What is Counselling Supervision?

When I discuss the limits of confidentiality with my clients one of the caveats is that I attend regular supervision and I discuss my work with my supervisor, but why? To belong to any of the professional organisations for counselling in the UK you must attend regular supervision in order to keep your practice safe, focussed and effective. The main way that this works is by providing an outside perspective.

As humans we are all prone to develop energy saving ways of thinking and acting and we barely ever notice that it is happening because that’s kind of the point. We all have a ton of biases hardwired into our brain from birth and beyond, and again we are total suckers for believing these quick-fire, under the radar, beliefs are our logical, unbiased wisdom about the way things should be. Should is in bold red because it’s a slippery and often unhelpful word.

As counsellors we are taught to be reflective and open to feedback. Reflecting on one’s own practice is a wonderful thing, and I usually do this during meditation (when I should be doing something else) or by journaling. But this only gets you so far. I will spot coincidences and remember bits of theory that resonate with my beliefs about stuff. I will mull over bits of work that left me feeling self-conscious or bruised, but these are all from my own limited viewpoint.

If things were left like this I would build up all sorts of notions of grandeur to shore up my anxieties, and my practice and my clients may start to suffer badly for this little view of the world. So it is to my supervisor that I go. A supervisor is someone who already has a great deal of counselling experience. They have sat for hundreds, if not thousands of hours, helping their clients move towards greater peace and autonomy. It is from this perspective that they are sitting listening to counsellors talk about their work with their clients, and they are bound by the same rules of confidentiality.

A good model to help understand one of the roles of a supervisor is the Johari Window.

Created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingram in1955 as an exercise to explore relationships. The upper left, Arena, is populated with things that you and another can both identify about you. The upper right, Blind Spot, is full of things that others see in you that you do not. The lower left, Facade, describes your private qualities. And the lower right, Unknown, is a place of unconscious traits that you and others are both unaware of.

You can try this exercise for yourself with someone you know at  https://worldofwork.io/2019/07/the-johari-window/ The site gives clear instructions and a list of adjectives to work from.

For a therapist the Johari Window is useful in lots of ways. When dealing with clients we can be helping to gain greater access to all parts of the grid; developing what is already in the arena, decreasing the client’s blind spot, sharing stifling material from behind the facade, and making space for new material to emerge from the unknown.

As a therapist it is very important to keep exploring these issues. We must avoid our own bias, prejudice, and agendas from creeping into our work with clients. We can do this by seeing therapy ourselves. But rather than leave it until those moments where therapy is required, we keep a steady finger on the pulse by seeing a supervisor.

I have spent this article focussing on the self-awareness aspect of supervision, but it is also true that a supervisor can help their therapist clients to focus on their career and practice development, giving suggestions for interventions, as well as reassurance and help in picking apart dilemmas. Often counsellors spend a lot of time working alone, so it is also a good chance to touch base with a peer, or sometimes peers in the case of group supervision.

That seems like enough about supervision for the time being. I am sure that I will take another pass at it further down the line. In the meantime I wish you all well, and hope that you have a go at the Johari Window exercise with someone. As always I am here in Exeter, now seeing clients face to face, as well as online, so if there is anything affecting you and you would like to discuss it then I would love to hear from you.

All the best.


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