THE SUPERVISORY RELATIONSHIP


One of the purposes of this module is to educate the student about the process of supervision so that it is not “mysterious.” By knowing about the processes, content, and focus of supervision, you can be an active participant in the supervisory relationship. This knowledge can also provide a basis for “knowing yourself” as a supervisee. By engaging in self-exploration, you can become aware of your hopes and expectations regarding supervision. You can also get in touch with your concerns about engaging in this process. It is natural to have mixed emotions. You want feedback and support, but you may also be apprehensive about having your work scrutinized. The supervisor also brings expectations and their own concerns to the relationship.

So, why is this important?

The content and processes of supervision are carried out through the supervisory relationship. Indeed, a positive and productive relationship is critical to successful supervision. Bernard and Goodyear (1998) state, “the supervisory relationship is a product of the uniqueness of two individuals, paired with the purposes of meeting for supervision and modified by the demands of the various contexts that are the subject or content of that experience” (p. 34).
 
 
Because each supervisory relationship is unique, there is not a recipe for creating the perfect experience. However, knowing your own thoughts and feelings about the process, coupled with an understanding of supervisor expectations, may serve to aid in the development of a positive and productive relationship.


The Supervisee Experience

It is natural to have mixed feelings about the process of supervision. Although you want to learn, you might also have concerns about having your work scrutinized. The prospect of supervision may be both reassuring and anxiety provoking.
 
Think about what characteristics you consider to be ideal in a supervisor. Some traits of “ideal supervisors” include:
  • Is available
  • Is knowledgeable
  • Directs the student’s learning
  • Has realistic expectations
What would you add to the list?
What hopes and expectations do you have about supervision?
What particular concerns or worries do you have about supervision?
What do you know about how you tend to respond to critical feedback?

The answers to these questions will affect your views of what happens in supervision. It may be helpful to share your thoughts with your supervisor. Establishing good communication with your supervisor forms a solid foundation of your work together.

“The qualities that you bring to the relationship and the manner in which you communicate with and relate to your supervisor are critical to the quality of your relationship and how much you learn from supervision” (Kiser, 2000, p. 86).

It is also helpful to know what expectations supervisors bring to the relationship.


The Supervisor Experience

Supervisors have a responsibility to the supervisee AND the clients the supervisee is counseling. The supervisor bears responsibility for facilitating a positive learning experience for the student. Supervisors may look for the following characteristics in supervisees:
  • Accessible to the supervisor through openness to feedback and instruction
  • Eager to learn
  • Inquisitive and energetic
  • Knowledgeable on at least a basic level
  • Realistic about his or her own skills and knowledge
  • Willing to take risks in order to gain new skills and knowledge
  • Appropriately assertive, taking responsibility for his or her own learning and demonstrating initiative
  • A good listener, observer, and communicator (Kiser, 2000)
This list is not exhaustive, but it does give a picture of the “ideal supervisee.” It may be more important and productive to ask your supervisor about his or her expectations. In addition, to questions about qualities and characteristics of the supervisee, it may also be helpful to inquire about supervision style and philosophy. The point is to verbalize expectations so that there can be greater understanding between the supervisor and supervisee.

 

Facilitating the Relationship

As with any relationship, respect, genuineness, willingness to listen, seeking to understand, and communication are key components. Although most supervisory relationships develop fairly easily, sometimes there can be special challenges to developing positive relationships. Age, gender, cultural, background, theoretical orientation, and cognitive and learning style differences may influence the development of the supervisory relationship. Indeed, supervisors and supervisees “can simply have very different personalities and personal styles, resulting in distance that may take a longer time to bridge the relationship (Kiser, 2000, p. 85).
 
Regardless of the challenges, awareness, communication, patience, and flexibility are key to building a satisfactory relationship.

While you do not have sole responsibility for a positive learning experience, you have a powerful role in shaping the supervisory relationship.