What is 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.
 
In choosing a supervisor, counsellors need to assess their position on a scale from newly qualified to very experienced, to decide the main focus of the counselling work undertaken and to take into account their own training, philosophy and methods. The setting for counselling may be an important factor.
 
Agencies and institutions may have their own criteria for supervision and provide supervisors from within the organisation. Where outside supervision is more appropriate, considerable discussion and negotiation may be needed to arrange time away from work, financial support and assurance of confidentiality. Private practitioners must arrange their own supervision.
 
WHY SUPERVISION IS ESSENTIAL FOR THE PRACTISING COUNSELLOR
 
By its very nature, counselling makes considerable demands upon counsellors who may become over-involved, ignore some important point, become confused as to what is taking place within a particular client or have undermining doubts about their own usefulness. It is difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to be objective about one’s counselling and opportunity to discuss it in confidence with a suitable person is invaluable.
 
Good counselling also requires the counsellor to relate practice to theory and vice versa. Supervision can help the counsellor to evolve practice and in this sense is one aspect of continued training.
 
The supervisor can ensure that the counsellor is addressing the needs of the client, can monitor the relationship between the counsellor and client to maximise the therapeutic effectiveness of the relationship and ensure that ethical standards are adhered to throughout the counselling process. Though not concerned primarily with training, personal therapy or line management, supervisors will encourage and facilitate the ongoing self-development, continued learning and self-monitoring of the counsellor.
 
CHOOSING A SUPERVISOR
 
The less experience the counsellor has, the more experience the supervisor should have. Supervisors should be sufficiently experienced and qualified in counselling or in a closely related field for others to have confidence in their professional skills. The precise nature of their profession is less important than their skill in counselling and rapport with the counsellor concerned. Ideally the supervisor should have some training in supervision. The main focus of the counsellor’s work should be taken into consideration: one-to-one, couples, families, groups.
 
The counsellor should comprehend fully the training, methods and theoretical orientation of the proposed supervisor. Though at times a counsellor may prefer to get differing insights and perceptions from another orientation (e.g. behavioural or Gestalt), this can be confusing in supervision. As counsellors work from different philosophical backgrounds, it is important at an initial interview for the counsellor to discover whether the potential supervisor is someone with whom it will be possible to work and learn. Since it is the responsibility of counsellors to ascertain the qualifications and experience of the potential supervisor, they should enquire about this before making a formal contract.
 
Choosing a line manager as supervisor can lead to difficulties, since a conflict of interests may arise between the needs of the unit or institution (the priority of the line manager) and the needs of the counsellor. If line management supervision is mandatory then there must be access to other consultative support.
 
Finally, it is essential to bear in mind that ultimately the supervisor must place responsibility to the client over and above responsibility to the counsellor.