On being a supervisor

Over the last thirteen years I have supervised groups and individuals on a weekly basis. My supervisees are largely therapists in private practice or in training, but I also supervise individuals who have managerial and other roles in healthcare. 

I enjoy the multi-dimensional nature of supervision. In therapy and mentoring there are two individuals engaged in one relationship, but supervision is more complex. Sometimes I would focus on the client’s context and issues, the supervisee’s strategies and responses, or the relationship between them. At other times, I would pay attention to my own strategies and choices and what happens between me and my supervisee.

Supervision can be a lively mix of listening, questioning, exploring, examining, discussing, and sometimes debating. I challenge habitual, formulaic ways of working and prompt supervisees to reflect on all aspects of their work. Who is this client? What troubles them? What does the client need? What does the supervisee need? How is the work going? What drives the supervisee’s interventions? Do they feel competent to work with this client? And so on.

Inexperienced supervisees need frequent guidance and instruction. I am sometimes tempted to tell someone what to do because leaping ahead is quick and easy. However, readymade solutions close down opportunities for learning and does not recognise the supervisee’s potential. I therefore use prompts to guide the supervisee’s clinical thinking and help them develop their own insights. With more experienced supervisees I have a mutual collaboration in which we share clinical reflections and knowledge. 

There is nothing like an ethical dilemma to make one appreciate a supervisor. Supervisees contact me as soon as possible when an ethical issue arises, and they know to err on the side of caution. If they had to take urgent action, we discuss what they did and why. Otherwise, we consider their analysis of the issue and their proposed course of action, before agreeing what they will do. A structured approach prompts them to develop their ethical thinking and we both learn from the discussion.

People who are drawn to therapeutic work are typically attracted to the healer-patient archetype. The desire to heal and help could mask a hidden need for power: the need to feel needed, to feel special, and to feel OK when the other is not OK. In supervision we monitor this need by regularly examining the supervisee’s motives and how they might impact on the client. Needless to say, I also have to examine my own drivers in client work and supervision.

Lastly, I strive to develop supervisory relationships that provide containment, because the solitary nature of confidential one to one work can bring about a sense of isolation. When my supervisees are challenged or discouraged, I offer encouragement and support, and when their work is going well, we celebrate together. 

Supervision is effective in many different settings and especially for yoga therapists and teachers who strive to adapt to the needs of each individual student. I have found my own yoga supervision an invaluable source of inspiration and support, and I hope that in future you will too.

Annemarie Visser, TSYP Director of Yoga Therapy

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