Supervision generally fall into two main types: structured and unstructured. Structured supervision interventions are supervisor-directed and resemble those of a training session. Unstructured supervision can be either supervisor or supervisee directed and can be more difficult to implement as the supervisor has to facilitate learning without actually directing the session.
Both structured and unstructured supervision are beneficial to the supervisee at different points in their learning process. The three general functions of supervision include:
- Assessing the learning needs of the supervisee
- Changing, shaping or supporting the supervisee’s behaviour
- Evaluating the performance of the supervisee
Individual supervision is one-to-one supervision with a supervisor and a supervisee. This can be completed face-to-face, by telephone, or by email, although the latter is still a relatively new area and requires additional attention in relation to relevant practical, ethical and legal issues.
There are a variety of interventions, both structured and unstructured, that the supervisor can employ to assist in the development of the supervisee. One critical issue for the application of different techniques of supervision is that the supervisor focuses on the learning needs of their supervisee, not on client issues.
Bernard and Goodyear (1998) describe in detail the different methods and techniques offered by individual supervision. Below is a brief summary of each:
Like a case conference, the supervision technique of ‘self report’ requires the supervisee to recollect and discuss therapy sessions. This is the most frequently used supervision method and allows the supervisee to reflect in detail their own experiences with their clients. However, the effectiveness of the technique is greatly affected by the insightfulness and observation skills of the supervisee.
This technique requires the supervisee, after a therapy session, to write comprehensive notes about the processes encountered. This is not a literal account of what occurred in therapy, rather an introspective description of the experience from the supervisee’s perspective.
The discussion of these notes in supervision can create a productive and meaningful supervisory environment. However, like other self report methods it is dependent on the supervisee’s ability to accurately observe internal and external occurrences.
The use of an audiotape of the supervisee counselling sessions is one of the most widely used methods of supervision. Although supervisees are often hesitant to embark on what seems like a very disclosing process, with practice, it can become a valuable tool for both supervisees and supervisors.
While recording counselling sessions is a useful supervision resource, it is important to also consider the impact that this can have on clients and potentially on the therapeutic relationship. Clients must be given the opportunity to refuse to participate in the recorded sessions, and it is essential that their expectation of confidentiality is assured.
This can be an expensive and bulky resource, but videotaping supervisee counselling sessions provides the most valuable source of information for the supervision of all the techniques discussed. The problems with this method are that the supervisee needs to be comfortable with the use of technology.
Otherwise, it can cause excessive performance anxiety, and it might provide too much information causing both the supervisee and supervisor to be overwhelmed. Bernard and Goodyear (1998) suggest six guidelines for using video in supervision. These are:
- Focus supervision by setting realistic goals for the videotaped therapy session.
- Discuss the internal processes of the supervisee during the videotaped therapy session.
- Select tape segments that focus on performance that the supervisee is able to change with corrective feedback.
- Use supervisor comments to create a moderate discrepancy between performance and the target goal.
- Refine goals moderately as the videotape review must be seen in the larger context of supervisee development.
- Maintain a moderate level of challenge so that the supervisee is stimulated to grow without becoming overly threatened.
Live Observation & Live Supervision
Live observation as its name suggests is simply when a supervisor observes through a one-way mirror, the supervisee conducting a counselling session with a client. Live supervision, however, occurs when the supervisor observes and interacts with the supervisee during the counselling session.
Both live observation and live supervision provide a more complete picture of the supervisee’s skills than audio or videotape, and allow the supervisor to intervene in the case of an emergency. Live supervision can be conducted by using any of the following methods:
- Bug-in-the-Ear – an ear receiver that provides brief, one-way communication from the supervisor.
- Monitoring – the supervisor monitors the session and steps in and runs the session if necessary.
- In Vivo – therapy is interrupted and a supervision consultation occurs in front of the client/s, then the supervisee continues the session.
- Walk-in – is more of a therapy intervention where the supervisor enters the room at a pre-arranged time and talks with the supervisee and the client/s.
- Phone-in and Consultation Breaks – the session is interrupted so the supervisee can receive input from the supervisor. This is done either by a phone call in the session or a break where the supervisee leaves the room for consultation with the supervisor.
- Using Computer Technology – a computer monitor is placed behind the client and the supervisor would type comments for the supervisee to read during the session.
As live supervision requires a co-ordinated response from the supervisee and the supervisor, all the methods above require pre-session planning and post-session debriefing. It is essential that the supervisor is sensitive to the supervisee’s anxiety and vulnerability with the use of this form of supervision.
Live supervision increases the practical demands of supervision in time, cost of facilities, and organising appointment schedules. If not handled effectively by the supervisor it can also decrease the supervisee’s initiative and creativity, and the therapeutic relationship could potentially be negatively affected by the intrusion of this form of supervision. However, when managed correctly live supervision provides a more profound learning experience for supervisees and a more protective environment for clients.
Most supervisees require instruction in the many counselling strategies at some point in their supervision. During these instances the supervisor will most likely use the four steps of micro-training: 1) teach one skill at a time, 2) present the skill using modelling or demonstration, 3) practise the skill; 4) allow for mastery using practise and feedback.
- Bernard, J. M. and Goodyear, R.K. (1998). Fundamentals of clinical supervision. Boston, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.