Counselling and Therapy Supervision

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What does supervision mean in the context of counselling or psychotherapy? In the interests of both clients and practitioners, most professional bodies for counselling and psychotherapy require members to incorporate supervision into their clinical practice.

What is Counselling Supervision?

Working under supervision (see “Clinical Supervision, Training and Development”) means that a counsellor or psychotherapist uses the services of another counsellor or psychotherapist to review their work with clients, their professional development, and often their personal development as well. Supervision is a professional service, rather than a managerial role, and for counsellors who work in institutions, supervision and management will normally be entirely separate. The supervisor acts not as a ‘boss’, but as a consultant.

Some counsellors also use group supervision, in which several therapists confer on each other’s work, although ordinarily this is used in addition to individual supervision, rather than as a replacement.

Who Needs Supervision?

In the view of this site, all counsellors and psychotherapists, regardless of experience, need supervision. Not only do most professional bodies in the UK such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy require supervision, but it is also seen by many as an ethical imperative. A client who encounters a therapist working without supervision should probably consider carefully whether they wish to work with that therapist. (Having said that, it should also be recognized that significant cross-cultural differences in views on supervision exist: many practitioners in the US, for instance, are not supervised.)

Why is Counselling Supervision Needed?

Supervision exists for two reasons:

  1. to protect clients, and
  2. to improve the ability of counsellors to provide value to their clients.

Supervision protects clients by involving an impartial third party in the work of a counsellor and client, helping to reduce the risk of serious oversight and helping the counsellor concerned to reflect on their own feelings, thoughts, behaviour and general approach with the client.

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These opportunities to reflect on how they relate to the client, as well as to garner insights from the perspective of another therapist, also help the counsellor to improve the value they are providing to their clients. In this respect, supervision is somewhat analogous to peer review in the publishing process: few professional scientists would expect to be able to publish their results without peer review, and the quality of the scientific literature is undoubtedly better than it would be without the positive influence of the peer review process.

What Does Supervision Mean for Confidentiality?

The practice of supervision means that many details provided by clients are shared with people other than the counsellor concerned. However, overall client confidentiality is still safeguarded because:

  1. individually identifying information (such as full name) is not revealed, and
  2. information shared in supervision is itself protected under a contract of confidentiality and normally may not be shared outside the supervision relationship.

In other words, while some client details are shared within the supervision relationship, these are not traceable back to the specific individual client, and they do not normally pass beyond the supervision relationship. (It is possible that a supervisor might bring a supervisee’s client information to their own supervisor, if for some reason they are struggling with the supervisee.)

If You Have Doubts or Questions About Counselling Supervision

Although supervision should be implemented in an ethically rigorous way that will serve to protect the interests of clients, a client may well have questions about their own counsellor’s supervision arrangements. A client has every right to ask how their counsellor is supervised, and any counsellor or psychotherapist should be able to provide details of their supervision arrangements, such as the nature of the supervision relationship and the number of hours spent in supervision either by month or relative to the counsellor’s caseload.

This and other questions are covered in “Selecting a Counsellor or Therapist”.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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