Did you know that therapists are imperfect people?
Shocking- I know! We all come to this profession down a different path- and we all have our baggage that we bring with us. Becoming aware of our "stuff" and doing our own work is often an important piece of being healthy and effective ourselves. Just one reason why doing your own personal therapy work can be so powerful as a therapist.
However, personal therapy work isn't always required, and just because we experience therapy- doesn't mean we are ready to be transformed from it. Getting licensed as a therapist doesn't require a clean bill of emotional health, nor does being emotionally unhealthy keep you from becoming a clinical supervisor.
What do you do when your clinical supervisor is struggling?
I remember going into my first meeting with a clinical supervisor and feeling completely out of my depth and unsure. I had no sense of choice, no direction, and I had no idea what to do. My poor clinical supervisor was overworked, overscheduled, and mentioned that she didn't know how or when she would fit me in.
I left the meeting feeling disheartened and lost. She was a wonderful clinical supervisor, always made time for me- but I remember feeling rejected and unwanted in that first meeting. Now I know this was my own stuff coming up. At the time, I remember not even being sure if she was going to have time- thinking maybe I wouldn't have any supervision at all. She wasn't anything like that. She was an amazing supervisor in SO many ways!
I was blessed to have a simple misinterpretation or misunderstanding when meeting my first clinical supervisor. However, I've heard more than a few stories that were far from misunderstandings or misinterpretations. So, what do you when clinical supervision isn't going so well?
Here are some steps to take to get out of a nightmare clinical supervision situation:
1. Start to write things down
Start to write down what is happening. Consider keeping a journal that just has dates, times, incidents, and a second one where you explore your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the situation. Make sure to create a balanced list and include any good experiences you have with your supervisor.
Best case scenario, this will help you create some distance, and explore if there are areas that you will need to grow in- self-advocacy, boundary setting, verbalizing needs, etc. You may become aware of some misinterpretations you are having, or aware that your clinical supervisor isn't perceving you accurately. What is the best thing to do when someone isn't getting an accurate picture of you? Model who you truly are. Feelings of defensiveness don't bring out the best parts of me, and they may not bring out the best parts of you. Take care of you, and try to get into a calm state where more of the real you can come out.
Worst case, this will be documentation if things go too far south.
2. Explore your part without blaming yourself
In a true nightmare or bullying situation, people commonly take 100% of the blame for the nightmare situation. Start to work out areas where you do have options, power, control- areas where you can grow-without taking responsibility for the other person's behavior. Best case you find that this is just a rocky start to the relationship, or you grow in some areas that will help you in your clinical practice.
Worst case, you will come to a realization that you've done all you could, conducted yourself with integrity, did your best to solve the problem- and that you can move on with no second guessing or inaccurate levels of self-blame.
3. Explore your supervisor's part without villianizing them
I didn't even realize when I started my practicum and internship that I had somehow put my clinical supervisor on a pedestal. I assumed that the things they told me were absolutely right 100% of the time. Truth is, supervisors are infallible just like the rest of us. As a clinical supervisor, I modeled for my supervisees the skills I wanted to take with them- like calling for legal consultation- or looking up documentation. I didn't just tell them what was right, or what I wanted them to do- I showed them the processes that I used and helped them practice the same process. Why? Because I don't want my supervisees to put me on a pedestal- I want them to learn good judgment skills.
Explore multiple perspectives and try to view your clinical supervisor as a human. Have they ever been a clinical supervisor before? Are they feeling unsure or anxious? Are they overwhelmed personally or professionally? While you these may not be excuses for poor behavior, creating a sense of understanding can sometimes lead to resolutions of issues.
Worst case: Think of this as practice in your work analyzing people's patterns or behaviors and creating a sense of separation.
4. Finally, look for ways to create options and movement
I've seen particular non-profit, agency, and for-profit organizations where there is very little room to get support or feedback if there is a big issue. Create options for yourself by networking, looking at alternate jobs, and reaching out for support within your organization.
No matter how nasty the situation is with your current supervisor, focus on developing ways to avoid bad-mouting or complaining about your current supervisor. Find a true way to talk with joy about what you have learned, and to verbalize what you are looking for in your next position. If you aren't already in therapy- consider getting a therapist. Therapy can be an amazing experience to help you keep things in perspective- and any type of nightmare or bullying situation is sure to bring some stuff to the surface- why not use this as an opportunity to get this stuff taken care of in therapy?!
What about your? What advice do you have for peope in nightmare clinical supervision relationships? Share your advice and comments below!
p.s. I'm really excited and proud to be co-leading the next Business School Bootcamp for Therapists. If you are looking for support in building a private practice- click here.