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Jul 2014 by PCI College

Supervision - A View from the Ground

"The real masterpiece, in the case of supervision, is that the client is safe and the supervisee is supported to learn from the peaks and valleys of the work". Clare Burke, past student of the PCI College/Middlesex University Advanced Diploma in Supervision, gives her ideas on supervision, raising some interesting thoughts on the role.

When invited to give forth some ideas on the subject of supervision, my first response was one of reluctance. This reluctance was borne from a fear of boring readers with ‘here we go again’, repetitive, and perhaps patronizing doctrine on the overstated indispensability of supervision. Supervision holds an as yet unthreatened hierarchal position in the pyramid of counselling. This is a point driven into the very DNA of students, pre accredited and accredited counsellors. My task herein therefore is to bring some humility and contest to a discussion on the topic, rather than adding further reverence and power to this branch of the counselling profession. I enter into this exploration as counsellor, supervisor and fatigued reader of literature promoting the ‘what would we do without supervision’ attitude prevalent today.

If you detect some crankiness you are quite right. I am Oscar, The Grouch, whose primary desire as a supervisor is to normalise and simplify the practice. This grouchiness stems from my own varied experiences as a supervisee with supervisors who by the nature of the role were afforded too much power and tenure over my work as a counsellor. These early experiences replaced insight and inspiration with authority and distrust in my competence. To be supervised in this manner is a forced regression to feeling like a bold child fearing judgment and criticism. I decided to train as a supervisor principally to offer supervision to students and counsellors that would provide expression (and not concealment), guidance (and not superiority), and empathy (not condescension).

One of the many duties of supervisors is to ensure that the client’s well-being is out of harm’s way. Reckless practices on the part of the supervisee or their lack of experience with particular issues are two examples of circumstances which have presented me with the remarkable responsibility of supervision. It would be more ideal to share this responsibility with others, beyond my own supervisor that is. I agree strongly with a supervisor colleague who recently remarked that supervisors are depended on too excessively to safeguard the profession. It also seems at times impractical to evaluate the work of another without ever witnessing that work in person.

I incorporate into my own philosophy of supervision a means of protecting both client and supervisee in a manner which ultimately respects all concerned. Integrating spirituality into the work helps with such potential issues of conflict. It’s always easy to be nice, but not as easy to raise concerns about a person’s work. I try to do so with respect, clarity, honesty and brevity. Minimizing my own ego (i.e. my need to win an argument or show off) as well as reducing the likelihood of provoking a defensive response from the supervisee is helped enormously by own faith that I am a facilitator of learning rather than a moral authority. It helps that I practice meditation and centering prayer as tools for maintain humility and awe for the greater picture. Leonard Cohen’s humility helps too; “you don’t command the enterprise…I have found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win…when you understand that you abandon your masterpiece and sink into the realmasterpiece” (Cohen,2007). The real masterpiece, in the case of supervision, is that the client is safe and the supervisee is supported to learn from the peaks and valleys of the work.

I completed the
Advanced Diploma in Supervision with PCI College, in collaboration with Middlesex University in 2011. The ethos of the course was very compatible with my own learning needs. I was encouraged to think independently and creatively about the principles underlying my own values pertaining to supervision. I found it very helpful to practice being a supervisor in an experiential way and to receive feedback from others in relation to how my skills developed. I experienced the course facilitators as consistently available and invested in my learning. There was a continual emphasis on the importance of healthy self awareness on the part of the supervisor as a means of maintaining professionalism. The assignments were manageable and thought provoking, it was particularly enlightening to complete a taped session as part of our assessment, to discover that my use of the word ‘emmmm’ was shockingly annoying. Most of all, I made a life time friend during the course who is a constant muse for my spiritual and existential passions. What more could one ask for.

To conclude, I don’t fully know what every counsellor needs from their supervisor; you will be the best judge of that. Is it enlightenment, answers, solutions, congratulations, parenting, nurture, a good blend of all perhaps? My ideas and concerns about the current model of supervision are just that, my ideas. Ultimately, for the most part it works sufficiently well, but I think it could be better. Moving beyond the parameters of one to one monthly supervision and the over dependence on the supervisor to hold such awesome accountability for the work of another counsellor would be a good start. In the meantime, challenging the status quo is stimulating and surely adds to the evolution of the counselling profession, which by its nature should be open to growth and change.

Clare Burke MIACP
(July 2014)
Counsellor & Supervisor, PCI College Lecturer

The Advanced Diploma in Supervision begins again in September 2014. The programme is validated by Middlesex University and meets the accreditation criteria of the IACP.

Cohen, Leonard (2007) ‘I’m your Man’, a film by Liam Lunson, Lionsgate.

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