In the UK it is established ethical working practice for counsellors and psychotherapists to have a regulated amount of supervision. Each supervisor is also in supervision, my supervision work is
therefore equally covered. I do not work in a vacuum.
The title “supervisor” is itself a misnomer, the label does not, as I see it in counselling and psychotherapy, fit its
function. The relationship, is rather one of a more experienced to a, perhaps, less experienced colleague. It is part good
humoured challenger, part fellow traveller, part mentor, but very much one of equality. I care and support my clients and supervisees as much as my supervisor supports and cares for me.
There is something of a difference between supervision given to trainee practitioners who usually find themselves in the three-way position of having responsibility, one to an agency, two to a
course provider and three to their clients, and supervision given to qualified private practitioners.
There is a chain of responsibility that can make a difficulty for therapists, whether in training or qualified, who have the three-way position of having loyalties, one to an employing agency,
two to an accrediting provider such as BACP or COSCA and three to their relationships with their clients. The agency has a duty of care to both the therapist and to the agency's clients with whom the
therapist works. To honour this duty the agency rightly contracts to provide the therapist with supervision. This functions best where the agency pays for an external independant professionally
approved supervisor chosen by the therapist. It functions very badly where the agency provides only in-house
The BACP Ethical Framework states:
61. Good supervision is much more than case
management. It includes working in depth on the relationship between practitioner and client in order to work towards desired outcomes and positive effects. This requires adequate levels of
privacy, safety and containment for the supervisee to undertake this work. Therefore a substantial part or preferably all of supervision needs to be independent of line
My personal view is:
- Supervisees should choose their supervisors just as clients choose their therapists not the other way around. [This, sadly, is often not possible for therapists during their time within
- Nonetheless, ethically, supervisees should also be required to work with an external supervisor who has no inappropriate connection with any agency or course provider [for example by the
supervisor being a paid or unpaid employee of such agency or course provider]. Thus, whatever issues that may arise in any part of the supervisees' practice can be addressed within the
supervisee/supervisor relationship free of any conflict of interest.
- There is just as much need for there to be a depth of compatibility between supervisor and supervisee as there is between client and therapist.
- The ethical relationship between supervisor and supervisee is very similar to that within the therapeutic relationship.
- As my supervisee you can expect me to discuss your issues with my supervisor but your identity will be restricted to your first name and, if you wish, that too can be changed. Only in extreme
circumstances will I breach that confidentiality.
- My supervisor helps me to monitor and improve the quality of the relationship you and I have together. That means helping me to understand my own part in our relationship rather than solely
focussing on the issues you have brought me.
- Similarly, when I meet with you as my supervisee I will be primarily interested in you as a whole person within your client relationships rather than simply addressing the client material you
bring. You are in the room with me, your client can only be brought in through your thinking, imagination and openness. I see your thoughts and reflections upon your clients as integral to your
personal development and all that influences it.
Supervision helps with:
- Expanding our perspectives so that we can see things in a new light.
- Providing support when we need encouragement to make difficult decisions.
- Suggesting approaches that we had not envisioned.
- Providing a trusted space within which we can explore our fears and doubts.
There is a tendency amongst both clients and new trainees alike to put their therapists and supervisors on a pedestal. I try to oppose this by recognising the truth: within both the supervisory
and therapeutic process I am learning as much as my clients and supervisees.
It was Jung who coined the term “wounded healer” to describe the indispensable need for the therapist to know at first hand the meaning of suffering for a healing relationship to be genuine. I hope
that, when I get hurt, I have the grace to learn.
Psychotherapist or Counsellor?
Professional sparring surrounds these terms. We sometimes seem more preoccupied with the titles on the bits of paper we acquire than the insights that follow working with life's pains and
contradictions or a spiritual practice that focuses on clearing the mind, opening the heart and trust.
What matters is mutual vulnerability, the gentle shared practice that supervisee and supervisor have matching depths of psychological and spritual contact or compatibility when meeting clients.
I have had a session with a supervisee who, in one and a half hours with her client, had clearly got to exactly the appropriate
depth for this person to make the decisions she needed.
How can that relationship be labelled to fit professional definitions?