Roxanna N. Pebdani, Ph.D. C.R.C.
California State University, Los Angeles
Many of us provide supervision in different ways in our various roles – sometimes to counselors in our employ, sometimes to interns who work with us, and sometimes to colleagues who also provide us with supervision! Supervision is an important aspect of being the best professional you can be – and yet it is one of the most overlooked parts of counselor training.
Think back to your education – did you learn how to properly supervise counselors? Likely not – instead you were focusing on being the supervisee – being trained in a counselor role! That is how many of us learn what it is like to be a supervisor – through modeling. Unfortunately, when we model our supervision from that provided by people who haven’t been trained in supervision, we don’t get the best supervisory results! And yet, supervision is how we ensure our students or counselors are functioning in the best way possible, and it’s also how we ensure that our students/clients are receiving the best care possible. What could be more important than that?
Supervision can be provided at many different levels. It can be provided to the student worker at the front desk of a campus office, to a graduate level intern working with clients/students for the first time, to counselors who have been working with clients/students for years, and even to peers who are struggling with a case.
Bernard (1997) considers supervisors to have multiple roles in the supervisory relationship. Supervisors need to balance the role of teacher, counselor, and consultant. In this, as one progresses through a supervision session, they might be providing information (teacher), support (counselor), or guidance (consultant). Effective supervisors change their approach based on the needs of the supervisee, and there’s no reason to think that a supervisor might not move through all three of these roles in one session.
So, how can you be the best supervisor you can be?
- Set regular and consistent times for supervision. Without a set schedule of meetings, it is easy to allow supervisory session to fall by the wayside. If you consistently meet with a supervisee, you demonstrate the importance of supervision and ensure that you have the ability to track their progress and their work.
- Develop a plan for supervision that fits your supervisee’s needs. Should the supervisee bring in cases that they are struggling with each week? Do you want to watch and evaluate their performance regularly, and use that as discussion points in supervision? What works best in your particular setting, and what works best for you and your supervisee?
- Understand that it takes time and effort to build a strong supervisory relationship. Supervision is often hierarchical. It takes patience and guidance to help your supervisee see that it is okay to share with you mistakes they have made. This is where the counselor role comes in handy.
- Understand that there are cultural factors that affect the supervisory relationship. These can lead to distrust in the supervisor and/or the supervisory relationship, difficulties in communication, and general discomfort in the supervisory relationship.
- Remember your roles: teacher, counselor, and consultant. Listen closely to what your supervisee needs and provide support from each role accordingly.
This is by no means a comprehensive list; instead it is a starting point that supervisors may use to learn more about the provision of supervision. There are textbooks, journal articles, and graduate level classes on the topic of providing supervision. If you are interested in furthering your learning on the topic, Bernard and Goodyear’s 2014 textbook Fundamentals of Clinical Supervision is a good place to start. Beyond that, attend conference sessions that address supervision issues, take a continuing education class on supervision, consult with your colleagues on how they provide supervision. Work together to learn more and educate yourself on how to be the best supervisor you can be, so your employees and interns can be the best they can be!
Bernard, J. M. (1997). The discrimination model. In C. E. Watkins, Handbook of
Psychotherapy Supervision (pp. 310-327). New York, NY: Wiley.
Bernard, J. M., Goodyear, R. K. (2014). Fundamentals of Clinical Supervision. (5th ed.). Upper
Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.