Supervision. The word invokes many different thoughts for me. The many supervisors I have had, and the many people I have supervised. And the formality of the word. I got a bit stuck when trying to move past this, so I read through multiple blog posts about having one’s communication shaped, ‘therapyed’ or embraced. These posts brought to my mind the way that we as Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) advocate for all of this communication, in whatever form is successful or possible for each individual, yet when it comes to shaping my own supervision, the same rules just don’t apply. I turn up to therapy sessions with clients. But at times, have found it hard to access my own unique communication space (which will help in those therapy sessions I turn up to), why is that? We want our accountants to be au fait with current tax law, our mechanics to put the right parts in our car, yet for some reason there are times when we turn up to sessions not having invested in our knowledge space, which is essential to providing therapy. Why do we not seek it out if we don’t have what we need or want?
Reasons I have not accessed supervision include that I have worked outside of the NHS and just haven’t got round to getting any, I have had managers who haven’t seen its benefits (I have also had managers who have ‘over-supervised’!), and I have had supervisors where their style of supervision is just not my cup of tea. There have also been times when I’ve not been linked into a neat network of Speech and Language Therapists. At times I have craved this ‘simple’ structure of one senior SLT supervises me, and then I supervise an SLT below me. But currently that isn’t an option available to me. I am an overseas trained SLT, who has spent some time as a permanent staff member in the NHS, a wee stint working privately and am currently working as a locum in the NHS. My life is soon changing as I am looking to return home.
Right now, I am lucky, especially as a locum. I have regular supervision. I also give regular supervision. I have a clinical team leader (CTL) who is not an SLT, but who always has an open ear, and filing cabinet full of ideas, especially around complex issues such as safeguarding and setting up a service. But, we have both wondered on occasion, if she was an SLT, would we come up with the answer to a curly clinical quandary more quickly?
I also have, until recently, received private supervision from an SLT. On writing this I reflected about what brought me to private supervision, and it struck me that I was looking for that ‘simple’ hierarchical structure that I mentioned above. However, what came out was something different. I had the freedom to discuss anything as my supervisor was able to look at my thoughts and issues through a different lens, removed from the need to be managerial. Someone who was intrigued to help me find the balance in relationships, who did not have a stake in the outcome and, therefore, was able to challenge me in order to help me create boundaries within my work. In her removed position, she was able to help me understand what areas to drive forward clinically. However, this separation from my day-to-day work existence, meant at times I would need to go back to my CTL to float the ideas discussed.
It took me a while to access private clinical supervision. I would often go to my sessions with the anxiety that one has when the ‘to do’ list takes up three sides of paper. But when I would leave it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders – the exact same feeling that I have when I meet with my CTL. Although both of my supervisors are interested in serving the same purpose – making sure I don’t burn out – they come at it from differing perspectives.
The biggest thing I will be taking from my recent supervision experience is that it is all about relationships. The relationship with the supervisor and myself, but mostly the content of discussion is how I am relating to others. I have sated my need for the neat little SLT supervision structure. It is not a necessity to be supervised by your own discipline or receive clinical support from your own workplace. A perfectly excellent job can be achieved outside of these arrangements, as long as your supervisor knows what kinds of questions to ask, and is humble enough to say “Hmmm, is this what that looks like? If not, tell me more…” I can feel myself now asking similar-structured questions to the Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists, who ask me how they should manage a particular situation. I pride myself on my ability to relate to my colleagues, clients and wider community as an SLT, but I need to leave my guilt at the supervision door because if I am not showing up to my own unique communication space then the relationships in my work just won’t work.
Anna Childs (nee Wivell)