What is Supervision?

Supervision is a formal arrangement for therapists to discuss their work regularly with someone who is experienced in both therapy and supervision. In some settings supervision may also incorporate elements of training and assessment. Whatever the chosen format, the supervisory relationship is at the heart of effective supervision (Millar 2007; Stafford 2008).

The supervisor’s goal is “to do whatever seems most likely to send the other person away more aware, more informed, skilled and encouraged than she was when she came in.” (Houston 1990, p12).

Inskipp and Proctor (2001) describe supervision as: “A working alliance between the supervisor and counsellor in which the counsellor can offer an account or recording of her work; reflect on it; receive feedback and, where appropriate, guidance. The object of this alliance is to enable the counsellor to gain in ethical competence, confidence, compassion and creativity in order to give her best possible service to the client.”

Milne (2007): “The formal provision, by approved supervisors, of a relationship-based education and training that is work-focused and which manages, supports, develops and evaluates the work of colleague/s. The main methods that supervisors use are corrective feedback on the supervisee’s performance, teaching and collaborative goal setting. It therefore differs from related activities, such as mentoring and coaching, by incorporating an evaluative component. Supervision’s objectives are ‘normative’, ‘restorative’ and ‘formative’.”

Purpose / Goals of Supervision

The purpose of supervision is to assist in the development of the reflective practitioner to support the therapist to maximise the effectiveness of the therapeutic relationship to monitor / safeguard the interests of the client. In addition, good supervision will include elements of training and self-development. Effective therapy requires the therapist to interweave and integrate theory and practice. Supervisors will encourage the therapist’s development, continued learning and self-monitoring.

Supervision as a developmental process exists for three reasons:

  • to protect clients
  • to improve the ability of professional counsellors to provide value to their clients
  • to monitor the self-care of the counsellors

The focus of supervision is the therapy. This might include some or all of the following:

  • what made the client come for therapy now
  • the background (history, recent events)
  • what the client wants
  • all the feelings that arise from the therapy (which may also appear in the relationship between
    supervisor and supervisee – parallel process)
  • the therapy process
  • theory
  • ethical considerations
  • the setting
  • boundaries
  • managing risk
  • the suitability of both the therapist and the setting for working with this client at this time
  • organisational issues
  • the supervisor’s reactions, comments and challenges

There are two schools of thought about the overlapping nature of supervision and personal therapy.

In most US/UK graduate programmes, the practice is to keep the two firmly segregated, in that the supervisee is accountable to his/her supervisor for the clients and the manner in which therapy is being conducted, and if and when issues of personal significance come up, they are to be taken up further with the supervisee’s therapist. This is true of some of the counselling programmes in India as well.

The main rationale behind this is to avoid role confusion and abuse of power, since in most of these programmes the available pool of supervisors/therapists is from the course faculty itself. There is also the view that the supervisor may lose focus, in that the primary beneficiary of supervision is intended to be the client, not the supervisee. Multiple evaluative roles held by the supervisor could also potentially increase the stress of the supervisee.

The other school of thought – found in some of the universities in Australia and India – is to have an integrated approach, where supervision encompasses the needs and awareness of a counsellor not just in relation to the clients s/he may work with but also for him/her as an individual. This encourages more self-observation and greater convergence between personal and professional identities. It also minimises the potential blind spots that may be present in the individual seeking supervision / personal therapy.

How much supervision?

Again, the norms for this vary from place to place; some of the standards are:

  • For accredited counsellors, the minimum amount of supervision required to achieve and maintain BACP accreditation is one and a half hours individual or equivalent per month for each month that counselling is undertaken. For graduate students under BACP courses, the minimum amount is one hour for each week. There are comparable norms for those studying/ practicing under APA guidance
  • In Australia, the norm for beginning counsellors (1-3 years experience) is a minimum of 1 hour of supervision for every 20 hours of therapy. This progresses geometrically with increased experience meaning more therapy hours in ratio to the hour of supervision

At TalkItOver, we offer supervision services both in-person and through telephone. If you are already seeing clients, maybe it’s a good time to consider supervision.

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