ERIC Identifier: ED372343
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Dye, Allan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
The Supervisory Relationship. ERIC Digest.
All conversation about supervision contains messages, implicit if not
explicit, about the supervisory relationship. Those who perform supervision are
necessarily in contact with those whom they supervise; some sort of relationship
exists. In its broadest sense the term "relationship" refers merely to the
manner in which the supervisor and counselor are connected as they work together
to meet their goals, some of which are common and some of which are
idiosyncratic. Within the context of particular supervisory orientations,
however, the nature and function of the relationship must be defined in specific
This Digest reviews perspectives on the supervisory relationship which have
been described in the recent supervision literature. For purposes of
organizational clarity, three dimensions will be addressed: the relative
importance of the relationship within the total supervision process; variables
which influence the relationship; and how the relationship differs when working
with experienced versus inexperienced counselors.
Members of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES)
rated supervisor personal traits and qualities and facilitating skills as more
important than conceptual skills, intervention skills, management skills, and
knowledge of program management and supervision. Respondents rejected the notion
that these traits and qualities cannot be taught, that they are the products of
life-long socialization (Dye, 1987). These results suggest that the ability to
form and sustain relationships is more important than certain knowledge and
skill factors, and that effective supervisory behaviors can be learned.
Current descriptions of counseling supervision invariably include discussion
of the supervisor-counselor relationship, and the means by which the individuals
communicate, manage the process of reciprocal influence, affiliate, make
decisions, and accomplish their respective tasks. However, the relative
importance of the relationship and the role it plays varies according to
supervisory orientation. For some, the relationship is the sine qua non of
supervision (Freeman, 1992) while for others it is a necessary but
less-than-defining variable (Linehan, Ch. 13, and Wessler & Ellis, Ch. 14,
both in Hess, 1980). Thus, while the nature and function of the relationship
differ according to several variables, which are discussed below, recent
supervision literature usually includes explicit attention to this vital
The supervisory relationship is subject to influence by personal
characteristics of the participants and by a great many demographic variables.
Several major sources of influence, some static and others dynamic in nature,
have been identified and discussed in reviews of the supervision literature.
Among static factors receiving prominent attention are gender and sex role
attitudes, supervisor's style, age, race and ethnicity, and personality
characteristics (Borders & Leddick, 1987; Leddick & Dye, 1987). Dynamic
sources are those which may exist at only certain stages of the relationship or
which are always present but in varying degrees or forms, such as process
variables (stages: beginning vs. advanced; long term vs. time limited); and
relationship dynamics (resistance, power, intimacy, parallel process, and the
like) (Borders et al., 1991). Conflict, the nature and magnitude of which is
likely to change across time, can have a significant influence upon the
relationship. Bernard and Goodyear (1992) pointed out that conflict occurs in
all relationships, and in the supervisory relationship, specifically, some
common origins are the power differential between the parties, differences
relative to the appropriateness of technique, the amount of direction and
praise, and willingness to resolve differences. These influences can be
moderated to some extent by mutual respect. Because of the greater power
inherent in the role, the supervisor should take the lead in modeling this
attitude if it is to be attained by both parties (Bernard & Goodyear, 1992).
Citing their own and others' research, Ronnestad and Skovholt (1993)
presented an extensive description of effective supervision of the beginning and
advanced graduate students. They concluded that "There is reasonable validity to
the perspective that what is good supervision depends on the developmental level
of the candidate" (1993, p. 396). Supervisors of beginning students should
provide high levels of encouragement, support, feedback, and structure. They
explained carefully that the relationship with advanced students is typically
more complex because students at this stage tend to vacillate between feeling
professionally insecure and professionally competent. The supervisor should take
responsibility for creating, maintaining, and monitoring the relationship which
serves to provide structure and a mediating role while students are in turmoil
(Ronnestad & Skovholt, 1993). Thus, supervisors of inexperienced counselors
serve in a well-defined role as patient teachers; there is an emphasis upon
structure and instruction. As students acquire experience, the need for
instruction diminishes, and it is the supervisory relationship which provides a
supportive context as advanced students assess and reassess their professional
competencies and personal qualifications.
Two additional sources of dynamic influence on the supervisory relationship
have been identified by Olk and Friedlander as role ambiguity and role conflict
(1993). Role ambiguity is defined as uncertainty about supervisory expectations
and methods of evaluation, while role conflict refers to expectations associated
with the role of student in contrast with the role of counselor and colleague.
Olk and Friedlander found that role ambiguity was more prevalent across training
levels than role conflict, but that the effects diminished as the student gained
counseling experience. Role conflict, however, seems to be more prevalent among
those with more experience. They suggested that supervisors remain alert for
signs of such conflict, and that teaching explicitly about roles and
expectations may minimize threats to the supervisory relationship (Olk &
Friedlander, 1993). These results relative to implications for the relationship
as a consequence of learning stage are consistent with those of Ronnestad and
Skovholt (1993), described above.
The body of literature on the subject of counseling supervision, including the
supervisory relationship, has grown rapidly during recent years.
Instructional materials for teaching supervision methods and processes are
Knowledge of the supervisory relationship and competencies in establishing and
maintaining effective relationships can be acquired through a combination of
didactic, laboratory, and practical experience.
The supervisory relationship is an integral component in virtually all
supervision orientations, though important differences exist in quality and
The definition of an appropriate and effective supervisory relationship varies
according to several identifiable fixed (static) and changeable (dynamic)
variables. The relationship should be structured accordingly with the knowledge
and consent of both supervisor and counselor.
Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (1992).
Fundamentals of clinical supervision. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Borders, L. D., Bernard, J. M., Bye, 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,
Borders, L. D. & Leddick, G. R. (1987). Handbook of counseling
supervision. Alexandria, VA: Association for Counselor Education and
Dye, H. A. (1987). ACES attitudes: Supervisor competencies and a national
certification program. ERIC/CAPS Resources in Education, Document No. ED 283
Freeman, S. C., (1992). C. H. Patterson on client-centered supervision: An
interview. Counselor Education and Supervision, 31, 219-226.
Hess, A. K. (Ed.). (1980). Psychotherapy supervision: Theory, research and
practice. New York: Wiley.
Leddick, G. R., & Dye, H. A. (1987). Effective supervision as portrayed
by trainee expectations and preferences. Counselor Education and Supervision,
Olk, M. E., & Friedlander, M. L. (1992). Trainees' experiences of role
conflict and role ambiguity in supervisory relationships. Journal of Counseling
Psychology, 39, 389-397.
Ronnestad, M. H., & Skovholt, T. M. (1993). Supervision of beginning and
advanced graduate students of counseling and psychotherapy. Journal of
Counseling and Development, 71, 396-405.