August 30, 2018

Clinical Supervision

My interest in ‘supervising’/co-learning alongside community workers and clinicians started over six years ago, when I had an experience of 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 that centred the supervisor’s knowledge and understandings above my own. At Oolagen, a youth mental health centre where I have worked for seven years (now called Skylark), 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 questions. I was never the same person leaving these conversations that I was when I had entered. Not only did I leave feeling more connected with the values and ethics that I hold in this 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. These supervision conversations were profoundly transformative, and informed 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 LGBTQ++ youth, people who work in health care settings, mental health, addictions and in private practice. After five years of consulting as a supervisor, 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 current role as the Senior Individual and Family Therapist at a youth mental health centre, involves engaging in therapeutic conversations with young people and/or their parents, facilitating clinical consultations with members of the counselling team and providing clinical supervision to counsellors, relief staff, volunteers and student interns. In my private practice, which I have run for the past four years, I am engaged in counselling, external clinical supervision, and training with community agencies and academic institutions. To read testimonials from ‘supervisees’ click here.

As someone who moves through this world as a white, cisgendered, able-bodied, middle class person with professional privileges, I think a lot about the ways in which I am perpetuating and replicating, individualism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism and white supremacy in my language and my practice. Intersectionality, queer theory and narrative therapy have helped me to understand how our struggles are intertwined with legacies of colonialism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, etc. To omit reference to these histories, results in the individualizing and pathologizing of our grief and pain. Narrative ideas came to me when I was seeking a way of working that did not insist on the de-politicizing of people’s suffering. I was particularly drawn to the task of making visible those narratives that had been rendered invisible by dominant or ‘official’ narratives that were told (and often circulated) about the people I worked alongside. I was conscious of the harms caused by the circulation of these ‘official’ narratives, and was captivated by the task of seeking out counter stories of a person’s resistance, resilience, hopes, values, purposes in life (the stories that could not have been predicted if we only knew the dominant story). The notion that people are always responding to traumatic experiences or resisting injustices helps me to avoid pathologizing or ‘damage-centred’ narratives, and to move towards more respectful and dignifying relationships.

It was during my time doing harm reduction work that I re-discovered narrative therapy, and recognized an affinity between narrative ideas and harm reduction in terms of their non-blaming, non-pathologizing, client-centred philosophies. My supervision practice is guided by a deep commitment to social justice and informed by narrative therapy, trauma informed practice, anti-oppression, and intersectional feminist frameworks. I strive to uphold the values of addressing power, collaboration, 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 these may be influential in our relationship. Questions I might ask to facilitate this conversation: “What might you notice if these differences in our social location were negatively influencing our relationship? How might you let me know? How would I respond, if I responded in a way that felt affirming of your decision to bring it to my attention?”

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. By asking questions that invite self-reflexivity, rather than offering advice, clinicians often experience an enhanced sense of agency about the way forward. My philosophy of supervision is very much inspired by Vikki Reynold’s work and the work of other narrative practitioners, including Ruth Pluznick and Dale Andersen-Giberson. To read more about my philosophy of supervision, click here.

Anticipated Outcomes
I have been told that the questions I ask in supervision conversations have been helpful to clinicians in naming and re-connecting with the ethics, values, skills 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 to invite clients to consider the values, ethics and skills embedded in their resistance to injustices. Co-learners have shared with me that their clients have reflected that they leave encounters with them with a greater sense of agency about their skills and knowledges (and clinicians too, have an enhanced sense that they are making a difference in the lives of their clients).

By inviting co-learners to question some of the taken-for-granted ways of thinking about this work (i.e. the histories behind certain practices; whose benefit these practices 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) workers have expressed that they have come away from our conversations with a deeper sense of their preferred professional identities.

In facilitating conversations that include considerations of the systems of oppression that give rise to problems, clinicians have described how this has been transformative in terms of how they see themselves in this work, and that they feel better equipped to bring conversations about racism, classism, colonialism, capitalism, transphobia, transmisogyny, homophobia, the gender binary system, ableism, and their intersections into their work with clients. When we are invited to consider the ways in which systems of oppression are implicated in our suffering, it can have a liberating effect – the problem is no longer located inside of us, but in the systems of oppression that have produced the problems.

Click here to read testimonials from ‘supervisees’.