Our trainee therapist gets supervised…

As a therapist in training, the transition from skills practice in class, to ‘supervision’ tends to feel like a Big Deal for the most of us. It heralds the rather scary proposition that you are getting ready to see Real Live Clients, rather than just practice on your peers in things like fishbowls. It’s not so scary to make mistakes with your mates.

When I first heard the term ‘supervisor’ it made me think of ‘super-visor’ or ‘super-vision’.  It sounded suspiciously like having someone with x-ray therapeutic eyes, peering over my inexperienced shoulders ready to point out all my fledgling non-know-how. So far, it’s not really been like that, (well not all the time anyway…).

Supervision is the place where you process what is ‘going on’ between you and your client (in a beneath the surface way), and where your mistakes – and your progress – are placed for review under a metaphorical microscope. It is also an important way to ensure that what you are doing/saying/thinking is in service to your client. In my training, it is conducted in a small group, where you have to bring a 10 minute transcript and recording of your session. That’s right – you get to hear yourself on tape making a complete arse of yourself and have your gauche therapeutic self exposed to your peers and your ‘omniscient’ supervisor. And I thought fishbowls were bad!

Painful as it is, supervision is an amazing learning ground. It allows you to see the things you didn’t see before. When you talk about your client in supervision, you bring them into the room again, and they can often feel quite live. Sometimes in a group, a weird phenomenon labelled (by therapists) as ‘parallel process’ can take place. Here, the group ‘holds’ different aspects of your client’s psyche. In other words they can feel or  ‘act out’ the unsaid – or unseen – things that are going on between the two of you. Someone in the group might, for example, say ‘ I feel really angry and I don’t know why’, or ‘I keep getting the urge to giggle, what is that about?’ and it is usually the very thing you aren’t able to see.

It may sound strange but these are the things that deepen our awareness and understanding of our therapeutic process. It really is like holding a giant magnifying glass up to our work. It took me a while to understand but now I think I’m ready for more close-ups.

For more on supervision click here.