How to Best Utilize Counseling Supervision

The work of counseling can feel isolating, as it only involves yourself and the client. Supervision is an opportunity to connect to another, often more seasoned professional, to receive feedback, support, and guidance. Often the supervisor is a senior in the organization who demonstrates knowledge of counseling techniques and company policies.

Supervisors can assist counselors by teaching them different counseling theory techniques and explaining their usefulness to certain clients. Most entry-level counselors know counseling theories, which is the science of counseling. There is also an art to counseling. This art is often learned on the job and through a supervisor’s help. Supervisors can help counselors gain insight when they are giving too much energy, how to sit with difficult emotions, and how not to allow your own biases to interfere with the therapeutic process. 

Supervision is required to complete master’s or doctoral degrees, practicums, internships, and state licensure. Many companies require their counselors to meet with a supervisor regularly. Supervision is necessary for each counselor’s growth and support. The National Board of Certified Counselors states, “Supervision is not only a requirement for licensure; it is a powerful tool for improvement throughout a counselor’s career. Many counselors seek out supervision to enhance their professional abilities.”

What is Supervision?

According to the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (2014), “Supervision—a process in which one individual, usually a senior member of a given profession designated as the supervisor, engages in a collaborative relationship with another individual or group, usually a junior member(s) of a given profession designated as the supervisee(s) in order to (a) promote the growth and development of the supervisee(s), (b) protect the welfare of the clients seen by the supervisee(s), and (c) evaluate the performance of the supervisee(s).”

Kabir 2017 states, “Supervision is a professional service which encourages the counselor in the process of self-awareness whilst facilitating self-learning which results in ongoing professionalism. Working under supervision means that a counselor uses the services of another more experienced and qualified counselor to review their counseling practice with clients. Supervision also considers the ethical professional development, and often the personal development of the counselor.”

The Supervisory Relationship

Both the supervisor and counselor contribute to this working relationship. The counselor must show up on time and be ready to discuss specific case examples or workplace policies in which further guidance is needed. The supervisor must also be on time and available for consultation inside the appointed hour and beyond for crisis situations. If the supervisor is unavailable during a crisis, another counselor with experience must be available.

A part of your relationship with your supervisor is having a periodic evaluation and feedback on your counseling skills. You may be asked why you chose a certain action. It is at this time you receive feedback on the areas in which you need sharpening or improvement. This part of your supervision can be devoted to how you can grow as a professional counselor. Your supervisor may recommend you read certain books or attend training.

Supervisors often share their own life experiences and knowledge. Counselors can learn how other counselors worked with specific types of clients or illnesses.

Types of Supervision

One-on-one supervision is a private meeting that consists of yourself and the supervisor. You could meet once a week or less based on your caseload.

Peer supervision is a group of counselors offering supervision to each other. You will not have an experienced supervisor in this type of supervision. For some counselors, the advantage is that it feels more equal and less evaluative. These types of meetings can provide support and guidance from your peers in the field. Peer supervision can never replace one on one supervision or group supervision but can be a nice complement to professional supervision.

Group supervision is one supervisor who guides a group of counselors at once. These groups can be focused on a counseling topic, such as confidentiality, one case can be presented to receive feedback, or a discussion can be had about the experience of being a counselor. These groups tend to meet less often than one on one supervision. Counselors can learn about many different types of cases they have not had experience with before and learn from other counselors like themselves. 

What Happens in a Supervision Hour?

Most counselors regard their supervisor as a trusted ally to whom they can open up when and if needed. When you show up for your supervision hour, come prepared with what you would like to discuss, whether it’s counseling theory, practice, transference, countertransference, or specific case examples.

Your time for supervision should be scheduled ahead of time. It is a time that both supervisor and supervisee commit to showing up on time and having minimal to no interruptions. There will be times your supervisor may be called away to attend to another client emergency, these instances should be rare. Neither party should be checking phone messages or answering calls during this time.

Each supervision time may be different in scope, it may start with a general check-in to see how you are doing. Use this time to be honest with your supervisor about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences inside and outside the office that could impact your therapeutic work. Although your supervisor is a counselor, this person is not your counselor. If you need emotional support, you must seek a different counselor for that aspect of your growth.

Another area of inquiry will be your cases. Bring one to two cases to your supervision hour to discuss. These will be clients you feel stuck with or need clarification about how to proceed. Ask as many questions as necessary about treatment ideas, how to phrase conversations, and ethical concerns. This is your time to learn and gain knowledge.

Boundaries are important in the supervision hour. You are not there to be a supervisor or counselor to your supervisor. Your supervision hour should not resemble a social hour with a friend, nor should you hear about your supervisor’s personal problems. It is a business arrangement.

Online Supervision

Since the pandemic began, there has been more demand for online services, including counseling supervision. Although online supervision and counseling have advantages, such as ease of use, several disadvantages exist. Some of these include how technology affects our relationships and maintaining confidentiality.  Kirdock et al., 2021, “The advantages of online supervision were stated as accessibility and saving time, whereas the disadvantages were connection problems and the lack of interaction.” 

From the American Counseling Association (2014) Code of Ethics F.2.c. Online Supervision

When using technology in supervision, counselor supervisors are competent in the use of those technologies. Supervisors take the necessary precautions to protect the confidentiality of all information transmitted through any electronic means.

Confidentiality is a concern in regard to online supervision. Clark & Haddock state in Supervision in Online Counselor and Education Programs: An Account from Multiple Perspectives

Supervisees should be cautioned not to leave identifying client information when leaving messages. In this digital age and particularly in an online environment, supervisors routinely and frequently communicate with supervisees via e-mail. E-mail has become an acceptable and oftentimes, preferred, method of communication. 

However, e-mails have an inherent vulnerability as computers and the information they contain has the potential to be accessed by others and compromise the confidentiality of any records or communication. It is recommended that supervisors use informed consent with supervisee that outlines the risks to privacy. Finally, we would be remiss if we did not mention text messages when addressing issues of technology and confidentiality. Texting is being used more and more frequently and is often the method of choice for brief communication as opposed to phone calls. As with email, supervisors should use caution and include the threats to confidentiality related to text messages within the informed consent process.

Lisa Hutchison, LMHC

Lisa Hutchison, LMHC

Writer & Contributing Expert

Lisa Hutchison, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She works for professionals who want to treat and prevent compassion fatigue. With over 20 years of psychotherapy experience, she helps her clients assert themselves, set boundaries, and increase their coping skills. Her specialty is decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression while increasing realistic methods of self-care for those who help others. Ms. Hutchison’s psychological advice has been featured in Reader’s Digest and the Huffington Post. Her articles have been published in numerous magazines, including Grief Digest and Today’s Caregiver.

Lisa is the bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and a faculty member writer for NetCE. Her latest continuing education unit publication is “Setting Ethical Limits for Caring and Competent Professionals.” She has taught creative writing in colleges and presented on boundaries for the compassionate helper; the use of expressive art to heal grief, anxiety, and depression; inspirational and motivational topics; and creative writing techniques.