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Supervisors have the responsibility to provide ongoing training in the context of related supervised experiences to enable supervisees to deliver effective and ethical services. Because of this, supervisors must be well trained, knowledgeable and skilled in the practice of their profession and in clinical supervision. Failure to have appropriate supervision experience will make it difficult for the supervisor to ensure their supervisees are functioning effectively and ethically (Corey, Corey & Callanan, 2007).

Supervisors operate in multiple roles such as mentor, teacher, consultant and advisor. As a consequence they are ethically vulnerable due to the multifaceted nature of the role and the level of influence and power they have in it. As a consequence, clinical supervisors must also be ethically astute, being aware of and effectively upholding relevant professional codes of conduct associated with their role.

They also have a significant influence on their supervisees; therefore, it is vital they monitor their own behaviour to ensure they model ethical practice effectively and also to ensure they do not misuse the inherent power in the relationship between them and their supervisee.  Finally, supervisors are faced with the collective responsibility of protecting the welfare of the clients, the supervisee, the public and the profession (Corey, Corey & Callanan, 2007). 

In the context of the multifaceted nature of clinical supervision, they have been summaries below in to three major categories. These are:

  1. Clinical – assessing and facilitating strategies to meet the learning needs of the supervisee
  2. Supportive – changing, shaping or supporting the supervisee’s behaviour
  3. Evaluative – evaluating the performance of the supervisee

(Adapted from Government of WA, 2005)

1. Clinical

An effective clinical supervisor does not just instruct the supervisee. They should also teach by example through the effective modelling of clinical competencies. The clinical supervisor’s role as a clinical instructor or teacher is to:

  1. Evaluate clinical interactions (in all situations and capacities)
  2. Identify and reinforce effective actions by the supervisee
  3. Teach and demonstrate counselling techniques
  4. Explain the rationale of strategies and interventions
  5. Interpret significant events in the counselling process
  6. Challenge the supervisee in a constructive manner.

2. Supportive

Clinical supervision can be a valuable source of support and encouragement for practitioners. A clinical supervisor’s role as a supporter is to facilitate the supervisee’s growth through the following:

  1. Assist the supervisee in recognising their personal limitations in order to to protect the welfare of both the client and supervisee
  2. Interact with the supervisee in a manner that facilitates their self exploration, problem solving ability and confidence.
  3. Support the supervisee’s wellbeing through being aware of and helping the supervisee deal with such things as stressful events, role ambiguity, career development and skill use. 

3. Evaluative

Supervisors have an evaluative role too. The supervisor’s role as an evaluator is to:

  1. Assess the practitioner’s skills & approach towards the psychotherapeutic process with the client
  2. Clarify performance standards to be met
  3. Negotiate objectives for learning
  4. Utilise appropriate strategies to address performance and skills deficits in the supervisees approach with clients.

Other Responsibilities of the supervisor:

  1. To ensure venue and mode availability
  2. Personal availability
  3. Record-keeping
  4. Confidentiality
  5. Awareness of limitations in knowledge
  6. Commitment to the process of clinical supervision
  7. Being accountable to the employing organization, the client and the supervisee by promoting safe clinical practice.

(Adapted from Government of WA, 2005)

Characteristics of a supervisor

Supervision sessions should be supervisee-centred.  In this way the supervisee is able to own the process, rather than feel that the process is driven and dominated by external factors. The “Four A’s of clinical supervision’ proposed by Todd & O’Connor (2005) offer a sound description of an effective supervisor. The four A’s are listed below and include the supervisor being:

  1. Available: open, receptive, trusting, non-threatening
  2. Accessible: easy to approach and speak freely with
  3. Able: having real knowledge and skills to transmit to the supervisee
  4. Affable: pleasant, friendly and reassuring.

(Todd & O’Connor, 2005)

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