This post was originally published on July 26, 2019 and was updated May 13th, 2019.
As a recent therapy or counseling graduate, one of your first and most important tasks is to choose a clinical supervisor. It is a decision that will have a felt impact on your present and future career, because your supervisor will influence your ability to get licensed, what you learn while accumulating clinical hours, and, most likely, your professional plans.
If you’re a seasoned therapist, you are also likely to go through times in your career when a one-on-one relationship with a clinical supervisor is beneficial. These include when you are working to establish new skills or implement new theoretical orientations, when you’re entering a new field (for example, you may be leaving private practice to work full-time in a treatment center), or when you want to achieve a specific business goal.
The following is a list of five factors to consider when deciding on a clinical supervisor. At the end of the post, I briefly share how I chose my clinical supervisor when I was a new MFT graduate.
1 | Therapist Development
Who knows something you want to know?
Choosing a supervisor based on your learning objectives is a long-term approach that allows you to put your personal and professional goals first. This is a go-to strategy for choosing personal mentors, and it’s no different when deciding on a clinical supervisor. With this approach, you are considering the impact the supervision relationship will have on your career over time, as well as the opportunity for your clinical supervisor to be a professional mentor to you throughout your career.
Common learning goals for new therapists often include professional focus/modality, practice specialty/niche, self of the therapist training, business development, among others. Before speaking with a potential supervisor, outline your main learning goals. Then, make a short-list of supervisors that will help you accomplish them.
2 | The Financial Investment of Clinical Supervision
What is the supervisor's hourly fee, what value is being provided, and is it worth it to you?
Many therapists, especially those working toward initial licensure, choose supervisors based on their hourly fee. While cost is an important consideration, the other four factors included in this post will have a more significant and lasting impact on you as you move through the process of accumulating clinical hours. This is because choosing a clinical supervisor based on cost alone leaves both your needs and the supervisor’s skills and expertise out of the decision-making process. Cost should be considered only in conjunction with your other most valuable goals.
In some geographical areas, it is standard for supervisors to charge their client session fee, or more, for clinical supervision. In other areas, it is standard for the supervision fee to be lower than the session fee. Make sure you understand common practices in your geographical area. In addition, if you’re seriously considering a particular supervisor, ask her about her fee. She should be able to explain her reasoning for it, and this should help in your decision-making.
Do not haggle with the potential supervisor. Supervision requires a lot of time, management, commitment, and care. The skills and training needed to be a skilled and supportive supervisor are to be valued and respected. If you need a discounted rate, take an honest look at your priorities and spending habits, and calculate the most you can realistically invest in supervision. Then, have an honest, transparent conversation with your first choice for clinical supervisor. This may or may not lead to a discount, but it will keep the connection open for future conversations.
3 | Systemic Therapy Theory
What theory knowledge do you want to deepen, or what theory do you want to master?
This factor ties in to factor #1, therapist development, but it is also specific to your goals for theory learning, implementation, and development.
If you’re newly graduated, this is the time in your career to prioritize your goals, interests, and professional vision. Take advantage of this opportunity by searching for a supervisor that has mastered what you’d like to master. Interview him to clarify his theoretical training, as well as how he prioritizes theory in the supervision meeting. Do not underestimate the teaching (and learning) power of seeing a theory in action through supervision conversations.
4 | Professional Goals
What are your career goals?
Do you aspire to be in private practice? Do you want to launch a non-profit organization? Are you hoping to devote yourself to public service? (The possibilities are exciting!) Choose a supervisor that can help you clarify and achieve these goals. Your supervisor should have knowledge or experience in your goal area and be able to provide guidance as you move forward.
Ask questions related to the steps the supervisor took to achieve their professional status, and assess whether the supervisor is able and available to serve as a professional mentor.
5 | Supervision Style
What is your preferred relational style?
Style is the process and form by which a supervisor implements her tasks; it includes: the way she asks questions; her approach to the relationship as hierarchical, collaborative, or something in-between; how she responds to emergency situations; her way of structuring the supervision meeting, etc. Style is one factor that is often overlooked during the process of choosing a clinical supervisor, and it’s a central element in how the supervision relationship unfolds.
My style is a combination between collaborative and direct. Collaborative, because my main goal is to help supervisees find and confidently express their clinical voice. Direct, only when necessary, due to the gatekeeping role required of AAMFT-approved supervisors.
A seasoned supervisor will assess your style preferences during an initial interview or first meeting. Take this time to also ask the supervisor about her preferred style of working. The best style for a successful relationship that leads to a collegial relationship in the future, is one in which you feel respected and considered, and you and the supervisor have a set plan and process for providing and receiving feedback to one another.
My Supervision Story
As a new MFT graduate, I lived in an area with few MFTs and even fewer clinical supervisors. My options were limited to my graduate program faculty, as well as some past graduates of the program. Despite this, I took my time choosing a supervisor, and I considered the things that were most important to me.
During graduate work, one of my group supervision facilitators stood out to me. She had a way of seeing that didn’t come naturally to me, and I wanted to learn her way of noticing relational nuances. I already had her in mind for the role of clinical supervisor as I considered other factors.
I had the option of working with faculty members that offered very reasonable rates as a service to alumni, and I chose to work with one of these faculty members for group supervision due to his unparalleled teaching and supervision skills, and not due to his rates. In fact, many of his supervisees often told him that he didn’t charge enough for the amount of value he provided.
For my individual clinical supervisor, I chose based on factors 1 and 3, therapist development and systemic therapy theory. This is no surprise, given my love of learning and theory. These interests, as well as my vision for my future work, directed my decision more than cost. That being said, it took financial planning to commit to working with my individual supervisor for what resulted in 3 years of supervision, because her supervision fee was equal to her session fee.
Never once have I regretted investing in supervision based on my chosen priorities. I gained much more than I’d hoped to gain from clinical supervision and both of my mentors’ influences.
I hope this information will serve you as you make this important decision.
In the comments below, let me know which factor is most important to you right now and why
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