In the Trenches: Good Supervision

Miranda Palmer, LMFT (Your MFTGuide) here to introduce our very first "in the trenches" post from an MFT Intern current gathering hours. I had the pleasure of meeting Michaela Renee Johnson at the 2013 California MFT (CAMFT) Conference in Sacramento, CA. I would love for you to hear her thoughts and recommendations about finding a good clinical supervisor while gathering hours for California licensure! 

When I was in Grad school, people talked about the concept of a “good” supervisor and a “bad” supervisor.

The concept was lost on me as people told horror stories of “bad” supervisors in practicum.
It wasn’t until I was half way through my practicum that I finally understood. The first supervisor I had was everything I had envisioned a supervisor to be, she was easy going, a great listener, educated, theoretical yet tactical and humorous. She was exactly what I needed in that first experience to get my bearings and build confidence at such a pivotal moment. But, I only could only fully "see" that in retrospect. 

Halfway through my practicum she announced she was moving out of State, and we would be assigned a new supervisor.

I was incredibly sad, because I’d come to appreciate and enjoy her as a supervisor and a mentor, but it wasn’t until my new supervisor was assigned that I started to truly appreciate what I’d had, and lost.

Every supervisor has a different skillset and style that they bring to the experience.

And not knowing what I didn't know- I sort of expected supervision was a standard thing. That there was a specific formula and that my new supervisor would be just like my old supervisor. 

Supervision is a very personal thing, and every supervisor has strengths, and areas that could be improved.

  • There are supervisors who are more oriented toward the technical details of being a therapist, making sure to verify your assessments match your treatment goals and that your prog notes have every “I” dotted. This can really help build your confidence with record-keeping. 
  • Then there are supervisors who are lackadaisical, letting you swim the river of BBS paperwork, insurance paperwork and clients on your own. You almost have to track them down to get five minutes outside of your weekly hour to ask questions as they come up. This will teach you to own your experience and build assertiveness skills to get what you need. 
  • There are also supervisors who are more focused on your talents and what happens in the office with your clients…you could say, your instinctual ability to be a good therapist (or a bad one). These supervisors sometimes feel like those one in a million experiences. And, that person who "gets you" just perfectly may be different for each of us! 
At some point in your clinical development, finding a supervisor who meshes with your personal style is critical to your success as a therapist. Here’s why:
  1. You aren’t going to be under supervision forever, at some point you are going to have to either work for an agency or branch out into your own private practice.
  2. Your supervisor isn’t going to be sitting next to you as you take the state exam.
  3. It’s ultimately up to you to find your personal style, theoretical orientation and beliefs about finances and insurance.
  4. A supervisor who doesn’t connect with you on a personal level, means you are missing out on a great deal of inherent learning through osmosis.
  5. A supervisor who doesn’t encourage the strengths they see in YOU means you never get the opportunity to feel confident before you are out on your own. 
  6. A supervisor who isn’t the kind of therapist you want to be, isn’t going to make a great coach or mentor.
While as therapists we may be good at letting go of judgment, finding a supervisor that is best for you, is one place you should be able to be clear about your needs and assess whether someone can meet them. At the beginning of internship, 3,000 hours feels like a life time away. I can assure you, 1500 hours  and four supervisors into the process, it goes quicker than you realize.
I have been afforded the opportunity to work with supervisors who fell into all the categories above. I’ve also turned down opportunities to work at some facilities based upon the person who would be supervising me.  
I’ve learned that sometimes we have to accept a supervisor because it’s the best financial position, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t consult with other supervisors who have more experience, or just better match with our personal goals as therapists. After all, the point of supervision is not just to have someone to bounce cases off of, but for our own personal growth.

Michaela Renee Johnson is a Board Registered Marriage and Family Therapist intern who works in private practice as well as in non profit. MichaelaRenee.com

 
(Would you like to submit an article for publication? We are currently accepting anonymous as well as byline pieces to share with therapists around the country. Send to miranda@mftguide.com We accept stories that tell a story, and that while they may talk about the difficult parts of this profession- offer real strategies to be successful.)