Challenge in Collaborative Supervision
Updated: Dec 24, 2019
For me the word supervisor suggests an overseer with one person having authority over another. This is unlike my experiences of collaborative supervision where supervisor and supervisee work together exploring relationships, ethical issues, supervisees’ personal and professional development and so on.
Whilst it is usual for supervisors to have greater professional experience, supervisees have first hand experience of being in a therapy relationship with their clients. For me each person's contributions are valuable, adding to our explorations and understandings.
Hopefully everybody’s input is respected and no one is judged or criticised, making it safe to share experiences, discuss freely and try out ideas.
As a supervisor and supervisee, I find that this creates a trusting atmosphere that facilitates self-awareness and supports genuine therapeutic and supervisory relationships.
Is a Collaborative Relationship an Equal Relationship?
At first glance a collaborative supervisory relationship might appear to be equal. However, for various reasons I find that there are inequalities. Here are some examples that I have encountered:
As a trainee counsellor I had individual and group supervision. In both I felt in awe of the supervisor’s experience, personal growth and qualifications. I gave my supervisors authority, whether or not they wanted it.
Some years later as a supervisor myself, I am frequently asked to write reports for trainee counsellors. Whilst this can be a valuable joint exercise, the nature of reports often infers that the supervisor is an authority on the supervisees’ development and the quality of their work. This creates an inequality in our relationship and places me in a powerful position since what I write might have positive or negative consequences for supervisees.
During supervision, supervisees are in the spotlight. We explore their work, perhaps their difficulties in accepting or empathising with a client, maybe something personal that is preventing them from being fully present and engaged. In this sense supervisees are more vulnerable in the relationship than supervisors.
In the past I tended to hide my own views and ideas if they differed from my supervisors' perceptions. This was due to (misguided) politeness and the assumption that my supervisors always knew best. The degree to which we could work collaboratively was affected since at times I was not contributing with my true feelings and opinions.
Similarly I have worked with supervisees who are nervous about sharing their uncertainties, difficulties and perceived mistakes.
For me the challenge is to create a space that enables open collaborative exploration in a relationship where there are certain inequalities. My hope is that supervisees can make the best use of their sessions, exploring anything of importance that arrises in their work and in their personal and professional development, and developing trust and confidence in their own perceptions and intuition.
Addressing Challenge in Collaborative supervision
There can be more than one helpful way of responding to clients. As a supervisor I hope to facilitate congruence also known as self awareness so that counsellors can check inwardly and rely upon their intuition, their feelings and their thoughts.
I take care to be openly myself in the relationship, that is a human being who makes mistakes, can feel uncertain about my work and does not pretend to know all the answers.
I try to be aware of the inequalities that the role of supervisor brings and inequalities relating to differences such as race, class, disability, learning differences and more. I try to notice what is going on in my relationships with supervisees, whether they are giving me the authority and whether I am accepting it. I try to address these situations.
As a supervisee I am also challenged to be aware of the inequalities. To notice when I am feeling vulnerable about sharing and exploring my work and expressing this if necessary. I find that our relationship benefits from openness and honesty, enhancing the depth of our supervisory explorations.