Holbeck College

What is counselling supervision?

Published 22 December 2021

What is counselling supervision?

Every practitioner works with a supervisor. But if you're brand new to counselling, the idea of having a supervisor even after qualifying might seem strange. In this episode, we'll explore what supervision is all about.

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Welcome to the mental health professional's podcast. I'm your host, Chris. And today we are looking at counselling supervision. So supervision is something that all counsellors or psychotherapists also coaches engage in as well. But if you're brand new to counselling and psychotherapy, then maybe it sounds strange. Maybe it's not clear what it is. And so we're going to go into that today.

So as it says, every practitioner has a supervisor. This isn't something that you allocated for your training period to watch over you. But everyone, even the most experienced practitioners will work with a supervisor. And the supervisor is a fellow practitioner, a fellow therapist that's been trained in supervision and they have a dual role. So they help you as the therapist. And they also look after the best interests of the client. And so you'll meet with them typically, maybe on a monthly basis for an hour or two. And really it gives you a chance to talk to someone else about what's going on in your practice. And then as I've said, too, is the dual role. So we'll kind of explore that step by step, starting off with the idea that your supervisor is someone who is there to help you. The problem with working as a counsellor is that it's really intense.

It's really emotional people tell us some really personal things. And of course, because of confidentiality, we can't talk to anyone about that. We can't talk to our partner, our family, our friends, because it's all confidential. But if we're dealing with a lot of really intense emotions, especially when we're talking about hard things, maybe it beings comes up, maybe suicide, maybe self-harm, maybe something that we're really not comfortable with. And even the, the quote, unquote easy clients, we're generally dealing with some difficult emotions there. And so being able to talk to someone else about it is really valuable. And that's in terms of confidentiality, our supervisor is someone that we can go into details with these cases about because that kind of inside our confidentiality net, whereas everyone else we know is is outside of that net. And we can't talk to them. They're also there to provide a second perspective.

So sometimes we just, we don't know where to go with a client and we're just, we're finding it really hard, or we just can't be objective because we're, we're involved with that client and our kind of emotional sense that we're unable to separate that client from, from how we're feeling, being able to get that second perspective in the same way that we, as a therapist provide a second perspective to the client. Our supervisor can provide a second perspective to us that can be really useful. I supervise that can also help us monitor our wellbeing. So are we taking holidays? Are we doing self-care? Are we looking after ourselves? A good supervisor will be asking these questions to make sure that we're okay. So that's the benefit to the practitioner of a supervisor. The supervisor is also there to protect the client's best interests. So what does that mean?

Well, they're there to hold us accountable. Are we following best practice? Are we putting the client's needs first with everything we're doing with that client? Are we considering whether that's best for them rather than any other motivations we might have such as we've just learned a brand new psychotherapy technique, and we'd love to bring that in, but our supervisor holds us accountable and say, hang on, you're doing this for your client, or are you doing this? Because it sounds really fun in particular, whichever body or professional institution you're members of, we'll probably publish a code of ethics and your supervisor will hold you accountable to this. None. They're kind of a horrible mean way, but in a collaborative way where they're like, okay, well you're struggling with an ethical decision here. I can see why don't we go to the code of ethics and see what that says, see what guidance that can offer, and we can work out what the best thing to do.

That's suitable for you, that's in the best interest of your clients. So what do we need to consider other as a supervisor II? What considerations might we think about when going into supervision when finding a supervisor? Well, we want to find a supervisor that we get on with. Now, if we're working in a big organization, typically there will be internal supervisors there and we might be assigned a supervisor that we could certainly request a different one. If we find we clicked with someone else, when we're working as individual practitioners are or trainees, typically it's up to us to find a supervisor. And so we want to find someone that we like, that we get on with that we can have a good working relationship with. Technically we don't need to like them, but we do need that good working relationship. We want someone that works well.

And maybe you like someone who's a bit blunt and does hold you accountable. We also need to make sure that we explain supervision to our clients. So when we're going through the contracting stage and we're talking about confidentiality, we need to make it clear that, Hey, we have a supervisor that we will talk to and any, any limits. And as we'll discuss in a minute on that but just making them aware that although everything they say is confidential, your supervisor is more in that bubble of confidentiality. And then you want to think about how much detail you're giving to your supervisor. So generally a lot of detail, but can we anonymize the clients? So are you going to use their first name only, or you're not going to use any names, something to work out with your supervisor so they know how they can follow from session to session what's going on, but while still protecting your client's privacy, as much as possible, also think it's important to say that supervision is not a safety net.

So a lot of trainee counsellors think, okay, well I've got my supervisor. So if anyone does mention something scary like suicide, I just, I just find that my supervisor and see what they will tell me what to do, but your supervisor, isn't there to tell you what to do. And they may not be available outside of your monthly or fortnightly sessions, or however often you're having supervision. So it's important to remember that as practitioners, we need to be self-sufficient, we need our own support networks. We need to be trained in the things that we're trying to do so that we can handle them ourselves. And yes, we'll talk about difficult issues with our supervisor, but it's not like a workplace supervisor where we shove our problems on them. We have to be able to do our job correctly and handle ourselves. And we use them for support, but they're not a safety net, but they are a great person to talk to. I mean, I think that's that that's an important point to emphasize is that our supervisor really is you'll get a lot of benefit. If you haven't done supervision before, you will probably find a really rewarding experience because it is someone that you can talk to that you can offload a lot of this really hard material. You can get some really useful guidance and you should really have a great productive relationship with them.