what makes a good supervisor?

There’s been some discussion recently on the facebook trainee group about what makes a good supervisor, andI realised that I’d never really posted about my supervisor experience.


I’ve had two supervisors and am on a hunt for my third. My first supervisor, Fred, was great. I’ve spoken about him here. I felt challenged by him, with regard to my practice; my way of working; my way of being. He was able to use person-centered theory to challenge me. Usually I would take a ‘thing’ I was concerned about, and we would discuss whether it was person-centered, what my motivation behind the ‘thing’ was, whether THAT was person-centered. I enjoyed working with Fred very much. We had a big problem back last summer where we seemed blocked over an issue (and I felt like I was being chastised for something I couldn’t help), but after 3 weeks I eventually spoke to him and it turned out that he had been doing his own thinking and realised that he needed to let me be on that front; that my way of working wasn’t ethically or theoretically wrong, it was just different.


Unfortunately, Fred was too expensive for me to maintain, and he is also based in an awkward location, so I had to stop seeing him. I began to see a new supervisor. I did not feel challenged. I never really heard the words ‘person-centered’ come up, but I DID learn a lot about that supervisor’s previous places of work and what they thought of those. The one time I asked for direct support on an issue my only response was ‘what do you think you should do?’ and when I tried to talk through it ‘You should do what feels best’. Well; yes. I’m aware of that. However, I’ve been doing this a year only and would appreciate some support. So I’m now looking for a new supervisor. So far I’ve had one disastrous interview with someone that felt actively dangerous, and another one coming up this week (fingers crossed).


A good supervisor:


  • Will set good boundaries, in advance, so you know when you can call, or text, and what (if anything) payment for that extra contact will be.
  • Will hear the problems you need to raise
  • Will challenge you – to a level that you are happy with, or will be open to discussion about being more, or less challenging. The challenging will be aimed at making a better therapist out of you, rather than browbeating you.
  • Will be able to engage with you on a theoretical basis – there is no point picking a modality-specific supervisor if your supervisor isn’t working within that modality, especially as a student, when we are learning how to work within our modalities.
  • Will be talking to you about how YOU feel in your sessions, not about how your client might feel (or worse, how your client’s (for example) non-present partner might feel) – there is little to be gained in asking you to infer what someone might be inferring about someone else, especially when there ISN’T follow up about you in that session.
  • Won’t spend much time talking about their other work. Both Fred and my second supervisor talked about other places they had experience. The difference for me was that Fred seemed to be using it to illustrate his point to support me, and my second supervisor was using it to illustrate her (mostly) frustrations about certain environments.
  • Will be open to challenge. It was hard for me to bring my issue up with Fred. It took weeks. That’s mostly about me, not him. But I did feel I could. I didn’t feel like I would gain anything from bringing it up with my second supervisor, so I just left.
  • Will be open to learning new things. It’s possible that your client group or relevant life experiences won’t immediately be familiar to your supervisor. That’s fine – we all have clients who have something outside of our own experience. But your supervisor shouldn’t be relying on your to teach them about those things. They should be prepared to learn for themselves, although they might also ask you for good recommendations – websites, books, etc.
  • Finally, hopefully your supervisor would be on the same kind of academic level that you are – I have seen form fellow students that it can be helpful to get a supervisor’s opinion on academic work (especially where it involves things that were talked about in supervision), so if your supervisor is able to work at the same level, that can be enlightening. It’s not always necessary; I’ve never asked a supervisor for that feedback (and Fred had previously taught on a university counselling degree), but if it’s important to you – ask.

What other things would people add?

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