The importance of clinical supervision

Last night I met with my clinical supervisor. It is quite possibly the most important 1 and 1/2 hours of my professional working month. In fact this month I have seen him twice.

The last 4 weeks have been, for a multiple of reasons, some of the toughest weeks for me professionally and personally and the longer I work supporting the emotional needs of people, I become acutely aware that these two areas of my life are intrinsically linked.

It is so important that we recognise this truth; that in supporting others emotional need there is a direct link to our own mental health. There is such potential for taking on the pain and story of those we work with and as a result there is a huge risk and we must guard ourselves. Inversely, we also need to recognise the effect that our personal lives have on our professional practice. To acknowledge this and to do something about it is really important. It’s in this space that we invite a third person to help us process our “stuff”. That third person is a clinical supervisor.

So lets first understand the distinction between supervision and clinical supervision. The primary relationship of a clinical supervisor is one that is independent of your professional work. Someone who can be truly independent of the expectations that are put on your my your management support. That way there can be no conflict of interest. Your supervisor is one who supports and directs your work and delivery.

The BACP (British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists) states on their Ethical Framework website under the Supervising and managing section:

  • There is a general obligation for all counsellors, psychotherapists, supervisors and trainers to receive supervision/consultative support independently of any managerial relationships.
  • Supervisors and managers may form a triangular relationship with a counsellor or psychotherapists, particularly where services are being provided within an agency. All parties to this relationship have a responsibility to clarify their expectations of each other and, in particular, the steps that ought to be taken to address any concerns over client safety. The role of an independent supervisor is widely considered to be desirable in promoting good practice but, to be most effective, requires clarity in how such a role relates to line management and the division of tasks and responsibilities between a supervisor and any line manager.

Very clearly the BACP suggest that there should be clear definition between the roles of manager and supervisor. That they can work together to support you as a counsellor but they make one clear distinction that the supervisor should be independent.

Most importantly supervision provides a space, as the BACP suggests in their ethical framework and more specifically under the ethical principle of Self Respect: There is an ethical responsibility to use supervision for appropriate personal and professional support and development, and to seek training and other opportunities for continuing professional development.

Supervision also give space to explore of the factors that might impact on the both the supervision and client relationships.

The space also allows there to be open conversation around the importance of acknowledging the emotional impact of the work Contracting sets out how to use supervision to explore this aspect of practice.

Good supervision will challenge the supervisee. This may not always be comfortable and there may, at times, be disagreement but this opportunity to learn and be challenged is so very important for the growth of the counsellor and ultimately to the benefit of the client.

There is a lot written and a lot of different view on supervision but ultimately it is there to support the counsellor to be the best version of themselves that they can be for the benefit of themselves and the client.

Even though as a counsellor and mentor I have an ethical obligation to ensure that I have this support in place I would suggest that anyone who works with people supporting their emotional and mental wellbeing should seek out this support and start as soon as possible. I have seen too many people recently literally crash and so much of this could be avoided had there been a space to externally process our internal battles.

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