What is the role of a counselling supervisor?

Counselling supervisors have many responsibilities. In this article, I'll explore what my role as a supervisor includes.


My relationship with the supervisee

I want the supervisee to feel comfortable enough to talk openly about their practice without fear of judgment. As a supervisor, I do have to speak directly and discuss practice, well-being and ethical dilemmas. I want my supervisee to feel a safe space of compassion and professional respect. I have belief in my supervisee that they are aiming for best practices and a good relationship with open communication can iron out potential issues early on. 

Supervisee welfare

Counselling is unique in that the counsellor is the tool. Daily, we listen and work with pain and emotional distress. We have to bring ventral energy (a state where we can focus and talk easily) and safety into the therapeutic space to give the client regulation and containment. Counsellors are human and experience stressors and life events. Part of checking supervisee welfare is allowing space to debrief, express personal distress and monitor for vicarious traumatisation.

Other aspects of supervisee welfare include self-care, working hours and breaks. Is there a good work-life balance? Is the supervisee taking enough breaks to prevent compassion fatigue?

Where appropriate we would discuss personal safety and lone working.

Client welfare

At the centre of supervision is client welfare. Client welfare means so many different things. Ultimately it is a balance between vulnerability/risk and autonomy. For me, as a supervisor, it is about trusting the supervisee to identify those risks whilst having the oversight to bring direct conversations about suicide, health, bullying at work, and coercive relationships into the room and share additional signposting if needed.

Relationship between client and supervisee

There is the richness of the counsellor/client relationship. Is it one of relational depth? Does the counsellor like the client? What does the counsellor sense from the client? Where are the points of transference and countertransference? Maternal, relational, erotic? Is there therapeutic enactment?

How does the counsellor leave their implicit cellar and attachment at the door and what is the client bringing into the relationship via their attachment and implicit cellar? How are the boundaries? Is it a good working relationship?

Ethical practice

Supervision provides the space for supervisees to explore the nuances of ethics within the professional framework and has that second perspective on various boundaries and dilemmas.


Is the approach right for the client and what the client brings? Does the supervisee feel confident in the approach and specific techniques they are using? Supervision provides a space to be experiential and play with different tools and techniques to build confidence. It is an opportunity to role-play, experiment and learn what works. 


Does the philosophy match the approach and context? Both of these evolve and change. Philosophies may include feminism, queer theory, humanistic, and anti-psychiatry. A counsellor may have a person-centred approach and a non-pathologising philosophy, how will this work with a client who has one or more diagnoses or for a counsellor who works within an organisation that uses labels?


As well as the client, the counsellor and me the supervisor, sometimes there is another party. This could be the counsellor's employer who may be statutory or non-statutory and will also have some interest in the client. It may be the client’s referrer who could be their employer, a charity, or a justice system. This all impacts the therapeutic journey and relationship. It may determine the number of sessions.

The client or counsellor may feel the aim of therapy has to meet the objectives of the other party. Funding may rely on the other party. In the case of a counsellor's employment, this will determine how many clients are seen a day, how many breaks the counsellor can take, and the things already discussed in supervisee welfare.

My imagined relationship with the client

From the discussion with the supervise, I will form an image of the client and a narrative of their history. I have to hold in my head that this is utter fiction. I have never met this person. From this fiction, I will create an imagined formulation or approach of how I would work with this client. All this is fiction because I am working with my supervisee. Used properly this fiction can be a tool to consider alternatives if the supervisee feels stuck.

CPD and development

Another purpose of supervision is career development which includes exploring CPD (continuing professional development) and further training that the supervisee has an interest in, that may benefit practice with clients or that may benefit work within the context as discussed above.

Business, marketing and salary are important parts of supervision. A supervisee who cannot afford their gas bill because of insufficient clients or low salary is going to be too stressed to be an effective counsellor.

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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Alsager, Cheshire, ST7
Written by Jacqueline Karaca, M.Sc. Hons Counselling Psych; B.Sc.Hons Psychology MBACP Reg
Alsager, Cheshire, ST7

Jacquie Karaca is a psychotherapist, supervisor trainer and author. She qualified in 2007 and has specialised in all aspects of trauma, workplace stress, ethnicity and culture and LGBTQ+ She practices individual and relationship counselling online and face to face. She offers supervision online, face to face and in groups.

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