How to make the most of clinical supervision as a psychologist

It is the start of internal placement for a new cohort of provisional psychologists at my university. I prepared the following tips to help trainees know what to expect, and prepare for, their first supervision sessions.

Learning to make the most of supervision is a core professional skill for psychologists. Throughout your career, participating in supervision will ensure you practice ethically and competently, provide perspectives that compensate for your blind-spots and biases, and strengthen your capacity to be a reflective practitioner. A good supervisory relationship can support you during the challenging times of working as a psychologist.

Here are a few tips to make the most of your supervision sessions:

  • Do some contracting – when you first meet a supervisor discuss what you would like to achieve from supervision. As a supervisor I find it useful to hear about your previous experiences of supervision and clinical practice, your reflections on how you respond to feedback, and your personal goals for the placement. These discussions help to create a collaborative supervisory relationship. Contracting should also involve the practicalities: when and where you will meet, for how long, arrangements if supervision is cancelled, access to the supervisor outside of sessions, what happens if the supervisor is away, etc.
  • Be prepared – come into supervision having reviewed your session, and reflect on what has happened in light of your assessment and formulation. It helps to be ready to set an agenda at the start of each supervision session, to structure the discussion, while also accepting that during the session other issues may become evident to focus on.
  • Have a supervision question – one way to structure supervision is to have a clear question about the client(s) you are seeing: the best questions are ones that lead to a broader discussion of the case, the choices you are making, and what it is like to be doing the work you are doing (reflection). Don’t worry if early in your experience of supervision it is tricky to think of “a question” (you probably have many!); this skill develops over time.
  • Seek feedback – check in with your supervisor about your skills, including the use of supervision. It can be hard to hear that about the areas you need to improve upon: good supervision feedback is constructive in purpose. Check any areas that you don’t follow or are confused about.
  • Give feedback – the process goes two-ways: your supervisors will benefit from your feedback about the supervision, how you have found their views and advice, what you are discovering.
  • Show… and tell – Our Clinic placement involves video-recording your sessions. Most people find that they are pretty self-conscious when reviewing sessions, and feel intimidated (initially) to have a supervisor watch the recording. And yet… this may be one of the few times in your career where you have the opportunity to review what you are actually doing, notice the effect of this on clients, and get clear feedback from a supervisor. I invite you to seize the opportunity! Watching sessions is very informative for supervisors; sharing sections that you are pleased with, along with those where you wish for improvement, helps your supervisor to get a better sense of your developing competencies.
  • Show up, notice your own stuff, share your vulnerable side – learning how to be a competent psychologist is hard work. I am stating the obvious, eh? It is made harder if you try to hide in supervision: about feeling uncertain, any mistakes or errors you’ve made, struggles with perfectionism, strong reactions to sessions etc. Openness about your work will enable you to progress further and learn from experience. Developing supervisory relationships that are genuine and trusting, are likely to support your well-being and resilience in the face of the challenging (and meaningful) work that we do as psychologists.
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