Bernard and Goodyear, (1998) describe the major legal issues for clinical supervisors as malpractice, the duty to warn, and direct and vicarious liability.

  • Malpractice – this refers to harm caused by negligence and is more likely for supervisors to be based on the alleged inadequate performance of their supervisee.
  • The duty to warn – this refers to the professional judgement and due care taken concerning a person’s level of threat to the community and/or public.
  • Direct liability and vicarious liability – direct liability is when the supervisor is considered liable for the harm caused, whereas vicarious liability is when the supervisor is liable through association in the supervision relationship.

Bernard and Goodyear, (1998) suggests the following list of strategies that supervisors need to employ to ensure best practice:

  1. Develop a trusting relationship with the supervisee
  2. Keep up-to-date on legal issues
  3. Retain the services of an attorney/legal support
  4. Obtain good liability insurance
  5. Invest time and energy into doing a good job as a supervisor
  6. Document all supervisory contacts

An awareness of the codes of ethics that inform the counselling field is integral to professional practice. To retain credibility, both as a practitioner and for the profession as a whole, skills and knowledge in ethical practice should be developed in the supervisee and practiced by the supervisor at all times.

Due Process – supervisors follow a process necessary to fully protect and inform their supervisees of all aspects of supervision. This includes (1) informed consent (clarifying requirements, expectations, rules and roles), (2) assessment and evaluation and the implications of a negative evaluation and (3) the process of appeal. Supervisors need to also ensure that their supervisees are following due process with their clients, particularly in regard to risk and crisis work.

Informed consent – supervisees must receive comprehensive information about the process of supervision before consenting to the relationship. Supervisors are also responsible for ensuring supervisees give their clients the same opportunity for informed consent, including detailed information concerning the supervisory relationship.

Dual Relationships – it is common that supervisors and supervisees will participate in dual professional relationships with one another. Important ethical considerations concerning these relationships are (1) the likelihood that the dual relationship will impair the supervisor’s judgement and (2) the risk to the supervisee of exploitation.

There is some evidence to suggest that unethical dual relationships that are modelled during supervision are repeated by the supervisee in their professional practice. As a result, dual relationships are a critical issue and it is essential that the supervisor emphasises the supervisee’s understanding of ethical decision-making regarding dual relationships.

Competence – supervisors need to ensure that they participate in continuing education and professional networks to maintain their own professional competence. They should also be aware of the types of cases that they consider themselves competent to supervise. Additionally, it is critical that the supervisor focuses both on the training needs of the supervisee as well as their responsibility to protect the supervisee’s clients.

Confidentiality – issues of confidentiality need to be discussed and addressed in supervision and in therapy. Supervisees need to know what information from the supervision sessions may be divulged to other professionals and what will be kept completely confidential.

Supervisors must ensure supervisees discuss confidentiality with their clients, particularly in relation to the supervisory relationship. Supervisors should model and maintain the rules of confidentiality in all types of supervision including group, audio-taped and live supervision.