Tag Archives: supervision

Over-confidence? Under-confidence? Assessing counselor tendencies


Every counselor desires to be effective, to handle client concerns and problems with competency. We do this work because we long to see others recover quickly and we do not want to get in the way of needed and desired growth. Early career counselors often feel out of their league and so seek out all the help they can get: supervision, books, essays, and peer-consultation. This is the proper way to learn and become better at our craft.

But what happens when we begin to feel competent and confident? Do we stop feeling needy? Stop seeking input? If we do stop pursuing growth and increased competency, skills and capacities will erode. We might think all is well, we’ve got this under control, but in reality we would enter dangerous territory. Imagine wanting to be an Olympic athlete and yet forgoing training.

Erosion happens.

So, should we want to feel less competent? No. The goal is not to feel ineffective nor to lack confidence in what we do. I would not want a second-guessing surgeon to operate on me. Rather, it is important to maintain regular (not obsessive!) self-examination and invitation to others to give you input and feedback.

For the possibly under-confident counselor:

Where do you feel you need help, are less competent than you would like? What are your common responses to that feeling? Who have you talked to about this problem? Where have you sought help? What continuing education have you completed? While it is good to get help to “know what to do” don’t forget that a large portion of therapeutic success is attributed to who you are in the session. Be sure to focus on your listening, and “bearing-witness” skills. Remember to be a student of the client.

For the possibly over-confident counselor:

Do you still have supervision? If not, why not? Look over your caseload. Who are you working with who you have not reviewed assessment, diagnosis and treatment plans with another (note: peer supervision can be done without revealing confidential or private information)? When was the last time you verbalized your case conceptualizations with a critical eye to the potential myopia that plagues us all? What continuing education have you completed that can revise and improve your skills?  While relationship-building skills are the most important, do not stop learning and growing in knowledge and understanding.

It is good to remember that  our skills WILL erode without attention, just like muscles with grow flabby without exercise. One such muscle for the Christian counselor is that of prayer. Consider your recent counseling activities and ask how prayer has fit into your work. Is it a perfunctory or an afterthought? Does is change depending on how you feel about your competency? What does it reveal about your therapeutic operating system (e.g., what is the source of power to change?)

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Practicum Monday: The secret to a good experience


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.

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When groups go bad


In preparation for some training I’m doing today, I came across an article published by Karen Chicca Enyedy and her colleagues regarding the types of phenomena that hinder effective group supervision for counselors. In analyzing the data, they suggest that group supervision may fail as a result of 5 separate clusters of problems. You will note that these problems exist in any group, whether bible study, therapy group or group supervision.

1. Between-member problems. (e.g., conflict, griping, competition attitudes, story-telling that hinders supervision)
2. Problems with the supervisor. (e.g., lack of focus, being overly critical of others, dominating conversation, lateness, going on tangents, rigidity, not allowing other theoretical perspectives, using supervision for personal issues)
3. Supervisee anxiety (e.g., feeling unsafe, unsure, inability to be transparent)
4. Logistical problems (e.g., room size, supervisor illness)
5. Poor time management (e.g., not being able to bring up cases).

While these problems are not surprising, they provide a good reminder of the ways we can care for each other by all observing the group dynamic and being willing to address personal and interpersonal matters as they come up. Too often we are hesitant and then the dynamics become cemented and difficult to change. While we supervisors must take stock of what we do, acknowledge weaknesses, and avoid defensiveness, students also must take responsibility for communicating their concerns in a timely fashion.

Biblio: Hindering Phenomena in Group Supervision: Implications for Practice. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 34, 312-317. 

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