How to get great supervision

Oct 8, 2012 by

Ok, I admit it, this topic is a bit tricky.  The supervision should fit the intern—so there’s going to be some variability there.  Still, there are some fundamentals you should look for in your supervision.

But let’s not get into that just yet.  First, you should know what your supervisor’s job is all about—this will help you interview potential supervisors as you hold all these different roles in mind.

Different hats

Your supervisor has a couple of different roles.  And while each supervisor has their own boundaries and personal style in supervision, just as you have your own clinical style, there are a few fundamental pieces of their job you should know about.

Your supervisor’s first responsibility lies with your clients.  In addition to safeguarding the welfare of your clients, the supervisor also has duties to you and to the profession as a whole.

In some ways, supervisors are gatekeepers of the profession; they are the ones who decide (along with the board, if there is a dispute) about whether or not you are fit for independent licensure.  It is rare for a supervisor to contest an intern’s right to proceed beyond internship, but it does happen.  And, there are many steps that a supervisor must take, such as setting up a plan of remediation with their intern, before recommending that an intern be barred from the profession.

I’m sure you know already that a big part of your supervisor’s job is to help you become the best therapist you can possibly be—and that means encouraging and challenging you as you develop your clinical skills.  Clinical competence and training is a big part of a supervisor’s credentials—but it’s certainly not the only thing to consider when choosing your supervisor.

Supervisors also hold administrative responsibilities.  They sign off on your hours for the board and keep records about your sessions, to track your development as you progress through your internship.  They should have current knowledge about board rules and guidelines.  This is especially important to consider if you have a supervisor who has been licensed for a long time and is a long time removed from their own internship experience.

Supervisors also serve as consultants and mentors.  Some may teach you skills above and beyond those typically offered by supervisors, such as showing you the ropes about starting and growing a private practice.

Each supervisor has a unique skill set.  There’s a lot of beauty in this complexity—but it can also make your decision-making process a little confusing.

3 steps for getting good supervision

So, here are three steps you should follow in order to get good supervision.

1.)    Establish your priorities.  Are you planning to go into private practice once you finish your internship?  You’ll probably want a supervisor who works in private practice—even better, have one that will share their tips and experience with you.

2.)     Interview, interview, interview.  Fit between supervisor and supervisee is just as important as fit between therapist and client, I think.  So, don’t just meet with one supervisor.  Meet with several.  Often you can secure an initial consultation at no cost, so you both can get a sense of fit before you begin your work together.

3.)    Revisit.  Even if you do your due diligence at the beginning of your search, it’s important to check in periodically to see if you’re getting what you need out of supervision.  Sometimes it turns out that the fit isn’t so great after all.  And while it can be disruptive to change supervisors mid-internship, it may be even more trouble to stay with someone who isn’t helping you develop your skills.

If you’re meeting with prospective supervisors or you’re not feeling sure about the supervisor you’re currently seeing, ask yourself these questions:

Do you respect your supervisor?

Do you feel understood?

Are you challenged in your work?

Could you see yourself bringing up a concern or dispute to your supervisor?

Is your supervisor up to date on board rules and requirements?

Just FYI, there’s plenty more you can expect from your supervisor than just these statements.  But it offers a good starting point.

My wish for you

So, I already said that parts of “good supervision” are subjective—it’s based on your own personal experience, skill set, and needs.

But, I still have a picture in my head about what I’d like you to have in your clinical supervision, whether you’re an LPC intern, an LMFT associate, a doctoral candidate, or an LMSW.

Here’s what I want for you:

I want you to feel that you can bring just about anything to your supervisor, including (and especially) things that you may feel embarrassed or ashamed about.

I want you to feel that your supervisor is available to you.

I want you to have someone who takes a genuine interest in your training and development, who asks questions, challenges you, and remains invested in the process throughout your internship.

For those of you who’ve already finished your internships—did you have a good supervision experience?  Do you have wisdom to share about the process of finding a clinical supervisor?

Additional reading:

What does a bad fit look like in supervision?

What if I’m disappointed with my supervision experience?

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