A new semester begins today and I pick up teaching again after a sabbatical. It feels good to get back in the saddle again. Practicum and Professional Orientation starts today and so my students begin their first fieldwork assignments around the region. If they are at all like I was when I first began counseling work, they will be nervous and worried about doing well and doing the right thing. But I have a secret for them. This nervousness will actually help them do well and, for the most part, mistakes in counseling often turn out to be good for both counselee and client. Counseling is more like art and less like surgery. And since counseling is relational art, the opportunity to “do over” actually provides wonderful realism to the healing.
However, there is another secret to good practicum experiences: good supervision. Good supervision makes or breaks an experience. And good supervision requires the active participation of both supervisor and supervisee.
The Supervisor: Supervisors come with a variety of skills, personality, and style. Some are quite directive and keep a tight rein on your practice attempts. Others are very hands-off, wanting you to try stuff yourself and so they respond to your questions and concerns rather than seek you out. Others are very process oriented and focus on your experience more than what you actually do.
The Supervisee: Some students come with hundreds of questions (some out of curiosity but most out of anxiety). Others want very specific directions and then try to act them out as was given. Others still want to talk about their own experiences and have a harder time recalling client responses.
Practicum students do well to prepare for supervision:
1. Before you begin, have some discussion about how the supervisor likes supervision to go? Do they have an idea about how they want you to function in it? Do they want it to happen just after your counseling experiences for the week so you can debrief? Just before so you can best remember what was decided?
2. When you bring your cases to supervision, come prepared to concisely summarize history, presenting problems, attempts to solve prior to counseling, family systems, current crises if present, work thus far in your counseling. Also, come prepared with a specific objective question you would like to have answered. The more specific your question, the more likely you will come away with an answer.
3. Be sure to ask the supervisor to help you refine your hypotheses. This is a good opportunity to consider alternative ideas.
4. Schedule time when the supervisor can either watch you live or listen to a taping. There is NO better supervision possible. Scary? Yes. But essential if you do intend to become a good counselor
5. Be willing to ask (nicely) the why question when your supervisor gives you directives that don’t make sense. More than doing the right thing, you want to understand the critical thinking behind the right response.
6. Use your relationship with the supervisor to grow as a professional. This is one of your future colleagues. If there are conflicts between you, practice the good art of resolution. Don’t avoid and don’t attack.