We’re All in this Together: The Parallel Process and What It Means in the Field of Home Visiting

We regularly hear the 2-word phrase Parallel Process in trainings, conferences, meetings, or conversations around the office… but do we really understand what parallel process means and the role it plays in our day-to-day work with families? Today’s Great Vine topic will help you gain a better grasp of the meaning of parallel process and its impact on our relationships with clients and ongoing professional growth. Additionally, we will review some GGK tips, strategies, and tools you can use to enhance your practice and work with families.

Let’s first start with the definition of parallel process.  According to Dr. Lawrence Shulman, from the University Of Buffalo School Of Social Work, parallel process means the way in which the supervisor interacts with the supervisee models for the supervisee what he/she should do with his or her clients (Shulman, l., 2008). Dr. Shulman has made significant contributions to the nature of supervision in direct practice and administration. His work has centered on the supervisor-supervisee relationship as the core of any helping relationship. He suggests that workers learn more about practice from the way they interact with their supervisor than from the feedback they receive from their actual practice. He also points out that good supervision includes the key components of emotional support, clarity of roles, honesty, trust, and safety.

Other research references the different forms of supervision including administrative, clinical, and reflective. According to The Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health, administrative supervision relates to the oversight of federal, state and agency regulations, program policies, procedures, quality assurance and safety (MACMH. Org, 2016). Clinical supervision is case-focused and will likely include objectives such as review of casework, treatment planning, intervention strategies, clinical progress, etc. The parallel process comes into play during the third type of supervision, reflective supervision. This process relates to the review of case material using a reflective lens to explore using the parallel process.  Specifically, attention to all of the relationships is important, including the relationship between practitioner and supervisor, between practitioner and parent, and between parent and child. Each of these relationships affects the other (MACMH. Org, 2016).

The Growing Great Kids Staff Development and Certification Guide includes a Supervision Guide for Reflective and Skill-Driven Practice. This tool is designed to be used by the supervisor to promote reflective practice and grow home visitor competencies.  This guide includes examples of questions a supervisor can ask to encourage reflection. These questions are intended to function as the supervisor’s conversation guide to explore the home visitor’s relationship with family members, the parent-child relationship, child development and health, family functioning, stressors and safety, and the family’s support network. Since reflective supervision involves the parallel process, it is important that the supervisor remain aware of his/her reactions in order to model healthy interactions within the supervisory process. Remember that emotions, reactions, and energy experienced during supervision can potentially carry over to the home visitor-parent relationship.

The parallel process calls for self-awareness regarding thoughts, feelings, and reactions to emerging relationships between the infant, parent, home visitor, and supervisor. In addition to the supervisor creating a safe and trusting environment for reflective practice, he/she is also responsible for modeling appropriate and healthy professional boundaries while maintaining a genuine interest in the supervisee’s personal well-being.  Strong supervisor-supervisee relationships are built from day-to-day interactions. Relationships that meet each other on common grounds of commitment, values, ability to solve problems, mutual respect, and sense of accomplishment are the most effective. Using the GGK Strength-Based Approach Strategies: Problem Talk, Accentuate the Positive, Normalizing, and Wondering Curiosity in supervision will increase the likelihood that staff will use these strategies with families during home visits. Here are some examples:

  •  Problem Talk – is intended to clarify an issue, to identify what has already been tried and to brainstorm ideas for the best course of action. You use Problem Talk by asking questions that start with the “W” word: Who, What, When, Where.
  •  Accentuate the Positive –is designed to increase a behavior and/or build self-esteem.
  •  Normalizing – is used to normalize a belief or behavior and share information or educational material.
  •  Wondering Curiosity – a way to support another person in examining how their opinions, beliefs, and feelings are impacting them while expanding their choices for a course of action.

Our work is strongly based on the relationships and interactions we experience every day, not only with families but with supervisors, co-workers, peers, and other professionals – it’s a parallel process.  All relationships matter and have a profound impact (either directly or indirectly) in our professional roles. Let’s then be aware and reflective of our actions and reactions and grow from all of our experiences.


Episode 5 – Dr. Lawrence Shulman: Models of Supervision: Parallel Processes and Honest Relationships. (2008, October 20). InSocialWork® Podcast Series. [Audio Podcast] Retrieved from http://www.insocialwork.org/episode.asp?ep=5

The Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health (2016).  Infant Mental Health: Best Practice Guidelines for Reflective Supervision/Consultation. Retrieved from http://www.macmh.org/about-maiecmh/guidelines-reflective-supervision

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