It is generally accepted that psychotherapists or those working in the helping professions benefit greatly from some form of professional, regular supervision. Those that sign up to the relevant, professional accrediting bodies and abide by their code of ethics must undertake a minimum  amount of regular supervision.

The purpose of supervision in clinical psychotherapy and counselling is to enrich the professional’s attitudes, knowledge, and skills in order to competently provide quality care resulting in improved client outcomes. Clinical Supervision is part of ongoing training and mentoring of professionally trained psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, counsellors and psychologists.

The process and practice of supervision in any setting but in particular the therapeutic setting provides an excellent opportunity to model behaviours which ensure equality, promote diversity and explore ethical dilemmas.  This ensures that there are particular codes of practice adhered to creating a benchmark for standards of performance. It also ensures accountability and provides a platform where grievances can be brought and attended to.

While supervision is a specific piece of work and distinct intervention,  there are many different theories that inform supervision practice; forms of supervision (e.g. seven eyed model, Cyclical Model); forums (such as being in private practice or being part of an organisation) and formats (individual or group) . One of the key foundations of supervision practice is the supervisory  contract. This, in essence, is the framework that allows the working alliance and supervisory relationship to develop where clear roles, responsibilities and expectations are laid down and trust and respect are built upon. The relationship is evaluative and extends over time enhancing professional functioning. While practitioners from diverse professional backgrounds and multi discipline teams are more and more engaged in supervision, the working framework for supervision is rooted in a philosophy of learning, development and growth rather than any particular professional perspective or training.

Supervision, as we understand it, takes place between two individuals where they work through and process clinical and ethical dilemmas and challenges that occur in the supervisee’s  practice. Indeed, Inskipp and Proctor (1995:1) refer to this as ‘a working alliance between a supervisor and a counsellor in which the counsellor can offer as account or recording of her work….’ It is therefore a collaborative experience where ethical issues, decision making and accountability are upheld.

While the practice of supervision has developed and emerged from the early origins of the ‘apprenticeship model’ where the apprentice would learn their practice by observing and assisting the more accomplished practitioner in the same field, the skills, techniques, methods and knowledge necessary to carry out effective supervision are not necessarily the same as those of psychotherapy.  Supervision is becoming a profession in its own right moving from uni-professional to a cross profession discipline where supervisors are working more and more with practitioners from diverse backgrounds. While it may be a given that most psychotherapists and other mental health profession engage in regular supervision, it is critical that we continue to consider and review training and guidance for supervisors in order to enhance best practice and uphold ethical standards, and review research on supervision to help focus on the application of practice and making the most of supervision.

by Evelyn Geraghty

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