HOW TO CREATE YOUR INDIVIDUAL SUPPORT GROUP – PART 4: PEER SUPERVISION

This is what you’ll get out of this article:

  • an in-depth guide about how to facilitate a peer supervision (also known as collegial counselling)
  • how peer supervision can become a solution space
  • if peer supervision is the kind of support format that suits your needs

In this article, I have written about four types of support groups that can make all the difference for your job search in times of career transitions. Now, you will learn about the process of peer supervision, also called collegial counselling, so that you will be able to facilitate one yourself – both online and offline.

Overcome separation and lack of exchange

The starting point for this blog series was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us are working from home now. And while this situation is certainly a big change for natural scientists who are used to working in a lab – for most other researchers and many PhD candidates, working alone at their desks is their default mode. Unsurprisingly, many suffer from a sense of separation and a lack of exchange – EVEN WHEN THERE IS NO NECESSITY FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING because of a virus.

In part, that sense of separation and lack of exchange is due to the fact that writing, especially in the humanities, is and always has been a solitary practice. But I believe that at least some of this solitude can be broken up with initiating and cultivating group support.

At the same time, I believe that the forced isolation that many of us suffer from right now might be just what we need. Please don’t get me wrong: it might be the necessary trigger to start making new connections and build new groups.

If we choose to we can turn the current crisis into an opportunity to create the kinds networks of support and motivation that we need to pull through with our projects.

What is Peer Supervision?

Peer Supervision, or Collegial Counselling (in German: “Kollegiale Fallberatung”), is an intervention to guide a group of peers through a structured problem-solving process. The problem usually addresses a topic that each group member is familiar with or has the capacity to empathise with. Examples can be:

  • I can’t focus on my dissertation.
  • I don’t find the time to think about my career after academia.
  • So far, I have only had rejections to my applications. I’m afraid that this will continue.
  • I don’t know how to find a job in this time of rising unemployment.

The goal of this intervention is to gain more clarity about the reasons for this problem and collect concrete ideas for solving it.

Group Size

For an Online Peer Supervision/Collegial Counselling, I recommend a group of 5 people. This includes the facilitator and the case provider, which amounts to 3 consultants.

For Offline Peer Supversions/Collegial Counselling, the group should be no larger than 10 people.

Roles

  • 1 case provider = the person who brings in a question, a problem, something they are stuck with and don’t know how to get out of again
  • 1 facilitator = the person who guides through the process by:
    • making sure that everyone knows what to do and when to do it
    • asking the right questions
    • summing up
    • NOT getting involved on the content level
  • at least 3 counsellors = those who listen carefully to the case presented, who empathise, hypothesise and share good practice examples from their own experience (or theoretical knowledge)
  • ideally: a minute and time taker (i.e. someone who keeps track of time and writes down the key points on a whiteboard or flipchart for everyone to see). If there are only 5 people, then the facilitator has to take care of this task, too

Structure

 

  1. Case provider (CP) describes their case. [max. 5’] à Timer!
  2. Facilitator asks CP: “What key question can we ask to give your case a good chance of producing constructive answers?” – Example for question: “How can I allocate more time to my job searching activities without compromising my research?” Make sure the question is an open one, beginning with “how” or “what” or similar. [max. 5’]
  3. Facilitator or minute taker writes down the key question for everyone to see. If online, choose a software that allows you to share your screen.
  4. Facilitator asks counsellors to formulate hypotheses on possible reasons for and feelings about this problem: “Why might CP have this particular problem?”, “How do you think CP feels in the situations described?”, “What might be CPs beliefs, thoughts or unhealthy behaviours in those situations?” Facilitator encourages counsellors to empathise with CP. Facilitator makes sure that counsellors DO NOT suggest any solutions at this stage! (Very important!) Facilitator or minute taker writes down hypotheses in the form of bullet for everyone to see. CP does not say anything, just listens. [max. 10’]
  5. Facilitator asks CP to take a stance toward every hypothesis Every hypothesis that the CP confirms is ticked. The others are left as they are or marked with a strikethrough. [5’]
  6. Facilitator asks CP if their key question has changed after considering all the confirmed hypotheses. If so, change key question. [2’]
  7. Facilitator now asks counsellors to brainstorm possible solutions. Facilitator or minute keeper documents them on flipchart or whiteboard. [10’]
  8. Facilitator asks CP to take a stance towards every suggested solution by ticking or striking through each suggestion. [5’]
  9. Facilitator allows time for quick final feedback for everyone.
  10. Goodbye.

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