What would you do if you didn’t get along with your clinical supervisor? I was faced with this issue during my Master’s program; and in hindsight, I would have handled things differently.
For my Master’s, I completed a practicum and internship experience at an out-patient program. We provided group, individual, family and couples counseling. My primary onsite supervisor, we'll call him “Mike,” was also the Clinical Director. I also had a Licensed Social Worker, we'll call her “Linda,” supervising my work with the clients. There was one other student, we'll call her “Liz,” from my program who also completed her practicum and internship experience at the same time as me.
As the practicum and internship experience proceeded, I learned that Mike, Linda and Liz were smokers and would frequently take smoke breaks together. I did not smoke or attempt to go outside during those breaks because I did not want to inhale the smoke. During this leisure time, all three appeared to bond, share personal information with each other and discuss client and program issues. Because I was not part of this group, I was essentially alienated and was not privy to information that was discussed. To make up for the time I did not have with the three of them, I would make an effort to talk with all of them individually, especially Mike and Linda. However, because of the amount of time Mike and Linda spent with Liz, Liz became their “favorite” and they would make efforts to ensure she had the opportunities and information she needed. I felt like I spent most of the experience trying to make the opportunities happen for myself by asking directly to work with specific clients and facilitate certain groups so I could practice my skills. The experience with the clients was beneficial for me, but the work dynamic made it difficult for me to feel supported and comfortable.
I thought about discussing my concerns with both my offsite supervisor and Mike. However, at the time, I feared it would jeopardize my internship and the possibility of graduation if I lost my placement. Because of Mike’s presentation, I also did not feel comfortable approaching him about any concerns, let alone ones that did not directly affect the clients. Our individual supervision meetings mainly consisted of discussing client issues. He did not venture to ask about my learning process or my thoughts or feelings outside of client concerns. Mike also did not express much sympathy or understanding. For example, I asked for a day off prior to my wedding and offered to make the time up by working more hours. I was always punctual and reliable in terms of my schedule and typically arrived early as well. Mike denied my request and stated that he “never got any time off during his internship and that there wouldn’t be any good reason outside of a medical emergency.”
In hindsight, I should have discussed my concerns directly with both my supervisors. I could have spoken with my offsite supervisor at least to receive support, advice and devise an action plan. From there, I should have scheduled an individual meeting with Mike. Although the experience was not ideal, I learned the importance of direct communication and the maintenance of professionalism especially in situations of conflict. I also learned that as a supervisor I would make an effort to assess the individual needs of each supervisee and ensure they receive the support, information and skills necessary to be an effective counselor.
Grace Hipona is a counselor in the state of Virginia. She currently serves as a Mental Health Therapist for a clinic, a counselor for a private practice and is a doctoral candidate. She operates from a strength-based perspective.