Considering Online Supervision? Some Factors Worth Thinking About…

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Are you considering online supervision? Here are some factors that may be worth thinking about before you decide to commit to working this way.

What Appeals to You About Online Supervision?

Sometimes, practitioners have contacted me about online supervision with what could be summed up as the following rationale:

Well, I’m going to do my counselling online, so why not do my supervision online?

The question seems to invite an answer along the lines that if I can’t think of any reasons not to do supervision online, then I ought to do it that way. There’s nothing at all wrong with this question as a starting point, but if it’s going to be the starting point, I think it’s important to take the question seriously: are there some reasons not to have supervision online? (Personally, I think there are some pretty good reasons not to have supervision online, which I touch on below.)

In addition to considering reasons not to have supervision online, I think it’s worth considering reasons to have supervision online. For practitioners considering online supervision, I would urge you to satisfy yourself that your reasons for wanting to begin supervision online include more than an absence of reasons not to begin supervision online!

Limitations of Online Supervision

Our counselling service section highlights some of the general advantages and disadvantages of working therepeutically via email, and most of these probably apply to online supervision as well. But in addition to these advantages and disadvantages, one specific limitation of online supervision comes to mind which may be worth thinking about before committing to supervision via this modality.

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched

As you’ve no doubt noticed, it can take a considerable amount of time to work through a discussion via email. Even though, in my experience, email is normally a far ‘denser’ and more ‘efficient’ modality than, for example, chat — i.e., relative to email, chat typically requires more words to communicate less content — it also takes a great deal more time to generate those words than it might when working face-to-face. As a very rough generalization, I believe face-to-face working achieves the most communication in the least time, email achieves the most communication in the least words, and chat offers the worst of both worlds: less communication, and more words. (I’m not just making this up! See the ‘in practice’ section of the paper “The Practice and Process of Online Therapy” for notes on differences in word count between email, chat and f2f.)

What that means for supervision, practically speaking, is that online supervision via email may be more likely to ‘fall behind’ the therapeutic process unfolding between you and your clients, as compared to face-to-face supervision. To put it another way, the two processes — the therapeutic process between practitioner and client, and the supervision process between practitioner and supervisor — may become ‘out of sync’ just as a simple side effect of the way the modality works. So, if you would like the opportunity to work through something very quickly, before your next contact with an online client, online supervision is probably less suitable than face-to-face supervision.

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