I have never considered becoming an approved clinical supervisor until working on my postgraduate clinical hours. I have recognized the importance of supervision to our profession from the experiences I have gained through internship and postgraduate work. Each supervisor is different, the relationship and connection varies, and the lessons learnt are just as important as how they are taught. I feel that there is a genuine need for more approved supervisors within the counseling field. While searching for an internship as well as for placements after graduation, I found many places that were not feasible due to the fact that there was no one on staff with the appropriate license to supervise me. And of course, yes, there is the option to hire outside supervisors who charge per hour of supervision, but how many students/new clinicians can really afford this option? Since supervision is a valuable and needed part of our work, I implore more clinicians to take up this challenge. While being an approved supervisor may add more work to our already busy lives, I think that this role may also add value to us, the students/clinicians we work with, as well as to our own clients.
Gatekeepers of our Profession
Supervisors are considered gatekeepers of this profession. The American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics 2014, refers to evaluation and gatekeeping in section F.6. In section F.6.a., the code stated that “Supervisors document and provide supervisees with ongoing feedback regarding their performance and schedule periodic formal evaluative sessions…” clearly indicating that supervisors should assess and evaluate clinicians under their supervision. Supervisors should be able to detect changes, attitudes, and behaviors exhibited by counselors who maybe going through difficult times, exhibiting maladaptive behaviors, or even clinicians who may be unsuited to the profession. They present one of the first lines of defense for our profession. This is an important role that should not be taken lightly.
If supervisors are the gatekeepers within the field, why does it seem like there isn’t much support for supervisors? A lot of the articles I read on supervisors pointed to things that supervisors should do or how they should be. Also, a lot of the articles were dated. With the hundreds of new therapists joining the field every year, supervision is an integral part of our profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that the mental health field will grow by approximately 19% between 2014 and 2024 as new clinicians continue to join our field. With this projected growth, the need for more supervisors can only increase. It is difficult to understand why there doesn’t seem to be more articles written or more research done on supervision, whether providing tips to assist supervisors in their roles, or on the importance of their roles, or even the difficulties of their roles. Does this issue arise because people do not consider supervision for themselves? Maybe since many clinicians are in private practice, supervision isn’t considered a necessity? But what about peer support? Many clinicians in private practice participate in peer support, which is still a variation of supervision. For clinicians working in various agencies, some variation of supervision may exist to, at minimum, review the site cases only. At best, there may be minimal supervision provided, and at worse, the quality of the supervision may be very low. Since supervision is an ethical and professional requirement, there is mostly definitely a gap in the support that should be provided for a service that is needed by all clinicians.
The quality of the supervision provided may also be an issue for some clinicians. The quality of the supervision may have turned some clinicians away from supervision. From my own experience, much of supervision has only dealt with the cases I manage. This is something I would hope to change as an intended supervisor. I believe that supervision should encompass the entire counseling experience. Yes, it is only one hour per week, and of course, only so much can be covered within this time frame. However, I think that by spending a few minutes at a time to check with the counselor about how they are doing individually, emotionally, professionally, and personally, supervisors may be able to pick up on red flags earlier. As counselors, we all understand that all areas of our lives are connected; if we are not functioning optimally in one area, chances are, we are not in other areas as well. If we are developing as individuals, I feel that this represents itself in the way we counselor our clients. Having supervisors who help new clinicians and interns learn the importance of self-care and also the important lesson of balancing boundaries between work and home can have a profound impact. Especially as supervisors have already experienced this transition and have developed their own working knowledge of how to cope in these areas. Having supervisors who help teach the practical knowledge that cannot be taught during our Masters’ programs are integral to avoiding burnout in this field. We need supervisors who are authentic, honest, and knowledgeable to help new clinicians succeed in this field. Heather Rudow in her February 2012 article, Supportive supervisors can halt the physical effects of stress on workers, recognized that having supportive supervisors can lower the stress that workers experience in balancing home/work.
From my own experiences, I recognized a desire for supervision to address wider ranges of issues such as countertransference, clashes between counselor and clients, and even difficulties experienced when working with other clinicians. As counselors, yes, our goal is to be flexible to be able to work effectively with the clients that we see. But the true reality is that we are all humanly flawed, and as much as we aim to work with clients of various backgrounds, we don’t always connect with each client we see or each professional we work with. I think that these issues are either ignored or avoided. One of the feedback I have been given was that I should figure out why I may not get along with a particular client. I think is a valid feedback, but I do not believe it should be the sum total of the discussion. If this was the case, there would be no need for hundreds of clinicians because we should be able to service every single client that walks into our offices. A discussion on how the session went would have been a much better learning tool: What were things I could have done better, what were areas that I struggled with, how was the client’s affect in the session, was the client’s indifference particularly aimed at me, did cultural issues have an impact on the session? There were many ways to effectively process this scenario that could help me to be a better therapist in the future and also help me personally process the feeling of failing that ensued after the session.
Call for Minority Groups
Following the necessity of having more effective and supportive approved supervisors, there is also the need for more supervisors of minority groups. The vast array of clinicians should, or I should say, hopefully should reflect the cultural diversity of the population and societies that we serve. Having more supervisors of minority backgrounds can benefit the profession as well as the clinicians as the diversity reflects the population that we serve and may encourage more clients to therapy as they feel that they are better represented within the profession. Minority groups are already ostracized in some way by society, a profession such as ours that should be inclusive and diverse, but lacks diverse supervisors is extremely unfortunate. We know that our experiences in part shape who we are, therefore, as counselors we have to recognize that we inherently have our own biases and judgments. Having supervisors of minority backgrounds can help us to explore, compare and contrast our experiences and learn from these so that we can become better clinicians. The president of the ACA, Catherine Roland, referenced in her December 2016 article, From the president: Counselors and inclusive diversity that counselors seek out and provide support to invisible groups. I think this is an especially important point as many minority groups may not seek counseling or even consider this a viable career field because they may not feel that they would be accepted. At the facilities that I have worked, in certain areas, clinicians of color are invariably the minority at the agencies. I also see the way that I am looked at when I walk out to greet a client that is White as opposed to a client of other minority backgrounds. These reactions vary widely but demonstrate that there is a gap within the counseling field regarding minority groups. I feel strongly that these are topics that should also be addressed in supervision because they have daily impacts on the work that we do with clients. They affect our interactions, and for interns and new clinicians especially, having support on how to navigate cultural differences can have a huge difference on the experience we leave clients with when they walk out of our offices.
Supervision has become an important topic for me; it is an area that I have found I am developing a passion for, and a duty I would like to take on. I implore more clinicians to see the value in supervision and be willing to provide this service to other clinicians. I have found that there is definitely more work to be done on this topic and more support to be provided to the individuals who have already committed their time, education, and energies on this important service. I believe that if supervision is provided with great care, concern, and effort, it can be a very lasting effective tool. This is a service that is not only necessary for interns and new clinicians, but is of great importance to all clinicians. It is a proponent of self-development, professional development, and career longevity. Supervisors are essential to our field and the work they do should be highlighted, if not rewarded. I look forward to joining this group of individuals someday.
_________________________________________________________________ Charmaine Perry is a counselor who works mostly with adults and couples in central New Jersey. Her passion is mental health and writing and finding ways to incorporate these two fields to advocate for mental health services for African and Caribbean Americans.