Professional supervision is a requirement of AHPRA registration for most therapists working in the mental health field. Clinical Psychologists, General Psychologists, Social Workers and Mental Health OTs are all required to undertake ongoing supervision. Other professional bodies and associations also set supervision as a requirement of membership for their Psychotherapist and Counsellor members.
Ongoing supervision is valuable for anyone who works in a psychotherapeutic setting.
Supervision provides a space to reflect on the work and its impacts, deeply examine complex cases, and gain support, inspiration, and confidence in your practice. Your supervisor should be someone who can help create a space that is creative, supportive, and generative for YOU and your professional growth.
Most people who work in a psychotherapeutic setting already know how important self-awareness is in practice. Deepening self-awareness is a constant process of re-evaluating our beliefs, values, and principles as practitioners and people. We don’t just hit a threshold and go, “Okay! I’m done now! I am Self-Aware!”.
Supervision is aimed at enhancing your practice and your skills, and helping to avoid burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. Regular supervision deepens your capacity to hold yourself and your clients with more compassion and professionalism.
Good supervision considers your humanity, physical form, sexuality, identity, dreams, desires, professionalism, education, history, experiences, values and ethical frameworks. These intersect with the spaces created between clinician, client, systems and culture/s.
Essentially, supervision should be holistic and focus on all the parts of who you are, rather than just the professional aspect.
So how do you go about finding a supervisor? And how do you know what to look for? Which traits make supervision a supportive experience rather than micromanagement?
Sophie Rak, clinical supervisor, provides this list of 10 qualities of a good supervisor:
- Someone who takes your preferred learning style into account
As practitioners in therapeutic settings, you probably already know that everyone learns differently. You need a supervisor who can tailor their approach for how YOU learn best whether that’s written, visual, or experiential. If you’re not sure what your preferred approach is, let your supervisor know and incorporate that into a part of your professional development!
- The focus is on what’s important to you
This is a huge thing! Your supervisor should be considering what you want to prioritise in your development and provide a space for you to explore what that might be.
- Someone who creates a safe space for learning, growth, and support
When we’re baring our souls to someone who is also within our industry, there’s room for our brains to make us feel ashamed of how we’re coping – after all, even YOU might feel like you ‘know better’ than to think or act certain ways. A good supervisor creates a space where difficult or confusing feelings are welcome and helps guide you to work through these feelings to enhance your skills.
- Clinical reflection
Supervision is more than needing support on an emotional or psychological level. Complex or confusing cases can be examined in confidentiality, and you can together create a plan or deepen your understanding of how to best assist your clients.
- They’ve got your back!
This feels like a no-brainer, but we must mention it! A good supervisor will support you through it all and is someone that you can count on for consistency and reliability.
- No judgment
Again, it feels like a no-brainer! Make sure your supervisor is practicing unconditional positive regard with you – you deserve it as much as your own clients!
- A good supervisor will offer you a mixture of challenge, support, and education
After all, having a supervisor who just agrees with everything you think or believe won’t be helpful to you at all! You want someone who will challenge you to broaden your perspectives, while still lending a supportive element for you to feel confident in your learning together.
- Bigger picture goals are considered
During supervision, you’ll probably talk a bit about career goals that you’re aspiring to and create some plans around making that happen. This includes professional development needs and goals, and a good supervisor will help you to identify them.
- Trauma-informed approach
This is super important, too! Supervisors who are trauma-informed are much better equipped to provide you with genuine support, especially if you’re managing any symptoms of vicarious trauma, burnout or compassion fatigue. A good supervisor will help you access your somatic experience (through tuning in with your body awareness) and offer tools to help heal traumas, which can be elevated during this kind of work.
- Attuned and exploring the impacts of your work
Working in this field can impact your belief systems, emotions, views of society and relationships. A present and attuned supervisor will help you to recognise the impacts of the work for you both personally and professionally, helping you to stay in the work you love longer.
Now that you know what the role of the supervisor is, consider what your role as a supervisee might look like. You’re encouraged to bring cases, structural and practice dilemmas, and a future vision for yourself as a professional to be explored, experimented with, and evaluated in a safe environment.