I offer supervision for counsellors, therapists and other helping professionals, including those working in the voluntary sector.

Supervision is a structured process of regular professional support that aims to promote your continuous personal and professional development through discussion and reflection.

What are the functions of supervision? Supervision has three overlapping functions: supportive, formative, and normative, also sometimes referred to as restorative, educative and managerial. For example, helping you to reflect on what happened in a particular session with a client is in part a mutual monitoring of your practice. Talking about your work is also supportive as working with people who need help involves ‘emotional labour’. Supervision therefore offers you the opportunity to offload in complete confidence; it has been compared to ‘pithead time’, the opportunity for miners to wash off the grime from the working day, so that they do not bring it home.

Will my supervisor tell me what to do? In the same way that it is not our job as practitioners to tell our clients how to live their lives, as a supervisor I do not see it as my job to tell you how you ‘should’ practise. Rather I see supervision as a collaborative process in which I facilitate you to reflect on your work and thus develop a ‘super’-vision. As a professional person you have the responsibility for your own practice. Therefore, instead of telling you what to do, I help you reflect on all aspects of your work, thus enabling you to learn from your experience and work ethically, safely and effectively.  Any actions that need to be taken may be discussed and reflected on together.

So as a supervisee you play an active role and need to prepare for each session beforehand (See below:  How to get the most out of supervision). Being told what may be going on, or what you should be doing may seem attractive, but will create dependency and prevent you from further developing your own knowledge and expertise. We learn best when we are actively involved, not when we passively receive someone else’s opinions.

Are there different kinds of supervision? Yes, there is individual as well as group supervision. A group may be facilitated by an experienced supervisor, or a small group of experienced practitioners may like to practise peer supervision, where they take turns to facilitate the group. The UKCP states that this should be on a ratio of a minimum of 30 minutes of supervision per supervisee and that the group  should not have more than four members.

Is there a difference between the supervision of trainees and that of qualified practitioners? Yes, supervision may be developmental or consultative. (for further details see below)

What is developmental supervision? This is for practitioners in training and people who may have qualified relatively recently.   Although the same principle of mutual reflection applies, there is more emphasis on the educative function of supervision. The supervisor should ideally be an expert in the supervisee’s field. So if you are undertaking training in psychodynamic psychotherapy, you should receive psychodynamic supervision. If you are studying to be a CBT therapist, your supervisor should be a practising Cognitive Behavioural therapist, and so on. The relationship is not unlike that of student –teacher.

What is Consultative supervision? This is for qualified and experienced practitioners. Here the relationship between practitioner and supervisor is more collegial. The supervisor does not necessarily have to share the supervisee’s theoretical or practical orientation. Some people find it helpful to have supervision with someone from a different theoretical orientation, as they are less likely to share the same blind spots or ways of thinking. It may also enable you to widen your theoretical perspective.

How much supervision should I have? The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy stipulates that every practitioner should have a minimum of one and a half hours a month. The United Kingdom Central Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) stipulates a one to six ratio for students and those newly qualified.  For experienced practitioners the UKCP leaves the frequency and amount of supervision it to be decided between you and your supervisor. Both the BACP and the UKCP recognize that the amount of supervision you need also depends on your workload, the nature of your work and, your level of experience. The higher your workload and the more stressful the nature of your work (such as working with severely disturbed, traumatized or abused clients, the more supervision you are likely to need.

Is supervision basically the same as counselling or psychotherapy? No, whereas it may be therapeutic to have supervision and there is some overlap between the skills used, supervision is not therapy. The difference lies in focus and emphasis: in supervision the focus is on you as a professional and your work; in case of personal life events the emphasis will be on how they may affect the work with your clients. So whereas I would want to know about distressing events that are happening in your life in case they affect your work, I will not then move into counselling or therapy mode. However, we will probably look into what support your have available. Sometimes I suggest practitioners may want to return to therapy for extra support.

Is supervision basically a kind of policing activity by management or a form of individual performance review (IPR)? No. Consultative supervision is not the same as managerial supervision. Ideally your consultative or clinical supervisor should not also be your manager, as that may inhibit you from participating fully.

What is your approach to supervision? I see supervision as a process within a structure. For the structure I developed the 3Step method; for the process I use the Seven Eyed model (Hawkins and Shohet, 2012).  In Step 1 – you bring an issue or client and identify what question you have and what outcome you need. This step needs to be succinct to leave plenty of space for Step 2, where the reflection takes place. In Step 3 we discuss what you have learnt from the reflection, what steps you may want to take and whether you gained what you needed from the supervision.

Regarding the reflection in Step 2 Hawkins and Shohet identify seven eyes through which we can look at your work, ranging from the client’s story and your interventions, via the client-therapist relationship, and any parallel processes and experiences in supervision to the larger context within which both the therapy and the supervision takes place.

For further details see:

  • van Ooijen, E (2013) Clinical Supervision Made Easy: a creative and relational approach for the helping professions. 2nd edition. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
  • Getting the most out of supervision – PDF