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  • Amy Smitke

Doing NO Harm to your Supervisees

When we thinking of supervision, often we thinking of the positives without risks. Yes we are here to help guide, mentor, teach, etc. to those we are supervising, however there is more at stake. Research indicates that supervision can be a protective factors in preventing or decreasing the risk for burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious trauma. We play a role in the inherent risks associated with us as mental health professionals. We need to be identifying risks and providing support to those we are supporting. The research talks about the key factors of supervision that creates the initial barrier for risks and ensure that they feel supported, including consistency, connection, and understanding the roles and responsibilities of each. Following that would include the content and subject matter as well as the supervision style. So as a supervisor, how are you checking in with yourself, your supervisees, their risks, and your impact?


Other risks for the roles of a supervisor onto a supervisee is how you are engaging with them. I have worked with dozens of supervisees over the years, most of them, including myself, have had negative experiences with supervisors that have had a harmful impact on self as a mental health professional. Supervision is meant to be supportive, encouraging, empowering, and educational. However, it can often be dismissive, too directive, down putting, disengaged, threatening, and more. Examples may look like: a supervisor never listens and cuts off the supervisee, the supervisor gives answers and never allows the supervisee to learn and problem solve, the supervisor cancels or isn't present in session, the supervisor is condescending, gaslighting, or lacks follow through. These are all too common within the field and need to change. When a supervisor engages with supervisors who have these experiences it impacts their personal and professional growth. It creates codependency, lack of confidence, imposter syndrome, poor boundaries, and more. When we hurt our supervisees ability to grow we hurt the next generation of supervisors, it put more stress and challenge on the supervisor to manage their potential challenges and barriers in the field, and we potentially hurt the clients they serve.


Another way we as supervisors can do harm is in are we gatekeeping appropriately. As supervisors in different roles such as with interns or mental health professionals seeking their clinical license. If we feel there as potential risk to the field, the individuals, or those they may serve, supervisors have the responsibility to gatekeep those who have the ability to do or be harmed. As we take on supervisees if we have made attempts to reconcile concerns while under supervision, we need to have sometimes difficult conversations with those who are wanting to be mental health professionals about whether they are appropriate for this field and or not, and why. If all attempts have been made and there appears to be no ability to mitigate risk, it is our responsibility to inform the proper channels of our evaluation and attempts for growth and improvement.


So the question remains, how do you reduce harm?


Self-awareness and education as a supervisor is a beginning point. Many start supervising without any training. Myself included, I started taking on interns early in the field without intention, direction, or training on what I was doing and the potential risks. Thankfully, I had my own supervision and support that was a great resource to feel at least someone capable and competent to provide the intern with direction early on. Supervision trainings can be difficult to find, especially quality trainings, but they are out there. Also read, there are many books that would prove to be helpful. Always keep learning and growing.


Have your supervisees evaluate you as you do them. It puts us in a vulnerable positions but also allows us to improve and grow. Simply because we are licensed and approved supervisors, does not mean we know all and have no continued room for growth personally and professionally. We need to be continually evaluating ourselves and growing.


A few questions to depart with...


How are you reducing risk and harm to self and others? How are you growing personally and professionally? How are you evaluating yourself and others?


Until next time...Stay Motivated!




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