How finding the right clinical supervisor is (sorta) like dating

How finding the right clinical supervisor is sorta like dating

You’ve completed grad school, found a job, maybe even passed your board exam. Now you need a clinical supervisor….

What are the qualities of a good supervisor? Where do you even start to search for a clinical supervisor?

As a fully licensed marriage and family therapist, I can tell you choosing a clinical supervisor is a lot like dating. You may have to “swipe left” on a few people before you find “the one.”

I got lucky and my first job out of grad school provided me with free clinical supervision. Obviously, (free, easy supervision=no brainer) I accepted and began my supervision.

After some supervision sessions and some experience at my job, I quickly thought maybe he wasn’t “the one.” He was a nice guy and successful psychologist but not “the one for me.”  I soon found myself searching the internet and asking my fellow clinicians to “hook me up.”

During my search, I realized I needed to not just find another clinical supervisor but the supervisor (aka“the one”). So I began to develop a mental list of qualities that make a great clinical supervisor and then I started dating…

Editor’s note: We in no way condone dating your clinical supervisor. We just like metaphors. Not only would that be kinda weird, but it would definitely be a red flag.

That said, these are the top 6 qualities to look for in a clinical supervisor:

Top 6 Qualities of a Great Clinical Supervisor

1. Ethical

Obviously, you want to look for a clinical supervisor that is ethical in their therapy practice as well as how they handle supervision situations, conflict of interests, etc.

Review the ethical codes and guidelines provided by your professional associations and licensing boards with your clinical supervisor. Discuss potential ethical dilemmas together. Explore regulations and laws that directly affect you as a clinician.

Your clinical supervisor should uphold those same codes and guidelines and expect you to do the same.

No one likes to find out the person they are dating is also wanted in Kansas for bank robbery… do your homework ahead of time. Don’t be afraid to look up your potential supervisor with the licensing board-put your Facebook stalking skills to good use.

Questions to ask your potential clinical supervisor:

  • Has there ever been a time when you faced an ethical dilemma with a supervisee? If so, how did you handle it?
  • How familiar are you with our state rules regarding reporting, duty to warn, etc?

2. Professional

In addition to practicing ethical behavior, you want a clinical supervisor that displays professional behavior.

Clinical supervisors should maintain appropriate boundaries with their supervisees as well as professional courtesies — such as being on time for scheduled supervision, not cancelling scheduled supervision, not discussing non supervision topics (in-depth personal issues) etc.

No one is impressed by a date that shows up late in what looks like clothes they pulled out of the dirty laundry hamper.

A good clinical supervisor should provide you with a clear contract that discusses the nature of your supervision, relationship, supervision schedule, payment, expectations of supervision, and process to deal with conflict/concerns.

Clinical supervisors should be prepared and ready for supervision either with topics to cover, questions about cases, information to share, etc. Nobody likes a boring date…

Questions to ask your potential clinical supervisor:

  • How do you structure our supervision time?
  • How much time will we spend on case review, clinical skill development, self of the therapist, etc?
  • How will I be billed or invoiced for your time?
  • When’s the best time for us to meet? How often?

3. Knowledgeable

Your clinical supervisor should be a resource for you; a person of knowledge at your side.

Now, I don’t think clinical supervisors have all the answers. In fact, I’d be a little concerned if they did (or claimed they did)… but you want someone that can help when you have questions, sends you articles to read, training sessions to attend, books to review, etc.

Good clinical supervisors encourage growth and learning throughout the supervision process, and they’ll be an incredible resource for learning more about different practices.

Questions to ask your potential clinical supervisor:

  • What are your favorite clinical books?
  • Do you attend any annual training or continuing education?
  • Do you have any favorite websites, blogs, podcasts?

4. Compatible

It’s no surprise that having similar interests and values is going to strengthen the supervisee/supervisor relationship. And unlike in the dating world, it’s okay to ask about kids on the first date.

If you have no intention of working with kids, then don’t get a supervisor whose primary clinical focus is working with children. Interested in solution-focused therapy? Find a clinical supervisor who works from a solution-focused orientation.

You don’t have to have the same theoretical orientation as your clinical supervisor; but having some similar interests (client population, clinical issues, theoretical orientation) is going to make your supervision experience that much better.

Maybe they have all the qualities of a good clinical supervisor but it just doesn’t feel like a good fit. It’s okay to “swipe left” and keep looking. Compatibility is an important factor that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Questions to ask your potential clinical supervisor:

  • What client population do you prefer to work with?
  • What type of clinical experience do you have?
  • What theories and interventions do you use when working with clients?

5. Mentorship

When it comes to supervisors, think long-term… not short-term.

A great quality of a clinical supervisor is someone who can mentor new therapists. Ideally, your supervisor won’t just be a “fling,” but a long-term commitment that will continue after your required supervision hours are complete.

Supervision shouldn’t end once you have your hours. Great clinicians are continually seeking supervision and consultation from trusted colleagues. It’s important to not become isolated as a therapist; but to continue to build your skills through consultation with others.

Find a clinical supervisor that you would still want to do supervision with and be mentored by long into your career.

Questions to ask potential supervisor:

  • Do you attend any consultation or supervision groups?
  • Do you attend or participate in any  networking groups?
  • What are your business/clinical plans for the next five years?

6. Convenient

“Fitting in well with a person’s needs, activities, and plans” (Dictionary.com).

“Convenient” also  doesn’t mean you take the cheapest or first supervisor that comes your way.

Convenient means finding a supervisor who has time for you, who can provide supervision on a regular basis, and can make you a priority (hello, perfect boyfriend!).

Convenient may also mean using different mediums for supervision such as online supervision. Motivo, for example, is a web-based platform that connects new therapists with experienced supervisors.

Online supervision allows new therapists to expand their potential clinical supervisor pool outside of their local area. It also provides the added convenience of meeting online. (Supervision in your yoga pants? Yes, please!)

Motivo provides a HIPAA-compliant platform for new therapists and supervisors to use for clinical supervision. It’s like having a matchmaker to help you find your clinical supervisor!

Questions to ask potential supervisor:

  • Where and when could we meet?
  • How long and how often will we meet?
  • If I need to reach you outside of supervision, how will I do that?
 

Red Flags of Bad Clinical Supervision

In addition to the qualities I mention above, you want to make sure you are always looking for any red flags that may come up when working with a clinical supervisor.

Red flags can include (but are not limited to):

  • Inappropriate/Unethical clinical behavior
  • Inappropriate/Unethical professional behavior
  • Violations on their record
  • Discriminatory behavior
  • Personal unaddressed mental health or substance abuse issues
  • Breaking the rules of confidentiality (not HIPAA compliant)

So what do these red flags look like in real life? Unfortunately they aren’t always flying high, easy to spot. In the interview, ask questions about their ethics, professional behavior, their own therapy practice, work history, references of past supervisees, and any training they’ve completed to be a supervisor.

Have the DTR convo (define the relationship) and remember actual dating is not okay (still working with a metaphor here).

If you think they are going to be a good fit, ask to see a draft of the contract. Review the contract in detail and make sure you are comfortable with and understand all the verbiage. Ask questions if you need anything clarified. Don’t be afraid to discuss the contract before you sign it.

A good clinical supervisor will have a process and policy for any complaints or concerns you have during the supervision process. You want a supervisor that is willing to work collaboratively with you to address any questions you may have and take steps to move forward; even if that means with a different supervisor.

Finding your happily ever after

After a long search and months of “dating,” I finally found my one. I contacting several therapists I found online and met a few for coffee. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have Motivo to be my matchmaker at the time!)

My clinical supervisor was and is a great fit for me. That’s right, we are still together!

I still seek supervision and consultation from her regularly and what started out as a great supervision relationship has turned into an amazing collaboration with a colleague.

Don’t sell yourself short on the cheapest or first supervisor you get. Great supervision is too important to not take seriously or to leave to chance.

Finding your happily ever after is possible and it all starts with finding a great clinical supervisor.

To learn more about Motivo and other great advice about online clinical supervision, join the newsletter below.

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