but we eventually hashed out the practicalities of setting up and maintaining a CAT peer supervision group (stay tuned for a paper we are writing specifically about this!) and we have continually shifted the goal posts and contract to fit our expanding needs.

It is a slow open group. When one person leaves we invite someone new in. We presently have art and dramatherapists in our group. It would be nice to add a music and dance movement therapist to the mix but I expect that will come in time. We are eight people strong and now acknowledge that we can in fact have up to ten people since there are never more than 6 people at any one meeting. It is a non-profit group and the only costs are room rental and some art making materials, which we all split equally whether or not we make the monthly meeting.

Unlike clinical supervision it is non-evaluative so it is more relaxed but that does not mean we can be irresponsible or unethical in our dealings. Each member is a serious professional and we depend on one another to offer potential solutions or alternative handling of some situations. It is by no means a replacement for clinical supervision. It is something that bolsters clinical supervision and our individual practices. It can be a real rescue remedy between sessions too, especially for those who have a small number of clients and might only attend their supervisor once or twice a month.

I cannot express enough how important this group has been for every single member. For me I have gained some amazing friendships, connections and an astounding tree of knowledge permanently at my disposal. The benefits are far reaching and too many to describe in this little blog but we will share all of that in time so that other CAT’s may feel confident enough to set up their own groups and reap the benefits that we have.

Amazing journeys and collaborations come from support networks such as peer supervision and we are big believers in collaboration here at Artonomy. While I always knew I would set up an arts therapy organisation I had no idea when or where, or if I would have to do it alone. It is the peer supervision group that led me to Artonomy co-founder, fellow art therapist and now, good friend, Anna Mulvihill. She was the first member to contact me and the first through the door of the group, for which I will be forever grateful. And look at us now! We are a great team and have created something together that we hope will grow and grow to benefit other CAT’s and many clients. All of this from a peer supervision group. It is a great place for allies and collaborations and referrals. I urge all CAT’s to get themselves involved in a group, even if the only purpose of attending is to avoid professional isolation. That alone is reason enough. Best of luck on you peer supervision journey!

Author | Louise Gartland | Art Psychotherapist 

July 2018

This is a very brief introduction into the benefits of creative arts therapy peer supervision groups. We are working on an extended paper to lay out the setting up and maintenance process as well as all of the great benefits that come from being involved in a CAT peer supervision group. Stay tuned. . .