Expanding your career as a therapist into one that includes providing clinical supervision is an exciting change! Supervision offers variety for your day, allows you to mentor others, can be highly rewarding, and gives you a chance to share the wisdom and experience you’ve acquired over the years.
However, jumping into clinical supervision without preparation is, honestly, foolish. Here are a few mistakes to avoid when taking on your first supervisees.
Using counseling skills for supervision
You definitely will use some counseling skills during supervision, but they shouldn’t be ALL you use. Your supervisees are not clients! This seems obvious, but counseling skills are often over-utilized by supervisors.
Supervision is different from counseling in a few distinct ways.
First, it’s more directive. Supervision has a built-in goal, typically to obtain the hours for a license or a graduate program. Therefore, the supervisor is responsible for attesting that the supervisee has met specific requirements. If you only use the counseling skill of letting the client (supervisee) choose and direct their own goals, you could miss some of the regulatory requirements. That will ultimately hurt your supervisee’s progress, and you could attest to skills your supervisee hasn’t really developed.
Second, supervision is judgmental. I can hear all you therapists cringing at that word! But it’s true. Supervision must involve evaluative feedback. This goes back to the regulatory requirements. It’s your license on the line if your supervisee does something unethical or illegal while under your supervision. You are responsible for teaching them, correcting them when needed, and letting them clearly know when they need to improve. Evaluative feedback is done best on a very regular basis, so that no area of improvement needed comes as a surprise.
Third, your role shifts throughout the supervision process. When you’re a therapist, you’re always a therapist to that client. But as a supervisor, the role you take will shift depending on the supervisee’s needs. With a brand new therapist, your role will likely involve a lot of teaching, modeling, and direct leadership. But with a more seasoned therapist seeking consultation, an additional license, or new credential, you might take more of a collaborative role. Supervisors need to be flexible when considering the role their supervisees need.
Fourth, you need to have clear boundaries with “counseling” issues. Your supervisee may bring stuff into their own client sessions and their sessions with you that would benefit from therapy. But you are not that therapist. You can’t be a good supervisor who evaluates and directs your supervisee if you’re also trying to help them work through past trauma. Instead, help your supervisee understand the differences between therapy and supervision, and recommend referrals.
Not using a supervision model
Just like there are theories of counseling, there are also theories of supervision. Don’t go into it guessing! Research the various models of supervision, which often include interventions and evaluative tools. Or even better, complete extra coursework in supervision, such as a course approved for the ACS credential.
Having a supervision model as your framework will also give you direction for your sessions as a whole- thinking about the entire amount of time you have with your supervisee and what you need to accomplish. Supervision models help you split your time between the various important areas of supervision.
I focus my supervision process on three primary areas: clinical skills, self-awareness, and professional behaviors. But within those three big categories, I have numerous other topics to discuss. I make sure that my supervisee and I hit on everything over the course of our time together and touch on the most important topics early and often. Some examples are ethical issues, documentation, risk assessments, time management, treatment planning, and professional identity.
Not having a supervision contract
Supervision contracts are just as important as client informed consents! You have to be prepared for a wide variety of scenarios with supervision, just like with clients. For example, what will you do if your supervisee suddenly terminates their meetings with you? Do you still sign off on their hours? What if your supervisee commits a pretty egregious ethical violation? How do you accept payment and what is expected? What are your grounds for terminating with a supervisee? What are your grounds for refusing to sign off on their hours?
These are all very complicated questions, but they can be made much simpler if you think about them before actually having a supervisee in front of you. Write a supervision contract, review it carefully with all new supervisees, and stick to it.