I have been fortunate in my career to have some really excellent supervision, but all too often I hear from colleagues that the service they work in does not offer quality supervision. I regularly hear that for many it becomes a tick box managerial function, concentrating more on the doing of therapy rather than the being or becoming a therapist. Yes, we need to have time to check on whether we are using the right procedures, we need affirmation that we are abiding by the right policies, but this should not form the main focus of supervision sessions. I have found it helpful when supervising colleagues to devote some time in each session to the doing, i.e. the day-to-day activities of the job, but to ensure that there is enough time to talk about the being and becoming, i.e. to explore our emotional and psychological responses to our work and how the work is affecting us. Geller in Fourie (2011) rightly says that “attention to the affective and intersubjective aspects of clinical relationships has been neglected in speech-language pathology” (p. 197).
We encourage students at the Universities at Medway programme to use reflection from day 1 to explore their feelings about their experiences in becoming a therapist. We need time to explore our emotional responses and reflective writing offers a chance to do this. In professional contexts we could learn so much from colleagues in psychology about issues related to transference and countertransference. One particularly useful session I recall was where I was encouraged by an experienced supervisor to unpack the feelings that had been aroused by working with a family where there were bereavement issues, which in turn had awoken emotional responses in myself. This allowed me a safe space to reflect on my role with this family and to make me more aware of my own responses.
Nicky Weld’s book on transformative supervision for the helping professions has been very influential for me. She points to a fear of people having emotion-based conversations in supervision for fear of not being able to manage what comes forward. This lack of acknowledgement of our emotional responses can ultimately lead to a risk of burnout. In the context of ever-reducing funding, I would urge colleagues to ensure that quality supervision is provided and that time is made to attend to creating, through supervision, a safe, protected environment for learning, personal and professional development without which we will stop growing. Ryan (2004) says of supervision: “It wakes us up to what we are doing. When we are alive to what we are doing we wake up to what is, instead of falling asleep in the comfort stories of our clinical routines” (p.44). Let us stay awake and not fall asleep on the job by falling back into familiar routines. Supervision can help us unpack received wisdom.
Senior Lecturer, Speech and Language Therapy
Faculty of Education and Health
University of Greenwich
See further reading:
Geller E. (2011) Using oneself as a vehicle for change in relational and reflective practice. in R. Fourie (ed) Therapeutic Process for Communication Disorders. Hove: Psychology Press, 9.195-212.
Ryan S. (2004) Vital Practice. Portland UK: Sea Change Publications
Weld N. (2012) A Practical Guide to Transformative Supervision for the Helping Professions; Amplifying Insight. London: Jessica Kingsley