As a therapist or social worker, you may be among the few fortunate people who’ve never had a bad boss. Then there are the rest of us. While you might not have had a “bad” boss, you may have struggled to get along with a boss for various reasons. Bosses can be authoritarian, micromanagers, poor listeners, have big egos, and so on. Various personality types can make work quite intolerable and even downright miserable.
And on the other hand, you may have loved to work with bosses with whom you had good relationships, and your work flourished.
We can run across many of the same types of personalities and pitfalls in supervision. And the opposite is also true when we find that great fit with a supervisor that inspires us. If your boss is/was also your clinical supervisor for all of the hard work you do as a clinician, then having a good or bad relationship with your boss can significantly impact your current and future work.
Supervision is more than teaching
Good relationships make a big difference, and particularly when you are seeking out someone to help you reach your goal of licensure. What kinds of things should you keep in mind as you seek to find that great relationship with a new supervisor? And why does it matter?
First of all, let’s talk about the importance of having a good relationship with your supervisor. Thinking back to bosses and supervisors that were less than ideal, how did they impact you? A poor relationship with a supervisor can hinder your motivation. It can get in the way of focusing on the work because you are getting caught up in the unpleasant parts of the supervision relationship. It can cause frustration or feelings like you are stuck. It can make you feel unseen.
When you relate well with your supervisor, you feel trust going in both directions. You can feel more confident and secure. You can focus on work and on developing your weaker areas. You can enjoy the hour you spend each week in supervision and even look forward to it. You will experience the freedom to be open and honest with someone you trust and with whom you enjoy working.
The negatives and positives listed above can be useful signs as to whether you have a productive and healthy relationship with your supervisor. The negatives are not necessarily a sign you need to seek someone new. Sometimes supervisors aren’t aware there are difficulties in the relationship for you. A direct conversation can help sort out misunderstandings, unmet expectations, hurts and so forth.
Finding a good relational fit
Yet even at the outset, you can look for indications that you will have a good relationship with your supervisor. Notice how they listen to you as you do your initial consultation and any early communication. Does a supervisor talk about goals that align with what you’ve shared with them? Do you feel generally heard and understood? Of course knowing someone takes time, but you will see their attentiveness or lack thereof when you are looking for that key marker.
Does your supervisor seem to have your best interest at heart? A supervisor is helping you become the best therapist you can be and learn the necessary skills that will support you in that endeavor. Someone who works from their own set of values and agenda without considering yours can create difficulty in relating. This goes both ways, of course, and you can contribute your own willingness to be open and learn.
How does your supervisor communicate? Do they respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner? Here again, a discussion around those expectations (which can be initiated by you or your supervisor) is helpful to eliminate unclear understandings. Yet, a supervisor who is developing a good relationship with you, and vice versa, will keep lines of communication open, give feedback and respond to your questions and needs throughout your supervision process.
There are many elements to consider in terms of personality fit with your supervisor, schedules, styles of supervision and of therapy, warmth, genuineness, openness. Similarly to how you choose your friends, you will be picking up on various factors that may not be actively in your conscience.
The way you feel after speaking with a new supervisor can often tell you something useful. Take time to evaluate what you notice in your reactions to someone new. And since relationships are not static, notice how you feel about the relationship it develops so that it doesn’t become a hindrance to your goals.
What You Can Do
While there might not be the perfect supervisory relationship for each person, building a good relationship is often quite possible when you can notice what’s working and not working and respond to it. You will get the most benefit from supervision when you have a good connection with your supervisor, and they with you, and it’s worth seeking out that relational fit.
INTERESTED IN CLINICAL SUPERVISION?
If you or someone you know are interested in learning more about our Clinical Supervision and Clinical Consultation services with Catalyss Counseling, including our group and individual options, contact us at 303-578-6318.
We help therapists throughout Colorado further their professional growth and connect with others who are as passionate about this work as you are.
Alicia Kwande has over 15 years working in the counseling field.
Her clinical experience with adults includes working with individuals struggling with grief, anxiety, depression; those who suffer from compassion fatigue and caregiver exhaustion; and with perinatal mothers.
If you are looking to learn more about yourself and about how your strengths fit into your professional role, how you can build up areas you see as your weaknesses, and if you value honest and open communication, I would enjoy working with you.