How clinical supervision helps therapists thrive
As counsellors and psychotherapists, we are all aware of the ethical context of our work. BACP has recently refreshed its Ethical Framework, and UKCP is in the process of updating its approach. Ethics are both constantly evolving and centrally important to what we do. This being the case, we each have an ethical obligation to reflect on our client work and to ensure we are working within the boundaries of our level of development and competence as a practitioner. We need to be clear that we supporting clients appropriately. Clinical supervision is a key mechanism for ensuring we are working ethically. It is the place where we take that which we are unable to contain, for support, understanding and insight. By being able to share honestly and reflect deeply upon our experience, we are contained and in turn are able to contain our clients. Much like a therapeutic relationship, the supervisory relationship relies on a deeply felt rapport, and on a sense of safety. We do not share when we fear judgement, and supervision is not a place where shame ought to be left unchecked. Supervision needs to help us go to our growing edge, to look more deeply into our experience than we are able to alone. Having someone look at the cases we bring from a different, less involved perspective brings more information and insight into the system. Our supervisors are able to ask questions that help us uncover new ways of thinking, and bring to bear the resources we already have that we had not yet connected to the work at hand.
The more courageous and open we are able to be in supervision, the more impactful the session. A question I often start with is 'what do you not want to talk about?' I modelled this from one of the supervisors who helped me become the therapist I am today, his gentle, firm, sustained encouragement to look where I feared to go, and to face what I thought might be shameful enabled me to grow both my therapeutic practice and my ability to be present in my own life.
At its best, supervision not only assists clinical work, but also supports our development as a person. Bringing our shadow out into the light in supervision enables us to help clients do the same in their therapy. Shame lives in isolation and fear, when we face what we most fear its power is lost.
If you are not yet revealing your vulnerabilities in your supervisory relationship, perhaps now is the time to take stock and explore this with your supervisor. What is the difference that would make the difference, and enable you both to really go there?