The Next Step – Supervision

I have sat, laptop open, mist drifting across the valley, wondering where to begin this post. In some ways it is an announcement, but one with roots which go back to the start of my training to be a counsellor. My clients may smile at the fact I am stumbling, as they may have done, at the question “Where do you want to begin?”

So, let us sidestep for a moment with an explanation of what supervision is, and where it fits into the therapeutic experience. Two people meet in a room, one is vulnerable, in pain, needing a route from where they are, to where they want/hope/need to be. The other, call them therapist, analyst, counsellor, should be in a place of calm, congruence, experience and expertise. Not finished, but aware of the work that they have done, the training, the personal therapy, the self reflection and the learning, all of which is aimed at ensuring they can be a safe and competent guide on the others journey.

How do we ensure we are that safe, competent, able to carry the load those in distress pass on to us, therapist? Training and personal therapy are vital, but, day to day, as we work through the undergrowth, sometimes stumbling, sometimes discovering what we thought was a patch of nettles is in fact a hidden grove of wild flowers, our personal supervision is a key component. A supervisor is a trained and experienced therapist who we see regularly for support, advice, line management, and case consultation. Supervision is not therapy, but they are the one person who can say, perhaps you need to take this to therapy. They hear our hopes, dreams, failures and successes, and perhaps most importantly help to keep our clients safe.

Or they should – which is where I have to go back to the beginning. As a baby counsellor all eager, nerves, and a deep desire to prove myself, my very first supervisor belonged to an anti LGBTQ religious organisation. Now, looking back I feel the professional shock that my placement never even asked about my gender and/or sexual orientation. Professionally I wonder that they even thought the supervisor was a suitable person to be employing. Personally I remember the way I shrank in sessions, the fear, the way something that should have nurtured instead poisoned. Indeed, long after I qualified I had to work through the fear and anxiety that supervision brought up for me. Hahn, writing about shame in the supervisory relationship discusses how supervisees might withdraw, and I did, protecting myself like a hermit crab, until it was safe to come out.

Since then I have had two amazing, supportive, and affirmative supervisors. I have learnt what supervision should, and can be. I resolved however that when I felt ready I would train to be a supervisor, to stand up and say, the world needs more spaces where therapists, whatever their difference, can feel they are affirmed and supported – because when they get that, so do their clients.

I have during my reading of the theory behind supervision also be musing on how, practically, it can be anti oppressive. Part of what went wrong with that very first supervisor is that they assumed there were no substantive differences between us, and that the not naming of difference would not impact. Dhillon-Stevens suggests that in the first session supervisor and supervisee explore the differences, the power imbalances, the hierarchies, naming them, and exploring what they mean. How often do we confront that there is a hierarchy, that a students supervisor wields great power? How for the qualified therapist their supervisor can open up or close down thoughts about how the clients experience their differences from their therapist? I have always been passionate about avoiding harm in therapy, making few friends as I point out that better regulation must be the goal if we are to protect clients. One of the ways we can, and must, improve the therapeutic experience, is consigning the idea it is OK to not see difference, to not explore it, name it, accept the different margenlisations some face to history. Here I know have flown into the future, envisaging a profession which is anti oppressive to the core.

Back to the here and now, and, in a slightly Bilboesque way – an announcement (don’t worry I am not about to sing, or tell a story of adventures with dragons.)

From the middle of July I will be qualified as a supervisor, and taking on supervisees, it is an exciting step, both personally and professionally. I will be offering both online, and in person outdoor sessions, and I hope that I can begin to build spaces where others can find the depth of support in supervision that I have received from both of my wonderful supervisors. If you would like to find out more you can email me on northumberlandcounselling@gmail.com putting supervision in the subject line. If you are a client, or potential client, reading this, concerned it means I am stopping client work, be reassured that I am not, and as all supervisory relationships teach all parties about the art and science of therapy, I hope this new avenue will simply increase the richness of my therapeutic work.

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