My interest in ‘supervising’ (co-learning) alongside student interns, community workers and clinicians started over six years ago, when I had an experience of clinical supervision that was very different from any I had had in the 14 years leading up to it. I was used to the type of supervision that did not address power in the supervisor-supervisee relationship – a top-down approach – and one that centred the supervisor’s knowledge and understandings above my own. At Oolagen, a youth mental health centre where I worked as a therapist for more than seven years, I had an experience of supervision that centred my ethics, skills and knowledge, and rather than problem-solving, my supervisor invited me to think my way through dilemmas that I faced in my practice by asking self-reflexive narrative questions. I was never the same person leaving these conversations that I was when I entered. Not only did I leave feeling more connected with the values and ethics that I strive to uphold in my work, but I felt an aliveness about doing the work, which stemmed from an understanding of how my values and ethics were behind every decision I made. I also left these conversations with a greater sense of agency about the way forward in my work after being invited to reflect on the skills and knowledges that I relied on in my sessions to help guide my conversations with the young people and parents I worked alongside. These supervision conversations were profoundly transformative, and inform the way I facilitate supervision conversations with individuals and groups today.
For five years I have ‘supervised’ people of diverse genders and racial backgrounds, and folks whose educational background, theoretical framework and work context are different from mine. I have supported workers who do community outreach alongside LGBTTQQ2SIA youth, people who work in health care settings, mental health, addictions and folks who are in private practice. After five years of engaging in ‘supervision’ conversations, I still feel the same, in terms of how these conversations move me. I am not the same person at the end of a conversation with a supervisee (co-learner) that I was at the beginning. For the purposes of this page I will refer to people who are commonly referred to as ‘supervisees’ as co-learners as this is how I see the relationship I have with the people with whom I consult.
My Philosophy of Supervision
My supervision practice is guided by a deep commitment to social justice and informed by narrative therapy, anti-oppression, and intersectional feminist frameworks. I strive to uphold the values of addressing power, collaboration, transparency and centring ethics in my work with co-learners. I am mindful of how my social location may impact on what is said and not said in the therapy/supervision room, and take seriously my responsibility to redistribute power in the inherently hierarchical relationships I have with co-learners and clients alike. From the outset I name the various sites of privilege that I hold (and benefit from), and invite a conversation about how this may be influential in our relationship. Questions I might ask to facilitate this conversation: “What might you notice if differences in our social location were influencing our relationship? How might you let me know? If I responded in a way that felt affirming of your decision to bring it to my attention, what would I be saying/doing or not saying/not doing?”
The ‘tools’ that I bring to my clinical consultations, are in the kinds of questions I ask, that invite practitioners into a philosophical investigation of the ethics, personal politics and values that guide them in this work, as well as inviting practitioners to name the skills, knowledges and commitments that had them taking certain decisions or asking certain questions in their conversations with the folks they work alongside. By asking questions that invite self-reflexivity, rather than offering advice, clinicians have reflected that they experience a greater sense of agency in the work. My philosophy of supervision is very much inspired by Vikki Reynold’s work and the work of other narrative practitioners.
I have been told that the questions I ask in supervision conversations have been helpful to clinicians in naming and re-connecting with the skills, ethics, values and commitments embedded in their work with clients. Clinicians have reflected that this has been useful, not only in terms of developing a greater sense of agency, but also in terms of having an expanded repertoire of questions they might ask their own clients to invite considerations of the values, ethics and skills embedded in their resistance to injustices.
By inviting ‘supervisees’/co-learners to question some of the taken-for-granted ways of thinking about this work (i.e. the histories behind certain practices or ideas; whose benefit these practices or ideas are in service of; at what, or whose cost; and how or in what ways these practices fit and/or do not fit with their own preferred ways of working, therapists and community workers have expressed that they have come away from our conversations with a deeper sense of their preferred professional identities.
Click here to read testimonials from ‘supervisees’.