[EDITOR’s NOTE: This is an online-only companion article to “Guiding lights,” a feature on the ins and outs of the counselor supervision process appearing in the June issue of Counseling Today.]
Counselor supervision can have quite a steep learning curve — one that often comes with several ups and downs for beginning counselors.
Counseling Today recently asked several American Counseling Association members about their experience navigating the supervision learning curve. They share their thoughts here so that others can learn from their journeys along the sometimes-bumpy road into professional practice.
Fill in the blank: I wish I had known ________ when I was in my supervision.
“I wish I had known that it was OK to think outside of the box. I am a naturally creative and intuitive person, but I tried to reel all of that in during supervision. My supervisor was very structured. I still learned a lot, but it took me many years of practicing as a counselor before integrating who I am into my work as a counselor.
Be open to your supervisees interests — you can miss out on opportunities for them to grow, otherwise.”
— Stacey Brown, a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and clinical supervisor in Fort Myers, Florida
” [In supervision,] I felt that I couldn’t make a mistake because it would be evidence that I’m not a good counselor. I felt scared, instead of realizing that my supervisor was interested in knowing me as a person and interested in my development. [My supervisor] wasn’t looking for me to be a fully-formed counselor, they were expecting me to be a novice, and expecting to provide modeling and encouragement for improvement.
Now, I remind my students: If you’re scared and hiding [things from your supervisor], those are the students who don’t do as well, as opposed to those who are open and seeking growth. Be honest about your weaknesses instead of not acknowledging them.”
— Summer Reiner, LMHC, clinical supervisor and associate professor and school counseling coordinator at the College of Brockport, State University of New York and president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision
“One of the hardest lessons for me in supervision was [learning] the boundary of my own responsibility with my client. I was always wanting more [for them], feeling like I was responsible for more of their change and their experience. [Feeling that] it was somehow my fault or responsibility that they weren’t making progress in a way we wanted to see.
It took some very strong and honest supervisors [for me to learn not to feel that way]. That’s a level of insight, something you can’t give anybody. They helped me find my way.
One supervisor challenged me with ‘where does Kathryn end and where does your client begin?’ At first, I didn’t know that that meant. But it has really stuck with me.
It’s a very common, normal part of development as clinician [feeling responsible for client change]. We can have a parallel process of that, as supervisors — feeling responsible for the growth of supervisees: Where do they begin and we end?
It’s really about being the best that we can for our clients, and supervisees, and acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers.”
— Kathryn Henderson, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and assistant professor at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut
“I wish I knew how to advocate for myself within supervision. A lot of times, I didn’t speak up when I was in situations I didn’t feel comfortable in. I wish I had known how to advocate within supervision and how to broach [tough] conversations. But more importantly, knowing how to spot a supervisor who would be willing to broach [those conversations] and model wellness.
I wish I knew [then] how to spot a strong supervision relationship from a weak relationship because ultimately that’s how we benefit.”
— Kevin Doyle, an LPC and counselor educator who begins a position as assistant professor of mental health counseling at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this fall
I wish I had known:
- How to navigate cultural barriers in the supervisee/supervisor process
- How to advocate for quality over quantity for clients (providing quality clinical services to the client while meeting the agencies financial demands)
- How to obtain clarity of expectations for my role in practicum/internship
- That the process would be arduous at times
— Kerri Legette McCullough, an LPC, licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC), doctoral candidate at Argosy University and a mental health therapist at Hillcrest Children and Family Center in Washington, D.C.
“I had learned that in clinical supervision, I would learn how to function in the role of a counselor. Here’s what I didn’t know: I did not know that it was okay to not know things — that actually, it was pretty much expected that I wouldn’t.
I was unaware that clinical supervision could be an intuitive process — or that I would learn so much just within the context of the supervisory relationship. I was unaware of the full potential and was not expecting it to be as transformative as it has been for me, in both professional and personal ways. I think that if I had known this in the beginning, I definitely would have had a lot less anxiety about the process. But experiencing it in real time has been a valuable part of becoming a counselor. I wouldn’t change it.”
— Alicia Simmons, a counselor intern working toward counselor licensure in Florida and a clinician and play therapist at an agency that serves children removed from their homes due to trauma or neglect
Bethany Bray is a staff writer and social media coordinator for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.