What is professional supervision?
There is a lot of talk about supervision and the need for it, but there seems to be little understanding of what supervision actually entails and why it is required. Supervision is a mandatory requirement of most professional organisations and should be written into any contracts where a counsellor is employed.
Supervision is the process where by a counsellor can speak to someone who is trained to identify any behavioural and/or psychological changes in the counsellor that could be due to an inability to cope with issues of one or more clients. A supervisor is also responsible for challenging practices and informing clients of alternative theories and/or new practices, as well as changes in the industry.
The supervisor is responsible for observing the mental health of their client in turn protecting the public from unhealthy counsellors. Counsellors can face issues such as transference and burn out without any recognition of the symptoms. A professional supervisor would notice the symptoms long before the counsellor. Supervision is a learned discipline separate from counselling.
Counselling skills such as advanced micro-skills are used as well as a good knowledge of theories old and new and a working knowledge of the industry. Being a qualified counsellor does not make you a supervisor. A supervisor needs to be able to see through the smoke screen thrown up by a counsellor who is having problems. The old adage that doctors make the worst patients is valid for counsellors; counsellors are generally the last to acknowledge they are having problems.
A supervisor needs to be experienced and have advanced communication skills to supervise effectively. A session in supervision will usually cover several aspects of counselling. A supervisor will discuss recent sessions that a counsellor has given, paying attention to how and why the counsellor used particular theories and what the motives to challenging were.
They will listen to detect if the counsellor had any agendas that were not the clients. Is the counsellor owning the clients issues? Did the counsellor detach from their clients after sessions in a healthy way? Is the counsellor dwelling on a clients issue or not sleeping or resting due to intrusive thoughts related to a client’s issue. Is the counsellor getting sufficient rest and recharging or are they burning out?
A supervisor needs to check all these issues and more without being intrusive or threatening. The supervisor has to respect counsellor-client confidentiality and adhere to the same ethical conditions as a counsellor. Supervision is similar to counselling in as much as a counsellor should not receive formal counselling from a friend, colleague, relative or co-worker. Supervision should be on a contractual basis with an agreed sum of money for services. Being a professional service can make this a tax deductible item.
Supervision does not need to be face to face, it can be conducted over the phone just as effectively, particularly if you are isolated due to distance. The internet may not be a good idea unless you have a secure line. Supervision needs to be conducted no less than once a month for all those who are seeing clients on a professional basis. Once a fortnight may be needed for counsellors who work in excess of 20 client hours a week.