Person-centred supervision

In this article, I have written about working with a person-centred supervisor and have included some theory to help explain about supervisory relationships. There are sections on personal and professional development; a collaborative relationship; first sessions in group and individual supervision; as well as a long section on what people talk about during supervision.

Whatever your supervisor's theoretical approach, it is important that:

  • You can contact your supervisor between sessions if there is an emergency or something that cannot wait until the next session.
  • You feel comfortable enough to explore your work at depth, including areas that you are uncertain about and any mistakes. 
  • You experience enough safety and warmth to be vulnerable in front of your supervisor. 
  • You have an honest and genuine relationship with your supervisor. Therefore you can comment upon the supervisory relationship without your supervisor becoming defensive and he or she is willing to give you honest feedback as necessary. 
  • Your supervisor is aware of your level of experience and development and can work with you at that level. For example, trainee counsellors have different needs from experienced counsellors.
  • You feel challenged at a level that is suitable for you.

What is person-centred supervision?

"I am most impressed with the fact that each human being has a directional tendency toward wholeness, toward actualisation of his or her potentialities.....if I can provide the conditions that allow growth to occur, then this positive directional tendency brings about constructive results."
Carl Rogers, A Way of Being.

Person-Centred supervisors have a trusting attitude towards supervisees. This includes trusting supervisees to develop personally and professionally and trusting their experiences of clients and therapeutic relationships. Supervisors have the intention of providing a particular type of relationship that enables supervisees to be fully engaged and present for clients. Hopefully, this enables counsellors to meet their client’s needs and to practice in an ethical manner.

Carl Rogers (1957) describes six conditions that he considers necessary and sufficient for psychological growth. Whilst these conditions refer to the relationship between counsellor and client it can be argued that they are also important in supervisory relationships.

The conditions explained

Psychological contact – we are not just sitting in the same room. Something is happening between us, we have some sort of effect upon each other. It can be argued that this is fundamental. Without psychological contact nothing is going on between us, there is no therapy or supervision.

Imbalance or inconsistency - the second condition is that within the client there is an imbalance or inconsistency. As a result, the client feels anxious and seeks counselling. Rogers calls this state incongruence. It might be that this condition is most relevant to counselling relationships.

Congruence - the third condition is that the therapist/supervisor is congruent within the relationship. This involves being continuously aware of what one is experiencing whilst with a client/supervisee and able and ready to share ones experiencing when therapeutic or helpful.

Unconditional positive regard – having an accepting, respectful and warm attitude towards the other person consistently, regardless of what they say, think or do. Holding this attitude does not necessitate liking what is said or done, it is acceptance of the person themselves.

Empathy – understanding another person so deeply that I understand what it is like to be them. At the same time, I am aware of my own individuality and my personal reality. It is as if I am them.

The final condition is that empathy and unconditional positive regard are experienced. If for example another person deeply understands my fear of flying but does not portray their understanding either in words or expression I cannot benefit from it.

counsellor room with two chains

The supervisee's personal and professional development

Personal development can be seen as integral to professional development. It includes developing an internal locus of evaluation (trust in one’s inner perceptions and intuition); acceptance of self and others and the capacity to put aside one’s own views and feelings in order to understand how something is from another person’s perspective.

Person-centred practitioners are interested in supporting supervisees’ in their process of developing congruence. This allows supervisees to work with clients at relational depth (relational connection).

"The supervisor has no other concern, no other agenda than to facilitate the therapist’s ability to be open to her experience so that she can become fully present and engaged in the relationship with the client." Elke Lambers, 2000
Another aspect of professional development is looking at what is useful for supervisees in terms of reading and further training.

A collaborative relationship

Collaborative supervision involves supervisor and supervisee(s) engaging together to understand and to explore supervisory material such as the relationship between counsellor and client, ethical issues and the supervisee(s) professional development. This is a joint process and it is understood that each person has something important to bring to the enquiry, for example, professional experience, intuition, cognitive understanding, knowledge, wisdom and relationship with the client.

Collaborative supervision is most effective when there is a trusting, warm and respectful relationship between supervisor and supervisee(s). It is important that the supervisor is willing to carefully consider any personal feedback and welcomes discussion. It is essential that supervisee(s) feel comfortable enough with their supervisor or within a supervision group to be self-reflective and to explore their client work openly.

First impressions

Individual one to one Supervision: the first session is an opportunity to get to know each other, to check that both people wish to continue working together and to discuss any expectations and concerns regarding supervision. Contracting might include agreeing upon the level of confidentiality and frequency, length and cost of sessions. Counselling course and workplace requirements may be specified.

Group Supervision: Often group supervision takes place in a counselling placement or a work environment. During the first session, the supervisor and supervisees meet and introduce themselves. Areas of discussion are likely to include confidentiality, requirements of the organisation, how to use and divide the time available and the participant’s counselling approaches.

Supervisees may have different therapeutic approaches and it is important that the supervisor has adequate knowledge of their perspectives and a respectful attitude towards all reputable approaches. This ensures that all supervisees are facilitated to work beneficially and ethically according to their own approach. 

close up of a counsellors hands as he speaks

What do people talk about during supervision?

Supervision is a formal arrangement for counsellors to discuss their work regularly with someone who is experienced in counselling and supervision. The task is to work together to ensure and develop the efficacy of the counsellor-client relationship.

The agenda will be the counselling work and feeling about that work together with the supervisor’s reactions, comments and confrontations. Thus supervision is a process to maintain adequate standards of counselling and a method of consultancy to widen the horizons of an experienced practitioner. 

  • Supervisees express and explore their worries, difficulties, irritations and uncertainties. They share their pleasure in a clients’ process of change and signs of healing. The value of their work is recognised. 
  • Supervisees talk about what happened in a counselling session and explore any area that seems to be important or significant. Supervisees’ perceptions and experiences of their clients and their clients’ material are considered. Issues are understood empathically from the client’s point of view.
  • Supervisees’ therapeutic relationships are explored. Areas include the effects of gender upon a counselling relationship; power dynamics between the helper and the helped; the effects of differences eg race, class, disability upon the relationship; levels of openness between counsellor and client and whether there is a sense of connection or distance between them.
  • Supervisee(s) and supervisor work with anything that is blocking a supervisee from being fully present with clients and from being accepting, empathic and genuine. Examples are personal issues, irritation with a client (e.g. for missing sessions), difficult client material (e.g. abuse), feeling afraid or uncomfortable with a client, race, religious and cultural differences between counsellor and client, sexual attraction and many more issues.
  • Supervisee(s) and supervisor consider appropriate boundaries and boundary issues in therapeutic and supervisory relationships.
  • Looking at therapeutic responses and interventions, what to say and whether or not to take a risk.
  • Theoretical understandings are explored and theory is linked with practice.
  • Checking together that the supervisee is working ethically and referring to the BACP Code of Ethics as necessary. Dilemmas can occur and there is careful consideration of what is most therapeutic and ethical in these situations.
  • There is honest discussion regarding the relationship between supervisee and supervisor as necessary. In group supervision, it may be important to explore group dynamics and relationships and to work together with any conflicts that occur. Participants may work with current issues within a counselling course, counselling placement or working environment.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Paula Newman - MBACP (Senior Accred) Counsellor / Supervisor

I have been counselling and supervising for several years and am experienced in providing individual, couples and family therapy. Counselling can be a journey of discovery, it can also be challenging and emotional, it is my intention to provide a safe, supportive and confidential relationship. I am fortunate to meet people from many different walks of life, for me the bonds that we form with each … Read more

Written by Paula Newman - MBACP (Senior Accred) Counsellor / Supervisor

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