Archive for the ‘Practice of Therapy’ Category

Supervision: a therapist’s must

I’m often asked about the psychological perils of working as a therapist. ‘It must be so draining, what do you do with all that emotional turmoil?’ ‘How do you not get burnt-out?’ It’s also often assumed that I’m in therapy too, and that I discuss the more troubling emotional aspects of my work with my therapist. I do happen to be in weekly therapy, although professionally I’m not required to, and it may well be that I talk about feelings arising from my clinical load. But unpacking the nuts and bolts of my work with clients, and my varied responses to it, is largely done in supervision rather than therapy.

Supervision, unlike therapy, is a requirement of all practising counsellors and psychotherapists. That’s if the therapist is professionally registered – not all are (look for BACP or UKCP membership). When in training, or newly qualified, you will need more than when you are a more confident and experienced practitioner – but it should never stop, however seasoned we become, as we are an imperfect breed and need others to keep check on our emotional, technical and other skills and practice. I sincerely hope I don’t ever reach the stage of thinking I don’t need supervision, and I’d rely upon my therapist or colleagues to spot signs of my slipping into such narcissism. I couldn’t rely upon my friends or family for this, as I don’t talk about my supervisory needs with them – that’s confidential.

Supervision helps in a number of ways. It may be for education – my supervisor happens to be an expert in eating disorders and self-harm in young adulthood. She’s taught me a lot about how to work with these clients, along with guiding me to helpful reading and further learning. What she knows that I don’t is always of potential use. Supervision is also a crucial emotional support – like a good manager or team leader who will spot your strengths and  help build up any weaknesses. But mostly, supervision for me is not what I don’t know about, but what I do know about – difficult or notable feelings I have for clients or the work that we are doing together. Unpacking these are what helps me in my work the most.

So, for example, I may be feeling an intense frustration with a client – perhaps I feel I’ve been patiently trying to move him/her out of a particularly destructive set of thoughts and behaviours, but I’m defeated each week. I’m wary that my frustration may leak out and I don’t want to risk it landing harshly on my client. Supervision helps me to understand my frustration in greater depth, including the likelihood that it may not be ‘mine’ after all – it could be projected by my client into me. We do strange things us human beings, without being conscious of doing so.

Conversations in supervision allow me to think about my clients differently, to take responsibility for what I may or may not bring to sessions and to develop and strengthen my practice. Therapy does for me what I hope it does for my clients – build my resilience, improve my relationship with myself, teach me to take responsibility for what I can and learn to ease painful responses to past events.


Julia Bueno is a member of the LPN