Unfamiliar co-therapists can use code phrases to transfer control of the session. Both they and the client can then focus on the client’s issues rather than the dynamics between the therapists.
While there should be no confusion in the mind of the client as to who is leading the session, there may be some stress for the therapists. Trainees may wonder if and when their supervisor will take over (or in some cases, may wish their supervisor to rescue them!). Supervisors may wish to ask a question or reinforce a point, but hesitate to undermine the trainee by interrupting.
The client’s focus should be on the issues they bring to therapy. Any awareness of unease on the part of their therapist may distract from this focus. Transfer of control of the session from one therapist to the other should be obvious to the client, but wrangling between the therapists should not.
Therapists’ attention should be on their clients, not each other. Experienced therapists accustomed to working together (eg: family therapists, members of multidisciplinary teams) may be comfortable working in tandem, but in the absence of such familiarity, some simple rules can be very helpful.
Prior to the session, if you are unaccustomed to working with your co-therapist, you should review the circumstances under which a transfer of control of the session may be sought or required. My rules are that I will take over from my trainee if they have made a serious error (only twice in fifteen years) or if they request that I do so (eg: they’re out of their depth).
If I wish to take over, I will say “may I ask a few questions?”. If the trainee wishes me to take over, they will say “would you like to ask a few questions?”. We are then both clear as to what is happening. The client too is clear that there is a transfer of control, but need not be distracted by the dynamics between their therapists.