Supervision: A responsibility

I'd like to talk today a little about the supervisee/supervisor relationship as it has been brought to my attention that not every training course covers the supervision process and what one can expect. It's my hope that sharing this article can serve to clarify for potential supervises (i.e. counsellors/therapists) who may be training still and therefore unfamiliar as to what the process might be like, this article can serve as an exploration for that.


So to start let's look at what supervision is...

What is supervision? 

Firstly, supervision is a requirement for counselling practice. It is also a requirement for all good membership bodies as part of your professional membership to be required to be in supervision in order to be an ethical practitioner. It is also a relationship between a trainee or qualified counsellor/therapist with a more senior counsellor/therapist. This does not mean older, it simply means more experienced.

It is also a place to get not only support for your client work/caseload but also a place to explore what might be going on for your client and also what might be going on for you in relation to your client. It keeps both you and your client safe. It provides an additional level of oversight. It ensures that you are providing the best possible therapy to your clients at any one given time.

You might say it keeps the therapy honest but it's so much more than that. It is not a place where you will come to get raked over the coals, it is a place that is both high challenge and high support so that you can grow too and as you grow, your therapy practice will also grow. You may learn new skills, new theory, new ways of being, and tips to really grow and to reach new depths to your client work which will all serve to benefit your client and their mental health.

The oversight it provides is supportive. For myself, it has always been very beneficial, but you have to put the work in to get there, to build that trust, that rapport, that ability to get the most benefit out of supervision it will not just happen – you have to put the effort in. You wouldn't greet your clients with a tone that you couldn't be bothered today, would you? No, you wouldn't. Supervision is the same, you have to be bothered in order to get the most from it, to keep you and your clients safe. If your relationship with supervision is less than ideal you may need to ask yourself why and check in with how ethical you are or are not being. You can absolutely take that to supervision too. 

You can take anything to supervision, I can't stress this enough. The only thing you cannot do in supervision is therapy. But there may be times when you are between therapy sessions and in life things happen so it may be necessary to adopt a more therapeutic approach in therapy than usual in order to keep you and your clients safe. However don't misunderstand you cannot go to supervision and expect free therapy, it is not that. Which seg-ways nicely into the next bit, what supervision is not.

What supervision is not 

Now we will cover what supervision is not to ensure it is explicit.

Firstly, supervision is not therapy. Due to this, you will be encouraged to take things to your therapist that could encroach into therapy in order to keep the two separate (i.e. boundaries).

Supervision is not somewhere you can go and hang out for an hour like you are hanging out with your best friend. It is a place of exploration of your therapeutic practice, your therapeutic self, your client work, your training, your thoughts linked to your practice, your feelings linked to your practice, a thought, a question, random related points of intrigue, psycho-education, training, upskilling and more.

Supervision is not typically free, every practitioner is different and as such fees are an individual's choice as such you have the ability to shop around. You are however paying for a supervisor's time, training, experience, and expertise in much the same way a client would pay for your own services either now or in the future. So it's not a good idea to either assume or expect free services. If you get this type of set-up through a placement provider, fair enough, but it's the rarity, not the norm. 

Supervision is not an on-demand service. Supervisors have busy caseloads too and one should not expect them to provide supervision at the drop of a hat to meet your needs. If you are in supervision and have an emergency that is a different story and you will contract with your supervisor around appropriate levels of contact.

Supervision is not a place where the division of labour is subject to negotiation in that you don't have to do any work and expect the supervisor to do all the work. It can be a 50/50 split or some other percentage but it is not 100% all the supervisor or 100% all you. Just like you meet a client in the middle of the room, you and your supervisor enter into a similar agreement. Supervision is collaborative.

Supervision is not the place to be digging your heels in. If you are resistant to supervision, ask yourself why. What is going on for you in this relationship? We've already established you're not going to get in trouble, it's collaborative and it's a chance for growth, so why might you be resisting? Is this something for supervision or therapy?

Things to consider:

  • What benefit is there or how am I benefiting from digging my heels in in this way? The obvious one is that you don't have to deal with whatever it is we might be trying to ignore by digging your heels in. However, you will have to deal with it in the long term and you will not be benefiting long term as you will not be growing and you will potentially open yourself up to unethical practice which will impact your client work ergo. This is important – a willingness and an engagement with supervision.

Supervision is not optional it is a requirement. This is not always told to students on courses and can be a bit of a shock to hear as there are so many things that one has to outlay for both in the beginning and ongoing. My apologies if this is the first time you are hearing this but it is important you know it, sooner rather than later. So now that bandaid has been ripped off, back to it. You are contractually bound when you sign up to a membership body by the ethical agreement you subscribe to to be undertaking supervision.

Now the official bit is out of the way, what else do we need to know here? Prepare yourself for another shock...

When you undertake a supervision contract you are contractually bound to that agreement which is inclusive of how many times you will meet in a month. Typically twice a month (once every two weeks) while training (another cost you need to set funds aside for if you haven't been told already), but when qualified can go up to once (one long session a month) depending on your arrangement and your membership body's requirements and also your course requirements.

If you are in training, it is important you get the course requirement for how much supervision you are required to have. They usually all fall in similar frequencies but if training, then that is typically the one you will primarily use to meet the requirements of your training and complete to gain your qualifications.

These are just some of the things supervision both is and is not so hopefully this clarifies a few things for you if you are unfamiliar with the supervision process and even if you are familiar, but maybe some of these things you might have been unaware of. I hope that this article fills in some of the gaps I've come across thus far.

In conclusion, some of the things I want you to know other than the above is supervision is a place of support, exploration, upskilling, training, ethical consideration, reflection, learning, teaching, safety, experience and more. The latter one of experience sums it up fully I feel, simply put, supervision is experiential... you have to do it, be immersed in it, and engage with it to fully benefit from it.

It does not work if you do not engage with it. It is incumbent on you to bring the material with you to supervision and to prepare for supervision accordingly. Your supervisor is not a mind reader – you have to tell them what you want to explore. This is the same as bringing things with you to supervision. It is not OK to not bring anything with you to supervision, in a world where you can bring anything to supervision it could be considered lazy at best and, at worst, unethical.

To finalise, I hope this clarifies supervision for you, look forward to meeting you all on your journeys and remember... engage with the process.

Find a supervisor on the Counselling Directory. 

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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Leeds LS1 & York YO23
Written by Kai Manchester, BA (Hons) Integrative Counsellor MNCPS (Acc) Supervisor
Leeds LS1 & York YO23

Kai is a fully qualified Integrative Counsellor and Supervisor who works with individuals & couples in private practice. Kai did his degree in Integrative Counselling at Coventry University and went on to do his specialist training in Equine Therapy at Athena Herd in Kent. Kai specialises in anxiety and runs The Viking Therapist in Leeds

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