Education shapes our expectations of life and work, and education as it stands currently always involves giving up some degree of personal power. When we’re in elementary school we need to ask permission to leave to use the bathroom. In high school we need to show up at times diametrically opposed to our circadian rhythms. At college we have required course to complete our degree. And in graduate programs for clinical psychotherapy we often have limited to no control over who our supervisor is going to be.
And then when we graduate, we take our cue from licensure boards to a large extent. Sadly, license requirements shape our expectations of supervision. We see it as something we have to have in order to get our license in X number of years. I have noticed that there is a sharp decline in people buying supervision after they get their independent licensure, which does not mean that there is a correlative decline in our people needing it.
So today I want to talk about how to pick a good supervisor for you to have ongoing clinical supervision. If you are still in pre-independent licensure this can be an especially daunting experience, but also an incredibly freeing one. To be clear, you don’t have to purchase private supervision from anyone you don’t want to work with! Read on for some tips:
1. You often get (or don’t get) what you pay for (or don’t pay for.)
If your agency offers you a good supervisory package for free that is great. One place I supervise at provides employees and interns with a free secondary supervisor. Secondary supervisors are the ones who can usually help you most with integrating theory and practice and discussing difficult cases. Most primary supervisors I know may have good skills and an interest in doing the same, but they don’t have the time. Their role has become reduced in the age of managed care to helping you learn the ropes about paperwork, facilitating your first emergency room or child protective referrals, and being held responsible for holding you responsible for productivity. So although these hours count towards your licensure they don’t necessarily deepen your practice for lack of time, not skill.
So now you have some choices. You can take a fellowship or position at an agency that provides secondary supervision, or you can buy it privately. Don’t get caught in thinking it is an entitlement, because those days are gone. Yes, we’re underpaid as a profession, but I suggest you think of good supervision as a benefit valued at between $7200-$9600. If Agency A offers that, but pays less $5,000 less than Agency B, which doesn’t, you are getting a better deal at Agency A.
2. You may already have met your supervisor, but don’t know it yet
If you are one of the many folks who decides to buy supervision privately, take some time to think about the people you’ve worked with already. Did you enjoyworking with your first year placement’s supervisor? Call and ask her if she offers private supervision. Did you love a certain course in grad school? Call and ask him if he does supervision. If they don’t, ask if there are any people they can suggest. Think back to guest lecturers, colleagues you enjoyed working with, that alum you met at an event.
3. Do your research
In this day and age, everyone should have a LinkedIn profile (more on that in a bit.) Mine includes several recommendations from past or present supervisees. Make sure you Google your potential supervisor prior to making an appointment. Yes, Ms. Jones may have her licensure, but if you are interested in providing LGBT-affirmative therapy and she works at the local conversion treatment center, wouldn’t you like to know that before wasting both of your time?
When you contact a potential supervisor, hopefully they will offer to provide you with a reference of another past or present supervisee. If they don’t, ask.
Some of the old guard psychodynamic folks may object, saying that that contaminates your supervisory experience. To which I say, there will be plenty of transference that comes up regardless, and that the focus of supervisors should be on practicing radical transparency, not generating a absolutely blank screen. Supervision often resonates with therapy, but it is NOT therapy. If a supervisor comes off as seeming like a Freudbot, this may indicate a difficulty shifting cognitive frame sets from supervisor to therapist.
4. Know what is important to you
You can learn something from everyone, I truly believe that. However, when I look for a supervisor, I look for someone who provides psychodynamic-oriented supervision. That’s what I do, what I like, and why I became a therapist. If you are a solution-focused or CBT practitioner, get someone who is expert and experienced in that.
If someone says they are “eclectic,” run away. Far far away. If they can’t describe some of the several areas of their interest or competence to you, chances are they are being either vague or seductive. Yes, I said seductive. Supervision is a business prospect, and many people focus on landing a new supervisee to the detriment of both of them.
5. Beware of freebies, private supervision starts with the fee
I’m going out on a limb here, but I strongly discourage freebies. My Contact page warns away the brainpickers. These are the people who want to get something for nothing, and say, can “I just pick your brain for a second?”
No, you may not.
There is a lot of free content I’ve put out there that people have access to, but this is also my work and I need to be paid for it. So if you have done your research, hopefully potential supervisors will have papers published, posts online, lectures, recommendations. If not, please see item 6.
I have strong opinions about this, because I think it shows potential supervisees how to have professional boundaries and value their work. If you are doing supervision to “give back” at a reduced fee, that’s fine, as long as you let the supervisee know that you are reducing your fee and let them know the full fee. But be honest with yourself about this, are you doing it to gratify your self-ideal of social justice, or because you secretly believe that you aren’t worth the full fee, or some other reason?
If you are a potential supervisee, consider this: Do you need someone to help you learn to be a more noble person, a better clinician, and/or a more savvy businessperson? Will having a reduced fee lower your expectations of yourself and the supervisor? And would you like to charge no higher than the reduced fee you are being offered?
If the answer to the last is no, be careful, because this may be a set-up for resentment on your supervisor’s part, and you may both suffer from unconscious false pretenses.
Speaking of fee, I walk this walk, and when I negotiated my fee with my supervisor I negotiated to pay more, because I knew that I would have a harder time later if I didn’t. We then had a great conversation about the limits of this, because obviously she gets to set her fee not I. But it caused her to re-evaluate and raise her fee somewhat, and modeled for me her integrity, flexibility, and willingness to listen and learn. And each time I raise my fee, I bring this up again, and each time the supervision is the richer for it.
6. If you want supervision around private practice, stay away from technophobes.
I strongly maintain that to have a practice in the 21st century you will need to have an online presence, some technological savvy and the willingness to learn about it to work with people from the 21st century. This is even more true in a private practice, where marketing is moving more online every day.
I once had a couple of sessions with a supervisor I was considering starting work with. This was a world reknowned clinician, whose work I respect immensely. In the time between our first and second appointment I included her on my newsletter. Our next appointment she expressed how “astonished” she was that I would contact her that way, and wondered if I was sabotaging the supervision. Fortunately I have been in many supervisions and have a strong ego. That was our last appointment.
I suppose I could have chosen to stay and explore this, but that seems more her issue than mine. I want to have a practice that focuses on Web 2.0 and psychodynamic therapy, i.e. integrating, not pathologizing them. And if those were her boundaries, fair enough. But I’m paying for a service, and I’ll take my business to my current supervisor, who is very professional, very grounded in psychodynamic theory, and subscribes to my newsletter, remarking on every issue.
7. Kick the tires
Having read this, you may be thinking, “I don’t agree,” or “that’s not what I want,” or “what a pill he is!” If so, that’s great! Because that means you have some idea what you are or aren’t looking for. Or you may be thinking, “right on!” One thing my supervisees can probably tell you is that what you read here and what you get in supervision with me are pretty much the same thing. And it seems to be working well for all concerned. You aren’t in grad school anymore, you get to pick and choose your supervisor.
It is okay to try out a few supervisors before deciding. Pay attention to those first few appointments, when you and your supervisor “relax” into the supervision a bit. Do you notice drastic changes from the first week(s)? Do you look forward to supervision, dread it, or find yourself not caring either way? Ask yourself, and your supervisor, how the supervision is starting off. If your supervisor does not bring up how to get the most value out of your supervision in the first few months, bring it up yourself.
If you are having mixed feelings about a supervisor, don’t be afraid to bring that up. But if you can’t bring it up, or choose not to, don’t feel obliged to stay. Supervision is a long, intense and valuable process. No less than your professional development is at stake. Choosing wisely begins with remembering that you have a choice.