Providing Support for Written Work

Working with your candidate's written work is a core component of your role as supervisor. Helping supervisees compose and revise their case summaries not only develops their writing skills; it advances their thinking about the case and your understanding of what they need to learn next. 

Writing Assignments

Each summer, your supervisee will write an annual summary of the case you are supervising. Their assignment is to share a first draft with you by the first week of classes in September. They then have the next several weeks to get your input and revise their work before the final draft is due in mid-October. They will also submit their longest case for the Writing Seminars; this paper will be shared with the Writing faculty and their classmates (Writing Seminars take place in October and November of each year). 

In addition, candidates follow a similar two-draft process of completing an initial summary within three months of the start of a case and a termination summary following its end.

Teaching Tips

Here are a few thoughts to help you help them get the most out of the writing process.

Writing a case summary is difficult! Candidates need to review and integrate reams of detailed data about a treatment they are only beginning to understand and then shape them into a cohesive narrative. Your advice, support, and encouragement during the writing process can go a long way in helping them rise to this challenge.

To the extent possible, make the writing a collaborative process between you and your supervisee, one that grows out of a conversation between the two of you.

Trainees do best when they are given clear goals for any written assignment. Remind them that our writing faculty have provided these for each training year and encourage them to review the guidelines throughout their writing process. You may also wish to see the instructions our candidates get about annual summaries, initial summaries, and termination summaries, which you can find here.

Give your supervisees permission to be doubtful. Writing an annual summary can be a process that leads to understanding, rather than one that occurs after they’ve arrived at an answer. These assignments and the dialogue with you they generate are designed to help candidates find out what they think by putting their thoughts into words–to refine, revise, and deepen inferential 'guessing'.

You can help the candidate flesh out their thinking by breaking down their reflections into thoughts about specific facets of the analysis. Ask them to think about:

  • What have been the leading transferences and how have they shifted over time?
  • What can the candidate say about their own countertransference and its evolution?
  • What enactments stand out?
  • What does the candidate consider their key interventions?
  • What thoughts do they have about the supervisory process and its impact on their work with the patient?

As you’re working with the candidate, consider the following: What does this candidate need to see and understand through the process of writing about their analytic work with this patient, about technique and about theoretical conceptualizations about the process, and about themselves?   

Keep growth in mind. In your responses to your supervisee’s first draft, emphasize that excellent case writing is a learned skill that improves over time through effort, experimentation, and feedback. There is a reason our writing course stretches over five years!  

Be selective in your comments. You don’t have to comment on or correct every aspect of your supervisee’s draft. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. Instead, focus your feedback on the two or three aspects of the piece that matter to you most. When discussing your candidate's work, you may well expend as much effort in refraining from commenting about less important issues as you do in framing what you will say.

Make sure to point out aspects of the piece that the candidate has done well. Being specific about what is working is an excellent way to encourage and direct revisions. 

Just as we are asking candidates to describe changes their patients have made over time, your comments about growth you have seen in the candidate’s writing from year to year can be enormously constructive. Try using specific examples to find a way to describe the progress you have seen senior candidates make in their writing over your time together. 

Finally, talking about the case in this way may give you and your trainee an opportunity to reflect on the supervisory process. You might review privately or together what are you trying to teach and how has that has evolved over time