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Making the Most of Professional Supervision

Making the Most of Professional Supervision

Just thinking about supervision requirements for social workers and counselors can create anxiety for both the supervisee and the supervisor. The stakes are high considering the need for developing professionals to hone their skills and understand the weight of responsibility placed in their hands… the best interests of the client. In addition, licensure boards across professions and jurisdictions may have widely varied requirements for the supervisor’s qualifications and the content of the supervision process. Those seeking supervision and their chosen supervisors must be familiar with the practice jurisdiction requirements.

And, an added complexity is that supervision falls into that odd area of practice that seems to be both an art and a science. Why do some supervisor/supervisee dynamics thrive where others struggle? Turns out, the success of the relationship may hinge upon how well the supervisory relationship is developed from the outset. There are many factors to consider for both the supervisor and supervisee. The following sections provide a framework for creating an effective supervisor-supervisee relationship. 

The Supervisee

Professionals seeking supervision should look closely at the credentials and experiences of the person potentially providing supervision. Consider whether the potential supervisor has the experience to guide your practice and push you to master the practice concepts. Also, supervisees should shop for a supervisor who can bring knowledge of evidence-based practice to the relationship. A high-caliber supervisor will welcome the following questions:

  • What are your credentials as a supervisor for counselors or social workers?
  • What are your specific areas of expertise in counseling or social work?
  • How long have you been a qualified supervisor in your jurisdiction?
  • How many clinicians are you currently supervising?
  • Will you explain your approach to supervision?
  • Do you incorporate technology into the supervisory relationship?
  • How do you incorporate ethical training into the supervision process?

Remember that the supervisee is the consumer of services in the supervisory relationship. The supervisee should feel comfortable with the supervisor they have chosen and should feel they are receiving quality instruction for the money being invested in the service. The supervisory process can take many hours, days, and months to meet the supervisee’s required number of hours. When spending so many hours with another professional, shouldn’t you feel comfortable professionally and valued as a paying customer?

The Supervisor

Supervisors are responsible to review the requirements of their jurisdictional licensing body. Jurisdictional licensing bodies will have varying requirements for engaging in supervision. These can range from registration as a supervisor to additional targeted continuing education related to supervision. Some states even require supervisors to take a particular course in supervision prior to registering as an approved supervisor for counselors or social workers. Supervisors should ensure they are practicing in compliance with the supervision requirements of their jurisdictional licensing body and maintain the credentials to conduct supervision. 

Supervisors may take widely varied approaches to the supervision process. No matter the approach, it is important to decide whether the approach will be formative or summative in nature. Formative supervision is based upon the concept that the supervisee’s progress should be measured throughout the process. This can be done with a series of quizzes or even open-ended discussion questions throughout the supervision process. Summative supervision is the concept that the supervisee’s progress is measured at the end of the process. Essentially, the supervisor has observed and administered supervision over the length of the contract, but there is a summative evaluation of whether the supervisee has satisfactorily advanced through the series.

Also, supervisors should help build the structure of the supervisory relationship by asking the supervisee some key questions:

  • What do want you to gain from the supervision process?
  • Are there key clinical areas where you want to receive extra training?
  • What practice areas are strengths for you and which one's need strengthening?
  • What level of preparation are you willing to bring to the process each session?
  • How much practice experience do you currently have?

Protection of Clients

Ultimately, the supervision process should lead to protection of the public from incompetent professionals and improve the outcomes for clients. Both results are driven by the development of more skilled and ethically aware professionals. Clients do not have the benefit of peeling back the layers of education and supervision to determine how well a clinician is suited to their needs. This leaves the ultimate responsibility upon the supervisor to ensure the professional is being developed to offer sound clinical interventions wrapped in solid ethical decision-making capabilities. 

Supervisees are impressionable at the early stages of their careers. They are reliant upon quality supervision to launch their practice in an effective, ethical manner. A sound plan for the supervision process will guide the supervisee down a path that leads to incorporating ethical standards coupled with best practices for the field of practice. Supervisors act as a guardian to competent practice by ensuring supervisees meet the knowledge, skills, and abilities to practice with competence. 

Putting It All Together

Whether you are the supervisor or supervisee, you play a critical role in the supervisory relationship. Supervisors are responsible for the direct transfer of knowledge and supervisees must transfer that knowledge to action. Through the supervisory process, the professional knowledge and practice base of counseling and social work is advanced and strengthened. This advancement of knowledge, skills, and abilities ultimately should lead to better outcomes for the clients served by counselors and social workers. And with better practitioners should come improved client lives.

Michael Smith

Dr. Michael Smith has been practicing social work nearly 30 years in a variety of settings. He has served as an item writer, exam reviewer, and content reviewer for social work licensure examinations for the Association of Social Work Boards since 2003. He has also served as Chair of the Alabama State Board of Social Work. Michael’s education includes a Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work, and Master of Business Administration from the University of Alabama. Michael also earned the Doctor of Philosophy in Management from Walden University. He is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and holds a Private Independent Practitioner certificate (PIP) with endorsements in clinical social work, social work administration, social work research, social casework, and community organization.

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Opinions and viewpoints expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of CE Learning Systems.

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