Can Clinical Supervision Make up for Lack of Education?

Most mental health counselors are required to have a master’s degree in their area of specialty or some area of counseling. They must also undergo a clinical supervision period before they are able to work independently with clients. However, in the field of substance use (SUD), these same criteria are not required. In fact, a large number of SUD counselors enter the field without certification, licensure, or master’s-level education. And even though they do not receive supervision from a clinical practitioner for a period of time prior to engaging directly with clients, they do have effective clinical supervision (ECS) available to them. But it is unclear whether or not this type of supervisory experience can be equivalent to the education and practical supervision that other counselors receive.

Tanja C. Laschober of the Institute for Behavioral Research at the University of Georgia recently led a study examining how ECS helped prepare counselors for client interactions and also how it impacted overall job performance. Laschober assessed 392 groups of supervisors/counselors, and asked them to provide reports on various aspects of their relationships, including challenging assignments, accepting and acknowledging competency of both counselor and supervisor, proficiency of supervisor and counselor, role modeling/mentoring, and general task performance. She found that the ECS experience had a positive effect on how well the counselors performed their jobs. In fact, there was enough evidence of skill enhancement resulting from the ECS experience that Laschober believes that this type of relationship could offset any education deficiencies.

One of the most surprising results was discovered in the counselors’ ratings of their supervisors and how this affected job performance. Specifically, the counselors did not rate their supervisors’ proficiency as the most influential factor affecting their job performance, but rather their supervisors’ mentorship. The encouragement, sponsorship, and acknowledgement that the counselors received from their supervisors did far more to enhance their skill levels and overall performances than did the proficiency of their respective supervisors. Laschober added, “Thus, it appears that mental health counselors in SUD settings might benefit from ECS, such as mentorship and a strong working alliance with supervisors, to help improve their job performance.”

Laschober, Tanja C., Lillian Turner De Tormey Eby, and Julia B. Sauer. Effective clinical supervision in substance use disorder treatment programs and counselor job performance. Journal of Mental Health Counseling 35.1 (2013): 76-94. Print.

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  • Jenn b

    Jenn b

    March 9th, 2013 at 5:10 AM

    This is definitely a field where I would want to work with someone who not only has an advanced degree but with someone who has also had the chance to work with others in the same field and learn from them on the job. There is only so much you can learn from books and in the classroom, so much more of what we take in and retain comes from getting hands on and learning the job and the intricacies of the job from the ground up. If I was looking for someone to help me in this manner I would want someone who had just the right balance of education along with real world work and training.

  • Lori Malone

    Lori Malone

    March 9th, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    Can it make up for a lack of education?

    No I don’t think so.

    But it can it provide some fantastic learning experiences and collaborative work opportunities for someone While they are finishing their education? And make them a better well rounded practitioner when they have completed the work and mentoring program?

    I tend to believe that the answer to that is an emphatic yes.

  • John


    March 10th, 2013 at 4:13 AM

    Think I will be the voice of dissent here by saying that in practical terms I do feel like if you have a wonderful mentor and this is an area in which you are interested and have the ability to excel, then extra work at the graduate level and more time hitting the books will not necessarily make you a better therapist. I am all about hands on learning and having the chance to work in situations that are real life and move at full steam. This is what this kind of experience will give you over simply reading specific case studies and then wondering how you would treat someone like that if they one day happened upon your practice. It is almost like the apprenticeships of the days of old, which were not necessarily a bad thing. I am sure that every single person in this fiedl could benefit from more time getting real over more time reading about people like it in their books.

  • CHET


    March 11th, 2013 at 2:52 AM

    I wonder who is going to be the person or the governing body who would then decide which work aside from education can count toward your experience or what cannot. And is this going to have a list of objective goals and things that must have been accomplished or is this going to be completely subjective?

    I am fine with this being a part of someone’s training, and I am even willing to go so far as to say that I am fine with this kind of work being counted toward their hours or whatever else someone needs to be licensed. But I also think that there has to be some standardization of the requirements so that you have to do one thing in one facility but something else for another. There needs to be clear cut standards so that we can maintain the level and quality of care that is being provided.

  • Bernard.T


    March 11th, 2013 at 10:59 PM

    for some it may be better than even an educational qualification, while for others it may not be. different people have different styles. and while formal education may help one, real practice minus the education may help another., there is no way to tell.and because of this difference, something of a qualifying yardstick needs to be appointed.and educations seems to be the automatic choice. it may not be the best yardstick to apply to all but it does put in some confidence in the minds of the clients seeing the professional.

  • Rafikka


    March 12th, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    I would say yes to this, but not a “lack” of, but rather an inefficient or ineffective education… One important part of our field is that it is everchanging and very broad in its content. Because if that, our education can come from such a wide array of sources. This is a benefit for us because it removes limitation! From personal experience, my supervision has been an immense support in the shaping of my identity as a mental health professional. These relationships encompass an educational quality that is simply not achieved by way of traditional academic methods.

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