Best practice, General

Supervision Demystified III

This is our third of four posts this month on the topic of clinical supervision, borne of our collective enthusiasm for supervision processes and their value in each of our own journeys of clinical and professional development.  You may want to go back and read part I and part II before you continue reading below!  This week we will each talk a little bit more specifically about how and why we have found professional supervision to be an indispensable component to competent and satisfying clinical practice.

How has supervision been helpful to you?

Jillian: Participating in peer supervision has a lot of parallels with participating in group therapy, such as experiencing the formation of norms, trust, and cohesion.  We also get to hear others’ perspectives, and we get to contribute to others’ growth and can realize our own potential through that process.  Yet, peer supervision is most certainly not therapy.  Therapy is about the health and wellness of oneself.  Any kind of supervision is ultimately about other people – our patients.

Noah: My most resonant supervision experiences are those times I’ve been able to sit in a not-knowing purgatory that’s divorced from more acute day-to-day issues. While day-to-day issues are certainly important to address, I have found it easy to use the more common and tedious of them in order to distract myself (though rarely my supervisors) from diving under the surface to address deeper clinical, philosophical or theoretical topics. Why would I process how my evolving perspective could integrate existential and gestalt concepts when I could simply complain about the nurse (who will never “get” music therapy) continuing to not “get” music therapy?

Thankfully I’ve had supervisors patient enough to allow me to recognize that on my own. Those are the types of realizations that hit hard and fast, like steam escaping from a boiling over teapot. As those issues emerged, I began to develop an interactive relationship with them that has enabled me to explore their deeper roots, expanded awareness of their present manifestations, and be mindful of how they may evolve in the future.

Kristen: As a new professional, I did not seek out clinical supervision right away. Perhaps it was the desire to prove to myself that I was able to be a competent professional rather than dependent intern. Perhaps it was the need to feel confidence without someone processing and challenging the work. Either way, this quickly became old, as complacency set in. The addition of clinical supervision to my professional self was invaluable, as it challenged me to grow and change. It’s certainly not always comfortable, but seeing myself in forward motion drives me to never return to a place where I am stagnant.

Meghan: My own supervision has been a place where I can puzzle out what is happening with my patients. If I’m having a hard time understanding what might be going on with a current patient (“why is he talking to me in that way?” “why do I feel like that when she cries?”) I can tell my supervisor about it, and she will help me to understand — my process is about both applying theoretical knowledge to formulate a cognitive understanding (on my part) of what may be happening for the patient, and also using my supervisor’s guidance to go more deeply into myself, to understand my reactions and where they might be coming from, how they inform the treatment, etc. Occasionally, I will ask direct questions about technique, but “what to do” is usually less the relevant question.

I have had supervisors who have helped me with my patients by listening carefully to all the details and then telling me what I should do to handle it, which made a lot of sense to me at the time because I was junior and they were experienced. But these suggestions, which I always followed obediently, were often not that helpful in the long run. They would sometimes damage the therapeutic relationship, or push me to take a stance that was out of character for me, and thus jarring for the patient. I have learned the most with supervisors who helped me to see that I already had the answers myself — that I’m the only one in the room who knows the patient or my relationship with him, and my own authentic reactions to that situation are where the answers often lie. My best supervisors have also never told me that I did something wrong. They have helped me to see any “mistakes” that I think I made in the context of what was happening clinically and psychologically, or what was happening inside of me. In approaching my work from this perspective, I learned to see (and continue to learn and see more and more every week) how much each clinical moment makes sense and has meaning.

What about you, readers?  Which of the above descriptions of how supervision helps feels most relatable to you in your own supervision experience?  If you aren’t currently receiving professional supervision, do our descriptions pique your curiosity?  What can you say about your own supervision journey?  About what aspects of the supervisory process would you like to know more?  Next week, in our last post in this series, we’ll each talk about our experiences as a peer and/or professional supervisor.  See you then!

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