Clinical supervision can offer a myriad of benefits, including professional growth in the realms of clinical skills, listening skills, ongoing verbal feedback, and keeping track of agreed upon goals between you and your supervisor. It also assists with ensuring client welfare, serving a gatekeeping function in the provision of clinical services to the larger community and the public (Bernard & Goodyear, 2009).
From a diversity perspective, the American Psychological Association states that competencies in supervision include working with different worldviews and backgrounds of the supervisee, supervisor, and clients on an ongoing basis. While I discuss the potential benefits of clinical supervision, I would be doing this article a disservice if I did not acknowledge the inherent power differential and hierarchical nature of supervision, wherein supervisors may have more room to acknowledge the nature of such a relationship when delivering feedback (APA, 2014).
So what does all of this mean when selecting your supervisor and making the most out of supervision?
Benefits of Clinical Supervision: Acknowledging Diverse Identities
I had the fortune to interact with supervisors who were sensitive to the power differential in the supervisory relationship and who also had the expertise to delve into different aspects of intersecting identities, values, and the collectivistic worldview that I carry as a woman, woman of color, and woman from a collectivist culture. I am fortunate that the first few supervision sessions with some of my supervisors focused on the sociocultural identity wheel exercise that highlighted my cultural preferences, values, and the ways they intersect with my communication style, theoretical orientation, and approaches as a clinician.
I also carry shifting identities that come from the ongoing process of acculturation—adapting values and preferences from multiple cultures depending on the context in which I interact. I am fortunate that the first few supervision sessions with some of my supervisors focused on the sociocultural identity wheel exercise that highlighted my cultural preferences, values, and the ways they intersect with my communication style, theoretical orientation, and approaches as a clinician.
I was able to integrate my cultural self into my clinical approaches when working with clients. More importantly, I was culturally aware and informed as a clinician. This also increased my self-awareness of what kinds of professional resources and support I was looking for, be it conferences, workshops, training opportunities, or ongoing mentorship.
Addressing the Challenges of Clinical Supervision
I can also reflect on some challenging aspects of clinical supervision. I had a few supervisors who identified as feminists and emphasized a concrete and specific structure for supervision. I have learned a great deal from the measurable and tangible aspects of supervision, but it came at the expense of my cultural self and the part of my identity that preferred an added layer of process to supervision.
I picked a supervisor whose style was concrete and specific without any cultural context. This was a very challenging experience for me because culture is critical to my identity, and my supervisor was unintentionally unaware of the cultural differences inherent in our supervision sessions. It was also one of my most valuable learning experiences in supervision. Looking back, it was a mismatch between supervisor and supervisee, and the challenge came from not openly acknowledging and learning from our differences.
For Supervisees: Tips for Successful Clinical Supervision
Now that I have reflected on the positive and challenging experiences of supervision, here is what works for me. In sharing what works, my hope is that you are able to try some of these ideas based on your own work style and values.
- Set up an informational meeting with your supervisor to talk about your work style, values, cultural needs, and multiple identities, if applicable. Ask your supervisor what their experiences are with intersecting identities, what their work style is, and what values inform their role as a supervisor.
- If your supervisor does not engage in ongoing feedback, and if this is one of your preferences, respectfully state that where possible, you’d prefer ongoing feedback that includes examples from your work so you can more clearly understand and apply the feedback.
- At the onset of supervision, discuss with your supervisor how you would typically approach any ruptures in the relationship. My hope is that your supervisor would also be able to initiate this discussion on an ongoing basis.
- If you are seeking a certain supervisory style, look for components of that style in your supervisor. For example, if your style in supervision is exploratory and concrete, clarify this with your supervisor. You might want to delve into your identities and how they interact with that of your client’s, then balance this with concrete references for clinical strategies.
- If the structure of supervision is important to you, let your supervisor know so they can address your preferences early on.
- Talking about strengths is as important as talking about vulnerabilities. If you have trouble acknowledging either as a supervisee, let your supervisor know at the outset so they can be mindful of this—it can be a critical part of the ongoing feedback and evaluation you receive.
- Before you start supervision, ask your training director, coordinator, or the person in charge (if applicable) what policies exist should you need to switch supervisors. This can be a good option if efforts to recover from a ruptured relationship have proven unsuccessful.
- The process of becoming aware of your personal, professional, and cultural self is ongoing. My recommendation is to visit and revisit the sociocultural wheel of identity consistently as you transition into different roles and/or experience personal and professional transitions in your life. This may give you increased clarity about which sets of preferences are malleable and contingent on the changing landscape around you, and which values are core, unchangeable, and inform your personal and professional working style.
The above is a bird’s eye view of what to look for in supervision and of how important it can be to reflect on what each experience has taught you. It has certainly taught me, in terms of increased awareness, about my own preferences for supervision, as well as increased my knowledge of my own style as a supervisor. It’s taught me about my blind spots and the skillset of balancing exploration and process with strategies and concrete resources as a supervisor. Improving skills in the field of supervision while building awareness and knowledge is certainly a lifelong process for me.
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- American Psychological Association (2014). APA guidelines for clinical supervision in health service psychology. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/about/policy/guidelines-supervision.pdf
- Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (2009). Fundamentals of clinical supervision (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
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