Are you getting the most from your supervision?

As counsellors, we know that good supervision has the potential not only to support our professional development and growth but it also provides the cornerstone of a safe and ethical practice. But how do you find the right supervisor and/or make sure you are optimising the supervision available to you?


Finding the right supervisor

Here are some pointers for reflection.

1. The relationship

Supervision works best when both the supervisee and the supervisor are at ease enough to discuss problems openly, celebrate successes, and acknowledge mistakes and opportunities for growth. The aim is to strike the right balance of comfort and challenge.

If you hold back from giving feedback or are only getting positive feedback, maybe the fear of upsetting each other is getting in the way of the learning. On the other hand, if you feel fearful of admitting mistakes or being judged, maybe there is a conversation to be had about ways in which you could increase the psychological safety between you.

It makes sense to me that the relationship between supervisee and supervisor is just as important as the relationship between therapist and client. Don’t be afraid to speak to a few supervisors before you decide who to choose, most offer an initial consultation meeting and will understand that you want to reflect on your decision.

2. The match between experience levels and modalities

Is the supervisor a good fit for where you are in your developmental journey as a therapist? Your level of skill and experience is likely to inform the type of Supervision you are looking for, for example if you are a trainee on placement, you are likely to benefit from more hands on support, possibly more akin to mentoring.

If you are an experienced therapist you may benefit from more of a collegiate approach, feeling more confident to draw on your own knowledge and experiences. The Integrative Developmental Model (IDM) of supervision, (Stoltenberg & Delworth,1987) is helpful here. Your modality will also be a consideration, if you are a person-centred counsellor, it makes sense to work with a supervisor who understands this modality well.

3. The setting

What is the best supervisory environment for you and your learning style? One to one, group, peer, face to face, online? There are lots of options and nothing is set in stone, you may decide that one to one supervision is best, supplemented by group peer supervision for example. Again it may be a case of trial and error to find the right option for you. Remember also that supervision is just one element of a broad range of development opportunities available to you.

4. Are you getting the right balance of Supervisory functions?

Inskipp and Proctor (2001) identify the three main functions of supervision as normative, formative and restorative. Thinking about your needs in relation to these functions can help you make the most of supervision. Here are some prompts for reflection under each. 

Normative (maintaining standards): Is my supervisor aware of the code of practice and ethical body with which I need to comply? How confident do I feel working with ethical dilemma’s and what support would help me develop more confidence in this area? 

Formative (educative): Where am I in the arc of my career development and what are my learning needs over the coming months/years? How do I want to develop my practice and how can my supervisor help me work on my learning and growth as a therapist?

Restorative (a safe space): Does my supervisor maintain an open and curious stance during sessions? Do we share common values? How do we ensure the self-care aspects of supervision make it onto the agenda?

5. Approaching supervision with intentionality

Do you prepare for the sessions? Do you have a clear idea of what you hope to get from them and agree an agenda in advance or at the start of the meeting? Do you prepare client in-take sheets for the clients you wish to discuss. Getting clarity on what’s important to cover in each session and preparing in advance will help ensure your supervisor can meet your needs.

If you are clear with yourself and your supervisor about about your needs and expectations, it will be much easier to identify a supervisor who is a good fit for you. It's important to see how a prospective supervisor responds to your questions. Are they are open to exploring these questions with you, if so, you are likely to be able to explain your needs and negotiate terms that work well for you both.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2
Written by Catherine Noel, Psychotherapist/Counsellor & Supervisor BA. PGDip. MBACP.
Tunbridge Wells, Kent, TN2

As an integrative counsellor and trainee psychoanalytical psychotherapist, I offer integrative supervision, using the Seven Eye Model as a framework. This helps develop a multi-dimensional perspective, which holds the client at its’ heart. 

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