When I saw my therapist for the first time, I felt very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, or what would be expected of me, but I knew that I needed help to move on.
During that first session, David (my therapist) outlined a contract or agreement that we discussed together. This was about arranging appointments, his cancellation policy, how long the sessions would last, and the fee. We talked about how confidential the therapy would be. This was important to me, as I felt ashamed to let anyone know that I was seeing a therapist. David explained that whatever I shared with him would remain completely confidential, unless there were legal or safety matters that might make it necessary to tell someone, and that he would talk to me about this first where at all possible.
What David said next made me feel a little uneasy. He said that he met with his supervisor regularly, and that while he would not reveal any significant details about me, he might talk to his supervisor whose name was Rashida about how my therapy was progressing.
At the time, I felt too nervous to ask why he needed a supervisor. I wondered if he saw a supervisor because he was not very confident, or if he needed close mentoring for some reason. People where I worked were ‘closely supervised’ after something went wrong. I never did ask David what his supervision was about, as I soon felt safe with him. He seemed to be confident and knowledgeable, and I was finding the therapy helpful, though difficult at times.
Let’s go back to that unasked question. Why does a therapist need a supervisor? Let’s imagine a helicopter that hovers slowly over an area of interest, picking up on details that may not be obvious from the ground. When David meets with Rashida, it’s as if they are in the helicopter together, looking over the work, while David describes the ‘landscape’ of his work, the difficulties, concerns, and successes that he experiences with his different clients.
Sometimes Rashida might see an obstacle that David is unaware of because something difficult in his own life is unresolved and preventing him from working as clearly as he would like to. She might challenge him for poor practice, encourage him when he feels stuck, teach some new theory, or suggest articles or research papers to read. David soon learnt that in supervision with Rashida, the focus of supervision was definitely more on himself than his clients, as he developed a growing competence and confidence as a psychotherapist.
For as long as David is in supervision with Rashida or any other supervisor, it remains his supervisor’s responsibility to make sure that he is practicing as competently and ethically as he is able to. Rashida’s support and ‘super-vision’ make sure that David is practicing to his best ability, keeping his clients and himself safe as they continue the healing journey.
If you are looking over this website for a therapist or counsellor, or even a supervisor for your own practice, do ask the person you choose if he or she sees a supervisor regularly. The answer should certainly be ‘yes’! You can now rest assured that in your therapy, there are two people involved in your care – your therapist and the (behind the scenes) supervisor. These two work together to ensure that your therapy is as effective as possible.