For me the word supervisor suggests an overseer with one person having authority over another. This is unlike my experiences of collaborative supervision where supervisor and supervisee(s) work together to explore relationships between counsellor and client, ethical issues, supervisees’ personal and professional development and so on.
Whilst it is usual for supervisors to have greater professional experience, supervisees have firsthand experience of their clients and of being in a therapy relationship with their clients. Both supervisor and supervisees have personal qualities such as intuition and wisdom. For me each person's contributions are of value, adding to our explorations and understandings.
Hopefully everybody’s input is respected and no one is judged or criticised, making it safe to share experiences, discuss freely and try out ideas. I find that this creates a trusting atmosphere, where supervisees can become more aware of what they are experiencing and more confident of their perceptions whilst counselling clients. In my experience this facilitates counsellors in developing their capacity to be real, open and engaged.
Is a Collaborative Relationship an Equal Relationship?
At first glance a collaborative relationship between supervisor and supervisee might appear to be equal. However, for various reasons I find that there are inequalities. Here are some examples:
As a trainee counsellor I had individual and group supervision. In both I felt in awe of the supervisor’s experience, personal growth and qualifications. I gave my supervisors authority, whether or not they wanted it.
Some years later as a supervisor myself, I am frequently asked to write reports for counsellors. The assumption is that I am an authority on supervisees’ development and the quality of their work. What I write might affect their future. This places me in a powerful position.
During supervision, supervisees are in the spotlight. We explore their work, perhaps their difficulties in accepting or empathising with a client, maybe something personal that is preventing them from being fully present and engaged. Therefore I see supervisees as being more vulnerable in the relationship than supervisors.
Whilst I consider 'facilitator' a more fitting title than 'supervisor', a facilitator also has some authority and power.
Does Inequality in the Relationship Matter?
I am uncomfortable about being an authority in a situation which I hope will facilitate people in developing an internal locus of evaluation. That is trust and confidence in their perceptions and intuition.
In the past when I gave my supervisors the authority I put aside my own views and ideas if they differed. This was due to politeness and my attitude then towards people in authority, plus an assumption that my supervisors knew best. This affected the degree to which we could work collaboratively since at times I was not contributing my true opinions.
Conclusion – How This affects me as a Supervisor?
There can be more than one helpful way of responding to clients. As a supervisor I hope to facilitate congruence also known as self awareness so that counsellors can check inwardly and rely upon their intuition, their feelings and their thoughts.
I try to be aware of the inequalities that the role of supervisor brings including those relating to differences such as race, class, disability and so on. I try to notice what is going on in my relationships with supervisees, whether they are giving me the authority and whether I am accepting it. I try to address these situations.
I acknowledge that supervisees know themselves, the quality of their work and their developmental needs, better than I do. Reports are a collaborative effort with our joint input.
I cannot eliminate all the inequalities. However my intention is to challenge them as best I can and to help create an environment that supports supervisees in becoming self-reflective and an authority for themselves, as well as enabling us to have an open and collaborative relationship.