When you’re starting out as a clinical supervisor, it’s easy to be intimidated. For one, your supervisees may actually be more experienced than you — something that often happened to Seattle private practitioner Tony Rousmaniere, PsyD, when he began supervising trainees.
“It seemed half my trainees were my age or older; some already had master’s degrees or had worked in the field,” says Rousmaniere, author of "Deliberate Practice for Psychotherapists." “I thought, ‘Who am I to give them advice or direction?’”
Supervising trainees who are just behind you can be equally nerve-racking, says Katharine Hahn Oh, PhD, who directs Cleveland State University’s counseling center. “You may only have a few more years of experience than they do or even less experience on some issues,” says Oh.
Either way, the result can be imposter syndrome — the unjustified feeling that you’re not qualified to do something. “When I got nervous, I’d try to use fancy language or refer to a lot of research just to puff myself up,” says Rousmaniere. “None of that worked, of course.”
Instead, he and Oh recommend these tips:
- Educate yourself. Supplement any grad school training on supervision by taking workshops or continuing education programs, suggests Rousmaniere. Also helpful is the book "Fundamentals of Clinical Supervision" by Janine M. Bernard, PhD and Rodney K. Goodyear, PhD.
- Set expectations from the start. At your first meeting, review a supervision agreement that lays out your expectations. Oh also invites supervisees to form a collaborative relationship with her, emphasizing that she hopes to learn from them as well. “That way I don’t feel I have to be an expert on everything,” she says.
- Maintain proper boundaries. Supervision is mandatory, evaluative and hierarchical, says Rousmaniere, so be friendly but not a friend to your supervisees. That means if you walk into a party and discover a supervisee there, for example, it’s on to you leave. And be careful not to let supervision turn into therapy, he adds.
- Seek help. Supervision is easy when things are going well, says Oh. What’s harder is providing feedback when a supervisee isn’t meeting expectations. “I care so much about my supervisees I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” she says. Reach out to a peer consultation group, mentors or your own former supervisors for advice, she suggests.
- Attend to diversity issues. Early on, Oh and her supervisees share how they identify in terms of race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, class and other factors. “It creates a good basis for developing trust,” says Oh. Also, be attuned to how cultural differences affect your supervision, says Rousmaniere, recalling how uncomfortable he made a Japanese supervisee feel by asking her to call him “Tony.”
- Go for it. Most of all, don’t be afraid to supervise. “Early-career psychologists often have more to offer to supervisees than they realize,” says Rousmaniere. “You know what it’s like to be new and nervous.”
This column is geared toward early career psychologists working in practice settings. "Running start ... to a great career" features topics typically not covered in graduate school and includes tips and advice from psychologists.
For more tips, check out “How to be a better supervisor for students in health service” in the September 2017 issue of Monitor on Psychology.