What is Supervision? Why is it required?
Supervision in counselling refers to the process whereby a Counsellor relates to a more senior practitioner to discuss issues related to their practice.
It is an apprenticeship system if you like, but unlike most apprenticeships which have an end date, in counselling, the supervisee never arrives at the at a point that they don’t continue to need this protection.
All Counsellors whether they are just starting out or extremely experienced need to be involved in a supervision experience as they continue to practice. This is to safeguard both the Counsellor and the clients that they work with.
Supervision is a mandatory requirement of most professional human service organisations and should be written into any contracts where a Counsellor is employed. Counsellors in private practice are required to organize their own supervision or apply to counselling associations such as ACCA, ACA or PACFA to be referred to a registered supervisor.
All members of ACCA (apart from student members) are required to be under supervision to maintain their level of membership and to progress to higher levels of membership.
What happens in supervision?
Supervision involves the following four areas:
- Encouragement of the supervisee
- Further training
- Collaboration on case management
Typically this would occur through the discussion of specific cases that the supervisee is wishing to explore or receive advice on or have confirmation on in case analysis or planning.
Counselling vs Supervision
Supervisees may at times share personal issues with their supervisor which is natural enough in a good quality relationship particularly since the supervisor is obviously an experienced Counsellor, however supervisors must not get involved in personal counselling as this provides a ‘dual’ relationship which then in turn muddies the water with respect to the responsibility of supervision.
It is hard once you are involved as a supervisor with a supervisee who begins to download personal issues and who trusts you in a ‘counselling’ role to then decide that the supervisee is too much of a liability to be involved in supervision.
In order to work therapeutically the supervisor may leave clients at risk or conversely to cut the counselling relationship and leave the ‘client’ in the lurch.
It’s better to be aware of the distinctions before hand for both supervisor and supervisee.
This doesn’t mean of course that as people we can’t be real and tell each other if we’ve had a bad day or a blue with a family member. Brief therapy which is solution focused and supportive can be utilised in a natural and down to earth way however to engage in a full blown therapy session or series of sessions is to violate the supervision relationship.
Jean, this case brought up some real issues for me of abandonment in my own childhood.
OK how did it effect you Lola?
Well my guts started rolling and I had a sad sinking feeling and I felt like crying myself.
Mmm not good Lola, did your reaction get in the way of you hearing your client do you think?
No I don’t think so, but I’m just continuing to feel that feeling now.
Healthy Supervisor response:
Lola since this has come up for you so strongly, I am really worried for you as you have a few people right now on your case load who have some of the same kinds of issues. I am thinking that it might be a good thing to get to a Counsellor yourself for this issue. I know myself when this has happened it not only set me free but it also meant that I could really help people on their journey of healing a whole lot more as a result. How would you feel about that right now.
Can’t I talk to you Jean, I feel like I know you and trust you.
The Serious Side To Supervision
While supervision sessions should be stimulating, helpful and fun to attend, they do have a serious side.
Supervisors and supervisees contract to be engaged in supervision for a specific period of time and to cover specific subject matter. As a legal document supervision contracts can mean that the Supervisor can be held responsible for poor or dangerous practice of the supervisee.
So to supervise other junior workers in counselling is a sobering calling. Supervisors may decide if they feel a supervisee ‘covers up’ their real practice, to cancel the supervision relationship. They should do this in writing and ask the supervisee to sign this document and/or lodge it with the professional association.
You 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 clients 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 net 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.
Professional Supervision – What’s involved?
There still seems to be a lot of confusion about what Professional Supervision is and what it encompasses. The following sets out a general framework of what constitutes Professional Supervision and also discusses some issues.
Firstly, what Professional Supervision is not. It is not:
- Someone watching over your shoulder whilst you practise.
- A discussion between two practitioners;
- Being supervised whilst on a field placement or completing a course;
- Discussing personal matters with a Counsellor.
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 efficiency of the Counsellor/client relationship.
Professional supervision is a process to maintain adequate standards of counselling and a method of consultancy to widen the horizons of an experienced practitioner.
Counselling exposes Counsellors to situations that impose a great demand on practitioners. This demand can lead to becoming enmeshed, over-involved and being ineffective. Counsellors cannot in all cases be objective about their own abilities, agendas and practices.
A supervisor can be objective and help the Counsellor to grow and learn. The supervisor can ensure that the counselor is meeting the needs of their clients and keeping to ethical and professional standards.
Supervisors will also help Counsellors relate practice to theory and visa versa. Professional Supervision is a contractual agreement made between a Supervisor and a Supervisee.
The supervision is usually a paid-for service or in an agency it can be part of your employment requirement.
What makes someone a Supervisor?
A supervisor must fill all of the following criteria;
- Have a qualification in Supervision or be enrolled in a Counselling Supervision course.
- Have at least five years of clinical/counselling practical experience;
- Be a qualified clinical Counsellor (or eligible for registration as a clinical Counsellor with ACCA).
Who needs to have a Professional Supervisor?
- All practising Counsellors;
- Any person whose job has a large component that involves them dealing with people in crisis;
- Most professionals who work in the Human Services industry;
- Any other person who believes it would be advantageous;
- Professional Supervisors
How often do you need to have Professional Supervision?
- The recommended industry standard is one hour of supervision for every 20 hours of client contact time. For example, if you see 20 clients at one hour each over a two-week period you require one hour’s supervision per fortnight.
- For those in the Human Services industry not practising counselling it is suggested that one hour per week is adequate in most cases.
What qualifications does a Counsellor need to be a supervisor after meeting the above criteria?
- Completed or enrolled in an ACCA-recognised course in supervision.
- Most registered counselling psychologists are qualified through their degrees;
- Some Social Workers, depending on their background, are qualified through their degrees;
- Some religious leaders are qualified through experience and courses.
In essence a Professional Supervisor needs to be an experienced clinical counselor who has had at least four years practical counselling experience, and who has completed a qualification in supervision or enrolled in an ACCA recognized course in supervision or completed a qualification in supervision as part of a degree.
Who is not a Professional Supervisor?
- Anyone who does not meet the discussed criteria;
- Anyone who has a counselling qualification but does not meet the criteria;
- Anyone who is qualified as a Counsellor but has not had at least five years formal counselling experience. This includes academics and employees of training establishments.
This means that no one can become a Professional Supervisor simply by default. For example none of the following is a Professional Supervisor simply because of their position (but may be a supervisor if they meet the criteria):
- Your superior/supervisor (boss);
- Religious leader;
- Tutor/teacher (regardless of teaching or being involved in Counsellor education).
- Employee of a teaching establishment, regardless of their position or status.
What should my contract cover?
- Costs per session and any extras eg, STD phone calls;
- Session times;
- Amount of sessions per client contact time;
- Basic framework of sessions;
- Any journals and signing off procedures;
- Reporting procedures for any occurrences that involve ethical and/or legal issues;
- Penalties for late cancellations.
What should a session consist of?
The supervisors’ primary role is to ensure that their clients are receiving appropriate therapeutic counselling.
By ensuring the Counsellor continually develops their professional practice in all areas, the supervisor ensures a Counsellor remains psychologically healthy.
The supervisor is also responsible for detecting any symptoms of burn out, transference, hidden agendas etc in the supervisee.
The four following topics need to be discussed in sessions:
- Supervisee’s counselling;
- Developing process of self-review;
- Quality assurance;
- Best practice;
- Service outcomes of service delivery;
- Identifying risk for supervisee and clients;
- Follow up on client progress;
- Helping the Counsellor assess strengths and weaknesses.
- Establishing clear goals for further sessions;
- Providing resources;
- Explaining the rationale behind a suggested intervention and visa versa;
- Professional development;
- Interpreting significant events in the therapy session;
- Convergent and divergent thinking;
- Use of self;
- Topping up
- Facilitating peer connection;
- Duty of care;
- Legal responsibilities.
- Case planning;
- Record keeping;
- Use of self.
Is Supervision Mandatory?
No. No one can make you seek Professional Supervision.
However, Counsellors who do not have a Professional Supervisor cannot be placed on the ACCA referral database.
Professional Supervision is now a requirement within the industry.
Membership of professional bodies is now dependent on Professional Supervision and the amount of hours received.
Current members of ACCA who do not wish to receive Professional Supervision cannot apply for an upgrade to Professional or Clinical level.
Where do I find a Supervisor?
For members in regional and isolated areas this is a real dilemma. Counsellors who operate in small communities are faced with confidentiality issues if they see a supervisor who is part of that community.
Presently psychologists are the most popular form of Professional Supervision.
They can be found in the phone book. Social workers (qualified) are also able to give Professional Supervision. Some clinical Counsellors are also qualified and can be found in the phone book.
ACCA has a small list of members who are also qualified.
Do I have to do face-to-face Supervision?
No. As previously stated it can be advantageous to have a Supervisor who does not live close by or in the same community.
Phone supervision is effective and if supplemented by videotape every now and then can be just has informative.
What are the Supervisor’s Responsibilities?
Legally, if a Counsellor is sued, and has been receiving professional supervision, the counselor could consider taking action against their supervisor. The precedent for this has been set.
For those who see supervision as an easy way to make good money, think again. Supervisors carry the responsibility of their supervisees. A supervisor who has many clients carries a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. For each supervisee the supervisor is responsible for the development and practice of the Counsellor and the well being of the clients, within reason.
What are the Counsellor’s responsibilities?
The supervisee is responsible for carrying through with any work or practices that are agreed upon in a session. Supervisees who pay lip service to supervisors cannot hold their supervisor responsible if things go wrong. It is also the supervisee’s responsibility not to carry out any unethical practices that a poor supervisor may suggest. ‘I was told to’ is not a defence.
What is an impaired supervisor?
Unfortunately, being a supervisor does not necessarily mean a person is ethical or functional. There have been cases where impaired supervisors have justified improper practices by colluding with supervisees and passing on those improper practices to ‘spawn’ similar practitioners. By building a group of impaired practitioners the supervisor can justify improper practices and by numbers convince others that it is appropriate.
In some ways this is similar to forming a cult. Being a supervisee can put you in a vulnerable situation. If in doubt, seek help from your association or another supervisor.
Any supervisor that advises you to breach any part of the Code of Practice should be reported to the association and another supervisor sought.
Of all improper practices conducted by impaired supervisors, sexual exploitation is the most common. Sexual relationships with supervisors, supervisees, current or past clients are not acceptable and can lead to legal action and deregistration from professional bodies, even years after the event.
Is there anyone a supervisor should not supervise?
A supervisor should not supervise any person with who they have an emotional or physical relationship currently or prior to a contract of supervision, or any member of their immediate family. The reason for this is that in any relationship a power base is established by those involved. This power base is generally functional for the personal relationship and is part of the dynamics for the decision-making processes within the relationship. It would be realistic to expect these dynamics to be carried across into a business/professional relationship, whether consciously or unconsciously. These dynamics would in most cases not be conducive to an objective and fair relationship between a supervisor and supervisee.
Is the Gender of the Supervisor important?
Gender can be an issue. A woman who has been brought up with an overbearing father may seek approval from a male supervisor. A male who has been brought up with an unemotional father may seek a male supervisor, assuming they will be unemotional as well.
A Counsellor needs to reflect on why they may have a preference for a gender because they may be going into supervision with a hidden agenda.
Counsellors who find they have a preference for a gender due to a previous unpleasant experience may need to consider whether they have dealt with the issue satisfactorily.
A female Counsellor who has been a victim of domestic violence and therefore seeks out a female supervisor because of power issues with males would need to consider whether they take these issues into their practice. In this scenario the Counsellor needs to consider counselling in relation to that issue.
A male Counsellor who has been brought up by an abusive stepmother may seek a male supervisor so as not to put themselves in the position of being subordinate to a female.
Again this Counsellor needs to consider their agendas and dealing with the issue.
Is gender an issue for supervisors?
Yes, as it is for supervisees. Supervisors may use the supervisor/supervisee relationship to play out unresolved issues.
A female supervisor from a feminist background may use the relationship to cause change in male clients.
A male supervisor may have traditional ideas as to the roles of the sexes and use the relationship to stall careers of female clients.
Female supervisors may over identify with female supervisees emotionally.
Male supervisors may encourage male supervisees only to deal cognitively with cases.
All of these examples are inappropriate for supervisors. The conditioning of the supervisor may see them employing tactics to subvert supervisees without being conscious of their agendas.
Supervisors need to be aware of the broader issues.
There is obviously more considerations and points of discussion that have not nor is it practical to cover on this site.
It is also the Counsellors responsibility to research this subject further.