Why we never become too experienced for supervision

Supervision is a key part of any quality therapist training program. In psychology, it is also the pathway to registration as a psychologist.

The need for ongoing supervision is the cornerstone of best practice for many of the psychotherapy models. It is also seen as a safeguard for clients by psychology regulation boards and to increase the likelihood of ethical practice.

Because of the association supervision has with training, assessment of competence and registration, some therapists stop once they have completed registration or after their early career years. They may believe they no longer require supervision.

Although not recommended, it makes sense if supervision was unpleasant, punitive or overly focused on skill development and assessment that the desire to stop would be high. If supervision has generally felt like jumping hoops to prove competence or worse, a hellfire and brimstone type of experience that you dreaded, why would you want to continue with it?

If supervision has not provided interesting and quality learning experiences that invigorate and support your development and clinical work then it follows that therapists would be wanting to be past the stage of supervision.

If past supervisors have offered little support and encouragement and have not helped with process issues then it makes sense that once you have a degree of knowledge and skill you might think, I don’t need that or want that anymore.

But here’s the thing. We all need good supervision. If you can’t stand the thought of it due to negative associations with your training experiences and registration process, try calling it specialist case consult. We all need specialist case consult. There is always a tricky client or a stuck client that some support would be useful for.

And for me, support, is at the heart of what good supervision provides.

A good supervisor has your back, like a wise and compassionate parent figure, much like the Healthy Adult mode of the schema therapy model.

A good supervisor provides:

  • Support for growth as a therapist
  • Support to help cope with the isolated nature of the work which requires a great deal of autonomy
  • Support to discuss stuck points and concerns and our suitability to a client, where to refer on if needed
  • A safe space to discuss systems issues
  • A safe space to discuss personal issues which might be impacting on our therapist role and discuss best ways to manage for ourself and our clients
  • A safe space to discuss frustrating or unsettling clients.
  • A safe place to help us maintain our ethical boundaries
  • A safe space to challenge you when needed, with the goal of supporting your growth.
  • Support to develop skills in a new therapy model

Supervision with the same supervisor for a very long time can become stale or limited in its helpfulness. Sometimes we outgrow our current supervisor and that’s ok. There does need to be balance between support and challenge.

Rather than quitting supervision altogether, invigorate your supervision goals by working with a different supervisor or with a supervisor who is expert in a type of therapy or interest area that is new for you. Or if you still enjoy the supervisory relationship because it’s an established and supportive connection, break up your supervision with a few specialist case consults with therapists who are leading experts in their field and decrease the frequency of the existing supervision and use itfor process work.

A word of caution on this approach. In my experience of the couple of year I sought ad hoc consults for tricky client presentations on top of regular peer supervision during a period where I didn’t have regular formal supervision, I found that something was missing. That something was the level of support that a regular relationship offers. The sessions were helpful for clinical knowledge and developing skills but without an ongoing relationship ,  it did not provide the same level of safety and connection. . I am now back in regular supervision with two therapists who specialise in my primary models of therapy, and it feels better to be supported in this way.

To let go of supervision altogether because you have your qualification or you have experience now is not good for you and it’s not good for your clients.

On a final note, supervision is only helpful if your honest about what’s hard, what you need help with and what you don’t know. It requires vulnerability and a supervisor who can hold that space non-judgementally. If you’ve had punitive supervision in the past, it’s understandable that it didn’t feel helpful. If that’s the case, it’s time to the brave and to give yourself the opportunity to build trust with a supervisor who can be that person for you. If unsure, ask your peers for recommendations for this type of supervisor.

You don’t need to go it alone, fearlessly independent, denying your need for support and assistance. We all deserve supportive and compassionate guidance.

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