Experience is necessary, but it is not the whole enchilada.
Supervision and counseling are two professional roles that are often intertwined, and sometimes confused. Supervision is the act of guidance and gatekeeping for new professionals in the field of counseling (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014). Supervisors have counseling experience and typically have their own style of supervision to help communicate skills and problem-solving. Counselors can become supervisors, after experience and some additional training. Supervision can be used with new counselors and even seasoned counselors trying to gain insight or guidance on a difficult case or on a topic that is unfamiliar. Comparisons of the counselor and supervision roles are important to explore how to best enhance each role.
Counseling is the direct and indirect work with the client on therapeutic goals. Supervision is direct and indirect work with a counselor to help enhance professional identity and clinical skills. Supervision is a process every mental health student encounters as they work to complete course requirements for a Masters degree and Ph.D. Aside from just being a requirement for coursework, supervision provides guidance and as a gatekeeper in the field. Many state licensures allow for a counselor to become a supervisor after a certain number of years of experience in counseling. Although experience does help ensure the potential supervisor has clinical skills and knowledge, it may not specifically focus on supervision skills that may be necessary to be an effective and ethical supervisor (Parcover & Swanson, 2013). There are similarities and differences between counseling and supervision that can help better identify the focus of the supervisory role.
According to Bernard and Goodyear (2014) supervisors work to develop engagement between professionals, comfort with approaching uncertainty and ambiguity in the field, and formation of professional identity. Supervision is a balance between applying clinical knowledge to case studies, relationship-building with peers in the field, and guidance to new professionals. The role of a supervisor is to develop a close professional relationship with the supervisee that helps promote knowledge and skill, while still keeping the safety of the community as a priority (Bernard & Goodyear, 2014).
One skill that is unique between counseling and supervision is the role of collaboration. A counselor may have to tackle a clinical problem independently. Supervision can utilize collaboration to build upon strengths and adjust to ambiguity with another professional in the field who has a different perspective (Rousmaniere & Ellis, 2013). Collaboration in the field can help to solve problems with more ease, ultimately providing higher quality care for clients. The supervisor acts in a unique role that mirrors a mentor with a vested interest in client well-being and ethical decision-making. Another conclusion from this comparison is that new professionals really need guidance when troubleshooting client problems. The isolation that can be felt in the field can be dangerous to client welfare. Instead of trial and error, or misinformation, a student can ask for supervision from someone with counseling experience.
Supervision can occur in different forms, creating ease for supervisors who have multiple supervisees. The traditional 1:1 supervision style provides attention to a supervisee to focus on troubleshooting, monitoring, and modeling. According to Milne and Oliver (2000), the bias of preferring individual supervision might just be from comfort and fear of trying new formats. A limitation of the individual therapy approach is that with the increase of new professionals in the field, it can be difficult to keep up with the need of the field only supervising one supervisee at a time (Milne & Oliver, 2000). The triadic format of supervision is where there are two supervisees that work cooperatively and collaboratively with the supervisor. The benefits of the triadic supervision approach are that each supervisee can still have an intimate role with the supervisor, but more can be accomplished in one session (Milne & Oliver, 2000). The new professionals can work together to solve problems and may be able to problem-solve cooperatively. The reduction in isolation can also improve the supervisee’s collaboration skills and adherence to paperwork and ethical guidelines. A downside to the triadic approach is that it might be difficult to approach professional identity concerns that are impacting the counseling session. For example, if a counselor is demonstrating bias towards another culture in session, it has to be addressed, but finding an appropriate time might be more difficult. The group format allows for many, usually three or more, to learn from each other while also learning from the supervisor. The group format allows for group learning, enhanced efficiency, and healthy challenges from peer-to-peer interactions (Milne & Oliver, 2000). One limitation of the group experience is that the supervisee may not feel they get enough time for the supervisor to talk about challenges without other group members present. Although there are some limitations when working with a group supervision format, it does appear to promote collaboration between diverse professionals that can help to identify themes and solutions.