• Paula Newman

The Supervisory Relationship, a Person-Centred Approach

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

Supervisory relationships are a complex blend of professional, education and therapeutic aspects. Geldard & Geldard (2001)

Supervisors are experienced counsellors who have undergone supervisory training. Since all counsellors and supervisors are required to have supervision a number of practitioners are both counsellors and supervisors. I write this blog from my own experiences of being in both roles.

Supervision is...

  • A formal arrangement

  • A professional requirement

  • An exploration of therapeutic work and any dilemmas that might occur

  • Educational - Supervisors may suggest relevant training and reading, facilitate the supervisee in linking theory with practice and submit reports for trainees on counselling courses

  • Supportive - of counsellors' personal and professional development and emotionally supportive in certain circumstances such as a client's suicide

  • Monitoring of physical, emotional and mental fitness to practice and of ethical practice

A collaborative relationship

From a Person-centred perspective supervision is a collaborative relationship. The intention is to understand and to explore counselling relationships, ethical issues and the supervisee's personal and professional development. This is a joint process and it is understood that each person has something important to bring to the enquiry, for example, professional experience, intuition, cognitive understanding, knowledge, wisdom and relationship with the client.

Supervisory explorations

Supervisees can express and explore their worries, difficulties, irritations and uncertainties. They can also share their pleasure in a client's development and signs of healing.

Supervisees can talk about what happened in a counselling session, exploring any area that seems to be important or significant. Their perceptions and experiences of supervisees, clients and their material are considered. Issues are understood empathically from various view points.

Therapeutic relationships are explored. Areas might include power dynamics, the effects of gender, sexuality, race, class and disability, levels of openness and qualities of presence and connection.

Anything that is blocking a supervisee from being fully present and from being accepting, empathic and genuine. Examples are personal issues, difficult client material such as abuse, race, religious and cultural differences and sexual attraction.

Supervisee and supervisor consider appropriate boundaries and boundary issues.

Therapeutic responses and interventions are explored, what to say and whether or not to take a risk.

Theoretical understandings are explored and theory is linked with practice

Dilemmas can occur and there is careful consideration of what is most therapeutic and ethical in these situations.

For supervisees to feel supported and free to explore their work fully, I suggest that the following is necessary:

The supervisee can contact the supervisor between sessions if there is an emergency or a concern that needs immediate attention.

The supervisee feels comfortable to explore their work at depth, including areas that they are uncertain about and any regrets that they may have.

There is enough safety and warmth to be vulnerable in front of the supervisor.

The supervisee can comment upon the supervisory relationship without the supervisor becoming defensive.

When necessary, the supervisor is willing to speak truthfully to the supervisee.

The supervisor is aware of the supervisees level of experience and development and can work with them at that level.

The supervisee feels challenged at a level that is suitable for them.

A trusting attitude

Person-Centred supervisors have a trusting attitude towards supervisees. This includes believing in their movement towards personal and professional self-development.

I am most impressed with the fact that each human being has a directional tendency toward wholeness, toward actualisation of his or her potentialities.....if I can provide the conditions that allow growth to occur, then this positive directional tendency brings about constructive results. Carl Rogers (1980)A Way of Being.

Carl Rogers six Conditions

Carl Rogers (1957) describes six conditions that he considers necessary and sufficient for psychological growth. Whilst these conditions refer to the relationship between counsellor and client it seems to me that they are also important in supervisory relationships.

Psychological contact – we are not just sitting in the same room. Something is happening between us, we have some sort of effect upon each other. It can be argued that this is fundamental. Without psychological contact nothing is going on between us, there is no therapy or supervision. Inccogruence - the second condition is that within the client there is an incogruence or inconsistency. As a result the client feels anxious and seeks counselling.

It might be argued that this condition is only relevant to counselling. However I find that in supervisory relationships there can also be inconsistencies. For example a prejudice that is not in tune with the supervisee or the supervisor's idea of them self may come to light.

Congruence - the third condition is that the therapist (supervisor) is genuine within the relationship. Meaning that how they are outwardly is consistent with their inner experiencing. There is a degree of honesty that indicates 'this is someone who I can trust'

Unconditional positive regard – this is about consistently having an accepting, respectful and warm attitude towards the other person, regardless of what they say, think or do. Holding this attitude does not necessitate liking what is said or done, it is an acceptance of the person them self and the belief that each of us is in a continuous process of psychological growth and change.

It might be that the supervisor considers it important to express and to address some concerns about the supervisees' work. It seems to me that hearing such feedback is easier when delivered in a respectful and non-judgmental manner.

Empathy – understanding the client (supervisees') perspective at a deep level, almost as if it were one's own. There are various times in supervision when empathy is important. For example when exploring the effects of a client's material upon a supervisee. The final condition is that empathy and unconditional positive regard are experienced. If for example another person deeply understands my fear of flying but does not portray their understanding either in words or expression I cannot benefit from it.

My own experience is that supervision can be immensely facilitative and supportive. Fresh understandings can be reached through collaborative enquiry. At the heart of a helpful supervisory relationship is mutual trust, respect, acceptance, empathy, genuinness and warmth, attitudes and qualities that are intrinsic to a Person-centred way of being.

Geldard, D. & Geldard, K. (2001). Basic Personal Counselling: A Training Manual for Counsellors. (4th Ed). Sydney: Thompson Brooks/Cole p377

Rogers, C. (1980) A Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin p120

Contact Paula Newman
Counsellor, Supervisor, Focusing trainer
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