As I approached the end of my doctoral internship in supervision, I was excited for obvious reasons, such as the end of my final semester of courses nearing and minimizing the number of roles and responsibilities I have maintained throughout the course of my program. I was apprehensive, however, about adjusting to the unexpected and rapid changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how I would be potentially impacted as a supervisor. To date, since the origination of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have had a significant amount of experience with a modality that I had, to a great extent, avoided until it was necessary that I become acquainted with it – tele-therapy/supervision. It has been joyful and rewarding watching my supervisees grow as counselors, and I have learned lots about myself as both a counselor and supervisor. Here I share three realizations that I used to help guide me through the challenging time of supervising counselors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Lean into Your Curiosity
A lesson I have learned is the value of expressing my curiosity in the place of uncertainty. When I think of who I am as a counselor and how I prefer to approach therapy, this is not too different from what I have taken away from being in the role of counselor. While I have utilized this in different capacities with supervisees, it is something that I think supervisors would benefit from if they attended to. In the time of COVID-19, in particular, counselors are riddled with uncertainty and may have what seems like more questions than answers in supervision. At various points in supervision, I have noticed that the minute I convey, unintended or not, any doubt about my supervisees’ abilities or competence during this time, there exists the potential for the interaction to take a turn from being exploratory to feeling antagonistic and yielding little exploration. I also have learned that by just recognizing and putting to use the realization that, even though a supervisee might explicitly profess to me a desire to be challenged in the spirit of growth, this may not always work out as I would expect it to in practice.
- Trust Yourself
Since the onset of the pandemic, I have found myself having to walk the line of clinical supervision not developing into therapy, but rather being a place where issues impacting supervisees’ clinical work can be processed much more frequently. Overall, I have learned that there is a fine line between helping a supervisee develop clinical skills and exploring personal issues with therapy. When I first learned that I would be providing tele-supervision, I could not help but feel destabilized and wonder how I would do it. While I knew that I would be given resources and information regarding the technology I would need to use, I was not yet sure how it would look in practice or how I would feel when doing it. I was also curious about how the relationships I had spent months building face-to-face would be impacted. Counseling relies on genuineness, and supervision does also. Considering this, I couldn’t help but wonder what a seemingly artificial modality would mean for how we related to one another. I have been grateful that through the challenges the pandemic has presented, I have learned so much from not only my supervisees’ resilience, but also by trusting my own abilities.
- Focus on the Relationship
As with therapy, I think the main issue in supervision is the quality of the supervisory relationship. To me, this includes more than an agreement on goals and tasks; it also incorporates safety and trust issues. I noticed throughout my experience supervising that some of my best moments in supervision were after I had solid relationships with my supervisees. I do not think I had a significant growth in skill in terms of supervisory interventions that facilitated that, but rather the relationship that I had formed with them both. During these times, the supervisory relationship has the potential to be a source of stability for counselor and supervisor. Also, given that a significant component of my role as a supervisor is gatekeeping, I recognize the importance surrounding forming relationships that felt safe enough for supervisees to talk to me about any questions or issues they had relating to their clients or the implications of COVID-19. To me, this is essential, because if supervisees do not feel that they are able to come in and talk to me about challenges or places they feel like they need guidance with, I question whether it is likely that they will come to me if something potentially harmful is occurring.
Amber M. Samuels is a doctoral candidate at The George Washington University working toward a PhD in Counseling and a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor (LGPC) in the District of Columbia. She is board-certified as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and is an MBTI® Certified Practitioner. Amber takes an intersectional approach to counseling and utilizes an integrative theoretical orientation to guide her in helping the individuals she works with move toward optimum mental health. Her research centers around using research as a tool for advocacy and as a way to inform culturally sensitive clinical practice. You can learn more about Amber at https://www.linkedin.com/in/itsambersamuels/