How to Leverage Peer Consultation for Therapist Growth
By Shannon Heers
Every therapist knows that continuous learning and growth is important for you to advance in your knowledge and career. There are many different ways to get that professional development, including formal training, ongoing clinical consultation with a supervisor, and group peer consultation. I’m going to focus on peer consultation for this article, and why it can help to leverage your growth as a therapist.
What is Peer Consultation for Therapists?
Peer consultation is an informal term for obtaining clinical feedback, case consultation, and professional support from your colleagues. Most often, peer consultation is used to define a group of peers engaging in professional discussion. Peer consultation groups can be run by a clinical supervisor or the group members themselves can structure and facilitate the groups.
Benefits of Peer Consultation
There are a number of positives and not many, if any, negatives in engaging in peer consultation. Here is a quick list of what you can gain from collaborating with your peers for your own professional growth:
- Enhanced clinical skills and insights
- Increased self-awareness and self-reflection
- Building a supportive network
- Managing burnout and compassion fatigue
And the top benefit of engaging in peer consultation is feeling less isolated and lonely. If you are a therapist in private practice, you may be missing that “team” atmosphere, or feel the lack of coworkers. Finding a solid peer consultation group can help you replicate working within a group, while still maintaining control of your own work.
Finding the Right Peer Group
Peer consultation is usually not a once-and-done event. Or if it is, you’re probably not looking for a peer supervision group that meets consistently. Searching for the right-fit peer consultation group may take a bit of time and effort. You will want to make sure that the group can meet your needs, and is consistent enough in meeting that you can actually grow and develop as a therapist.
Some of the things to look into as you begin your search for a peer group include deciding if you want a group of therapists that have similar clinical interests, or different interests. It depends on what you want to use the group for – if it’s primarily networking, you probably want to join a peer group with therapists who work with vastly different populations. If you’re looking for case consultation, you may want to choose a group that has therapists with similar clinical interests.
It is also important to choose a peer group that is around your level of expertise. You don’t want to find yourself the absolute “expert” in the group with having many more years of experience than everyone else. And conversely, it can be uncomfortable to be the “newbie” in the group when the other group members have been practicing for several more years than you.
Having a set of shared goals will also really help in finding a good fit peer consultation group. You won’t want to join a networking group that doesn’t have any clinical discussion if your goal is to get different perspectives on your clients or learn new clinical interventions. And finally, you want to make sure that your schedule is compatible with the peer group meetings for the long term.
Structuring Effective Peer Consultation Groups
If you are starting your own peer consultation group or are part of getting one started, then you’ll want to create some sort of structure. First, you’ll want to set up some goals for the group and how the group is going to be structured. Will each group member get designated time to discuss their case or issue with the group, or will the discussion be based on needs and urgency?
It is always helpful to remind the group of confidentiality and that what is said in the group, stays in the group. Just as with therapy groups, this helps to establish safety and encourages therapist vulnerability and thus growth.
And finally, the group should decide on different roles. You can assign roles or rotating roles, although if the group is led by a clinical supervisor then the supervisor usually takes on all the required roles. Different roles within the peer group can include time keeper, scheduler, group facilitator, and conflict manager.
Overcoming Challenges in Peer Consultation
It can be difficult to join with a group of peers that you may not know well, if at all. Anytime someone joins a group of any kind, there is bound to be some level of anxiety. You may be thinking, “how can I fit in?” or “what if others think I’m a bad therapist” or something along these lines. Just know that you are not the only one experiencing this anxiety, and it’s always helpful to bring it up to discuss during the group, rather than ignoring it.
Conflicts within the peer group can also be challenging to work through. That is why it is important that everyone agrees to the group goals and to have a group structure, before even starting the group. Then it is easier to bring up conflict and process through it in a respectful way.
If you are presenting a case to the group for feedback, you will likely get several very different points of view on how to proceed with the case. Getting diverse perspectives and feedback is one of the best benefits of peer consultation, but it can also be challenging when you don’t agree with the feedback. Remember, you do not have to take anyone’s advice – peer consultation is just that, consultation. It’s not supervision, and you are practicing under your own license.
My Experience With Peer Consultation Groups
Having facilitated and been a member of several peer consultation groups, I know that each group is very different. I’ve been part of a peer consultation group for over 4 years now, and I know and trust my fellow peers by this point. But I didn’t always. It did take some time to get to know the other group members, but now I can be honest and vulnerable and show my uncertainty without fear of judgment.
I know that I could not have progressed this far, and this successfully, in my career as a private practice therapist without peer consultation. It has been essential for providing me with support, different perspectives, and helping to grow my clinical skills. This is what I wish for you as you start your journey to find a peer consultation group!
If you are looking for an online peer consultation group, check out the different types of consultation groups that Firelight Supervision offers. All of our peer consultation groups are organized and facilitated by an experienced clinical supervisor, so all you have to do is show up as your best self and get the most out of each group.
How we can help
Are you seeking peer consultation within a community of other like-minded private practice therapists? Check out our Clinical Consultation Community, which offers individual and group consultation, monthly clinical trainings, and more! What is holding you back? Get started today with peer consultation!
Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, approved clinical supervisor, guest blogger, and the owner of a group psychotherapy practice in the Denver area. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Firelight Supervision on Instagram.