Supervisors matter. In fact, a fledgling therapist can be taken to an unimaginable level based solely on the supervisor they have. Supervisors serve many roles for the practicing therapist:
- They see the big picture. I can only see what I am doing from my own limited perspective. I’m too close to the action I’m involved in, to the nitty-gritty of the engagement with the client. As I talk about my work, and my supervisor reflects back what he’s seeing and hearing, and the impact it has on him, I get a different perspective, which allows me to sort the significant from the irrelevant.
- They have the wisdom of experience. The average supervisor has lived through many more therapy sessions than the average therapist, and they’ve seen things that some novices have never seen or dreamt of. They bring that experience to the supervision
- They are invested in the relationship with the therapist, but also hold the client’s best interest too. Just as kids can’t see past the end of the school year, sometimes I can’t see beyond the current situation or dilemma. The supervisor holds the truth there is always more.
- They inspire. Because they care deeply about their supervisees, and their development, they are able to connect with the therapist in a way outsiders cannot. I can remember a live supervision session at a workshop in which the supervisor said at the beginning of the session, “I’m here to support you.” She meant it. I’d never really understood that before, and I felt both challenged and overwhelmed by it.
- They keep you honest. No one WANTS to be vulnerable, to admit their mistakes, to hear that there’s another more obvious interpretation of what’s happening with the client, but the supervisor knows that these unsavory experiences are what’s needed for me and for my client.
Just as you’ve never seen a winning football team without a coach, you’d be hard-pressed to find a successful therapist without a good supervisor. The best supervisors get personal satisfaction in helping you be the best therapist you can be, so choose wisely.
Therapists go to supervision to talk about their work with clients, however, we cannot completely separate our work from what’s happening in our lives. Some supervisors will also work with the therapist’s process. And some will work with the business aspects of running a practice.
Decide what you want from your supervision, and not just what you need to do to fulfill the requirements for accreditation. Think hard about the balance between support and challenge. Ask around for recommendations; the best candidates come from word of mouth referrals. Go meet a few supervisors before you make your choice. It’s an important relationship, and you deserve to get someone that’s a really good fit for you where you are right now.