Constructive Criticism

One major facet of clinical boot camp is constant supervisor feedback.  I think we all came into this time knowing that our supervisors would be watching, and rating how we did; I did, at least.  However, the reality of getting that feedback hasn’t been quite so straight-forward, at least emotionally.

I am not unfamiliar to constructive criticism, and even not-so-constructive criticism.  I don’t for even a small moment think that I am perfect, or the best there ever was.  I know I have room for growth–a lot of room in many areas.   And I specifically asked to be challenged at boot camp.  On my information form, I said I wanted new things, clients that would stretch me.

Even with this mindset coming in, when I got that very first feedback form from a supervisor, it was not as easy to be so pragmatic.   The feedback form has a left column with 19 different areas.  There are then columns to check excellent, good, average, or needs improvement, along with a small area for written comments.    On my very first form (for the second session), I received several average, and most good.  It doesn’t sound so bad, but I looked at it and almost immediately started crying.

I can, even now, look back and see how silly it is. But it’s an emotional thing, to be seemingly judged on how you interact and work with a child, when you’ve only just met the child.  And while I know I have room to grow, this is one area in my life where I feel that I am actually pretty good; at least, the kids I work with make progress on their goals every year!  So to read “average”, which isn’t even bad, was hard to swallow for this overachiever.  Add this to being away from all that is familiar, living in a hotel room without my family, and I felt suddenly incapable of handling even the most minor correction.

So, I went home, and cried.  I then sent a message to the very best mentor and former supervisor there is.  When feeling discouraged, there is nothing like the encouraging words of someone who knows you well; in this case, someone who has seen me do therapy for much longer than 2 sessions total.  She talked me down, reminded me in the nicest possible way that I am here to learn, and to take feedback in that way–as an opportunity to learn even more.  She also reminded me that I am good at what I do, but that being good at it doesn’t mean I never have to learn any new tricks.

So, I did that.  I relaxed, and was able to go back and read the feedback form again with a less emotional lens.  I found that my supervisor had some great comments for me.  Her suggestions were valid.   They related to behavior management, not an area in which I normally have problems during the school year, but that’s because I know the kids with whom I work pretty well.  I could see that my method for working with a new child was not the best, and that with the wrong child, it could really backfire.  So, her suggestions would be very useful for any new child, and, for many of them, might be all they needed in the longer-term, too.

I thought about it a lot over the weekend, and then went into Tuesday’s session ready to implement it.  In this session, she even came into the room to give me a therapy suggestion.  I was able to immediately implement it, and it really made a difference.  My feedback form gave me all “good” and one “excellent”, and had many comments written on it.  I spent even more time thinking about what she was suggesting, and figuring out how to implement it.  For the Thursday session, I did it.  I did everything she was suggesting.

And, that session was amazing.  I knew it even when I was in the session.  The behavior management worked amazingly for him.  The therapy technique she gave me was perfect, and really did aid his understanding of the concept.  This is also something I’ll be able to implement at work.  The whole session felt smooth and effective.  He worked hard, and made a lot of progress on his goals.

Even before I got my feedback form, I was very happy with how the session went.  It felt good.  And then, I got the form.  This time, nearly all “excellent”.  I was happy that I was able to grow as she’d suggested, and that it really did work.

And yet, I know that my work isn’t done.  I guess this lesson is even deeper than getting “excellent” on my feedback forms.  I learned that part of growing as a clinician will mean making changes that are suggested to me, and learning how to implement those changes into therapy.  I am not suddenly completely “excellent” with no need for any other improvement, ever.  I know that on the next feedback form, I may have more “average”, as I may encounter an area in which I need to grow.  I know that I always want to be able to incorporate new ideas into my therapy, and to be able to grow and change.

Even if it sometimes makes me cry.

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