ERIC Identifier: ED372350
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Borders, L. DiAnne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
The Good Supervisor. ERIC Digest.
It has been my very good fortune to have been supervised by several good
supervisors. These supervisors were quite different from each other in
personality and their supervision style, focus, and goals. One insisted that the
person of the counselor is of greatest importance, and then struggled with me to
discover who that person was for me and how to use it in my relationships with
clients. Another focused on more concrete behaviors and cognitions, forcing me
to learn how to articulate what I was doing and why. A third introduced me to a
new theoretical perspective on counseling, broadening my conceptualizations of
clients and my interactions with them. With each, I felt tremendous challenge to
stretch and grow, buffered by an implied belief that I could achieve their goals
for me. Each seemed to have been assigned to me at just the right time in my
professional development, and/or they recognized my needs at that time and were
able to provide what I needed. The influence of each of these supervisors can
been seen in my counseling and supervision work today. Only one of these
supervisors had received any supervision training.
Like other counselors, I also have had less memorable supervision, and have
heard numerous colleagues' and students' horror stories about their unpleasant
experiences as supervisees. Some describe busy supervisors or those who lacked
interest in their supervisees and the supervision process. Some cite supervisors
who seemed most interested in putting in the minimum required time with as
little work and as few hassles as possible. Others remember mismatches in
theoretical orientation to counseling or critical personality traits.
All of these experiences, and my own professional work in the area, have
convinced me that potentially good supervisors are born, but all benefit from
training experiences in which they focus on supervision knowledge and skills,
reflect on their role and responsibilities, and receive input from others about
their work as supervisors. These experiences also have led me to ask questions
about what distinguishes "good" supervisors from "bad" supervisors and how
counselors become effective supervisors.
Thus far, there are too few answers to my questions. The supervisor by far
has received the least attention of any variable in the supervision enterprise.
To date, only a few researchers have focused on supervisor qualities and skills,
and only three very brief models of supervisor development have been proposed.
What we do know is summarized below, drawing from reviews by Worthington (1987),
Carifio and Hess (1987), Dye and Borders (1990), Borders et al. (1991), and
Borders (in press).
CHARACTERISTICS OF SUPERVISORS
Good supervisors seem to
have many of the same qualities of good teachers and good counselors. They are
empathic, genuine, open, and flexible. They respect their supervisees as persons
and as developing professionals, and are sensitive to individual differences
(e.g., gender, race, ethnicity) of supervisees. They also are comfortable with
the authority and evaluative functions inherent in the supervisor role, giving
clear and frequent indications of their evaluation of the counselor's
performance. Even more, good supervisors really enjoy supervision, are committed
to helping the counselor grow, and evidence commitment to the supervision
enterprise by their preparation for and involvement in supervision sessions.
These supervisors evidence high levels of conceptual functioning, have a clear
sense of their own strengths and limitations as a supervisor, and can identify
how their personal traits and interpersonal style may affect the conduct of
supervision. Finally, good supervisors have a sense of humor which helps both
the supervisor and supervisee get through rough spots in their work together and
achieve a healthy perspective on their work. Such personal traits and
relationship factors are considered as significant as technical prowess in
In terms of professional characteristics (roles and skills), good supervisors
are knowledgeable and competent counselors and supervisors. They have extensive
training and wide experience in counseling, which have helped them achieve a
broad perspective of the field. They can effectively employ a variety of
supervision interventions, and deliberately choose from these interventions
based on their assessment of a supervisee's learning needs, learning style, and
personal characteristics. They seek ongoing growth in counseling and supervision
through continuing education activities, self-evaluation, and feedback from
supervisees, clients, other supervisors, and colleagues.
Good supervisors also have the professional skills of good teachers (e.g.,
applying learning theory, developing sequential short-term goals, evaluating
interventions and supervisee learning) and good consultants (e.g., objectively
assessing problem situation, providing alternative interventions and/or
conceptualizations of problem or client, facilitating supervisee brainstorming
of alternatives, collaboratively developing strategies for supervisee and client
growth). In fact, good supervisors are able to function effectively in the roles
of teacher, counselor, and consultant, making informed choices about which role
to employ at any given time with a particular supervisee.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE SUPERVISOR
Existing models of supervisor
development (Alonso, 1983; Hess, 1986; Stoltenberg & Delworth, 1987) give
brief descriptions of supervisor stages of growth, and are quite different in
their theoretical perspectives. Two assume that supervisors receive no training
for their role, but change with experience and age. Only a few researchers have
investigated novice supervisors; even fewer have conducted comparison studies of
novice and experienced supervisors. These writings provide a fairly consistent
profile of novices, but little information is available about how novices learn
about supervision and develop a supervisor identity, how they think and behave
at various stages of development, and what factors encourage (and discourage)
In general, novices are characterized as self-doubtful, leery of being
evaluative or confrontive, tending to be highly supportive and/or didactic,
concrete, structured, and task-oriented. There is little flexibility in
approach, with novices relying on their more familiar counseling skills and
focusing more on the client and client and counseling dynamics than on counselor
development. Novice supervisors also seem to have personalized supervision
styles that remain stable across supervisees.
Perhaps surprisingly, comparison studies have yielded few differences between
novices and experienced supervisors. In general, more experienced supervisors
seem to use more teaching and sharing behaviors, and they and their supervisees
are more active. Ratings of effectiveness, however, find novices to be equally
effective as experienced supervisors.
There are several plausible explanations for these results. First, novices
typically supervise beginning counselors, which may be the pairing that allows
novices to be and/or to be seen as most effective by their supervisees. Second,
"experienced" supervisors in these studies often are relatively inexperienced
and, most importantly, typically have received no training in supervision. In
other words, comparisons of inexperienced and experienced are not representative
of comparisons of novice and expert. In fact, the expert supervisor has yet to
be described empirically, particularly in terms of their actual behaviors and
One joy and challenge of being a supervisor is
the necessity of using skills from a variety of professional roles and knowing
when to use each one. I must draw on my teaching, counseling, and consultation
background, but integrate them in a unique way. During one supervision hour I
may be highly structured; at the next, I may deliberately avoid giving
suggestions. With each I am operating on today's goals within a larger context
of long-term development.
A second challenge is the necessity of attending to several different levels
at the same time. I am responsible for what happens to the client and to the
counselor. I must be aware of counselor-client dynamics, supervisor-supervisee
dynamics, and any similarities between them. I must think about what the client
needs, then determine how I can help the counselor provide that for the client.
I must consider the impact of the client on the counselor, client on supervisor,
counselor on client, and counselor on supervisor, in addition to the
supervisor's impact on counselor and client. I must assess the counselor's
readiness for my intervention, taking into account a myriad of factors (e.g.,
developmental level, skill level, anxiety and typical ways of handling anxiety,
motivation, learning style, response to authority figures, etc.). I must be
cognizant of maintaining an optimum balance of challenge and support during the
supervision session and across time. I have to be aware of all of these dynamics
and then, almost instantaneously, create an elegant response.
As a novice supervisor, these were the exhilarating aspects of my new
professional role, and they are the aspects that my students repeatedly cite as
the great fun in doing supervision. When I think back to time spent with my own
good supervisors, this is, gratefully, what I received. Today, as an experienced
supervisor, these are the standards I set for myself--and sometimes achieve.
And, as a supervisor educator, these are the measures I offer supervisor
trainees so that they, too, can become "good supervisors."
Alonso, A. (1983). A developmental theory of
psychodynamic supervision. The Clinical Supervisor, 1(3), 23-36.
Borders, L. D. (in press). Training programs for supervisors. In A. K. Hess
(Ed.), Psychotherapy supervision: Theory, research, and practice (Vol. 2). New
Borders, L. D., Bernard, J. M., Dye, H. A., Fong, M. L. Henderson, P. &
Nance, D. W. (1991). Curriculum guide for training counseling supervisors:
Rationale, development, and implementation. Counselor Education and Supervision,
Carifio, M. S., & Hess, A. K. (1987). Who is the ideal supervisor?
Professional Psychology, 18, 244-250.
Dye, H. A., & Borders, L. D. (1990). Counseling supervisors: Standards
for preparation and practice. Journal of Counseling and Development, 69, 27-32.
Hess, A. K. (1986). Growth in supervision: Stages of supervisee and
supervisor development. The Clinical Supervisor, 4(1-2), 51-67.
Stoltenberg, C. D., & Delworth, U. (1987). Supervising counselors and
therapists: A developmental approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Worthington, E. L., Jr. (1987). Changes in supervision as counselors and
supervisors gain experience: A review. Professional Psychology, 18, 189-208.