I have been supervising and training new psychotherapists since 1984, both in institutional settings and in my own private practice. Good clinical supervision involves many of the same skills as good psychotherapy: it is important for the supervisor to be open to, and not harshly judgmental of, the student’s work, while at the same time being clear about ways in which the student’s assumptions, beliefs, and distortions can block the progress of the work they do as a psychotherapist. This work is important, because new therapists need to see how their skills, personal histories, and current life situations both help and hinder their work. Their personal sensitivities can function as powerful assets in understanding and helping their patients, but they also need to gain awareness of how their own reflexive ways of being with their patients interact with the patient’s personal issues, and can lead to blind spots and subtle forms of collusion. The goal of my supervision is to help new therapists achieve professional excellence while working in ways that are compatible with their own beliefs and personal styles.
Although there are important areas of overlap, the role of a supervisor is not the same as the role of a psychotherapist. A supervisor must be clinically sensitive in understanding the complexity of the patient’s issues, as well as understanding the struggles of the therapist. He must be able to listen as a therapist and speak as a teacher. While helping the therapist address his own impediments to doing the best possible work, the well-being of the patient remains the central concern of supervision.
The theoretical orientation of the supervisor may be important if the new therapist is wedded to a theory which is entirely incompatible with the supervisor’s point of view, but in general, orientation need not be a factor. As long as the supervision includes a focus on the interaction between the therapist and patient, the same supervisor can be effective across a wide range of theoretical or technical approaches to psychotherapy.