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Barbara Jordan
Nov 01, 2010

Coaching Skills for Clinical Supervisors

When I provide training on Coaching Skills for Clinical Supervisors, I ask workshop participants to write their Clinical Supervision obituary. I ask them, “When you’ve worked your last day, what do you want people to say about you? Include:

  • When you managed us, you always knew that…

  • We could always count on you to..

  • I learned…

  • You really made us feel…”

Workshop participants always list many of the same traits that make effective counselors, therapists:

  • Ability to maintain equilibrium in times of crises

  • Adaptable & flexible

  • Attentive

  • Capable of self-regulation

  • Collaborative

  • Dependable

  • Encouraging

  • Empathic & understanding

  • Appropriate values & attitudes

  • Genuine yet Sensitive

  • Motivated

  • Non-authoritarian

  • Open-minded

  • Respect for boundaries

  • Self-aware

  • Sense of humor

  • Socially skilled

  • Supportive, Warm, Accepting, Approachable

  • Trustworthy, exhibits integrity

  • Develop agreement on goals & tasks

  • Work through & resolve conflicts

  • Use appropriate self-disclosure

  • Communicate expectations & develop shared expectations

  • Ensure clarity of roles

The following are some of Coachville’s traits of a competent coach:

  • Ask evocative questions that get them thinking differently, even the “duh” questions

  • Listen actively, even for the unsaid

  • Match or compliment tone, energy

  • Be personable, but not too familiar

  • Make no assumptions about the person

  • Adjust your language to the listener’s

  • Assertive voice not passive

  • Don’t take anything personal, deal with range of emotions

  • Correct or expand the client’s assumptions

  • Use silence to evoke or provoke conversation

  • Seek to understand THEN provide options

  • Help client think bigger by asking the right questions

  • Plant seeds continuously

  • Distinguish between truth & fiction vs. believe everything client says

  • Recognize underlying motivations & sources of energy

  • Distinguish between want goals & should goals

  • Recognize what is worth focusing on right now

  • Don’t overlook key, yet offhand comments

  • Distinguish between symptoms & source

  • Recognize blocks that hold client back

  • Recognize what’s missing and needed

  • Label events or behavior without judging or criticizing

  • Focus more on supervisee’s strengths than weaknesses

  • Help counselor get crystal clear on his/her vision

  • Help him reframe an event (as gift, opportunity, learning), not just interpret it

  • Inform her where she is on right path

  • Ask her to improve something then point to growth

  • Help him strengthen his personal foundation, challenge at all levels

  • Help him articulate simple but memorable mission statement

When you compare these two lists, can you see the similarities? So, the obvious conclusion would be that we can use coaching skills in our role as clinical supervisors. In fact, many clinical supervisors are already qualified to coach supervisees without much additional training. We can use our training in Person-Centered techniques, cognitive therapy methods, and solution-focused work. We pretty much know how to coach, but we haven’t identified coaching as part of our work.

A big part of coaching is developing an individual development plan. Just like a counselor and client negotiate the goals of a treatment plan, a clinical supervisor and counselor/supervisee collaborate on the goals of an individual development plan. Here are the essential points to address:

  • What knowledge, skills, and attitudes are critical? What level of cultural competence is needed?

  • Which affective qualities, such as counselor’s empathy, respect, genuineness for clients are necessary?

When developing an individual development plan, take into consideration supervisee developmental level, learning needs and style, job requirements, client needs, and the agency’s overall goals and objectives. Here is an example of an individual development plan for a substance abuse counselor:

  • Increase understanding of addiction by reading texts on the subject

  • Begin/continue credentialing process

  • Discuss material in supervision, in reference to clients

  • Find another provider at agency who can help fulfill requirements for license

  • Begin direct observation of counseling sessions within 2 months with monthly videotaping

Whether you’ve just been promoted or you’ve been a Clinical Supervisor for years, an understanding of coaching techniques will make you a much better leader. Think of coaching as an extension of your leadership skills. In fact, I believe that the development of coaching skills belongs in Clinical Supervision training programs.

Barbara Jordan is a counselor, counselor educator, author, trainer, and leadership coach. For more information go to

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