Supervision in Counselling: A Issue of Ethics
Supervision has been defined as “A working alliance between the supervisor and counsellor in which the counsellor can offer an account or recording of her work; reflect on it; receive feedback and, where appropriate, guidance” (Inskipp and Proctor, 2001, p.1). Supervision is essential for ethical practice within counselling, as well as being fundamental to continued professional development (BACP, 2007). Within the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, “There is an obligation to use regular and on-going supervision to enhance the quality of the services provided and to commit to updating practice by continuing professional development” (BACP, 2013, p. 2). This comes under Beneficence and a commitment to promoting the client’s well-being. In addition, “There is an ethical responsibility to use supervision for appropriate personal and professional support and development . . .” (p. 3). In other words, supervision is not only essential for providing effective care for clients but also for providing effective self-care. As a consequence, it is mandatory for BACP-accredited counsellors to have supervision throughout their career.
The nature of the supervisory relationship is one where counsellors can gain professional support and enhance their self-knowledge. Issues that might be taken to a supervisor include concerns over personal fitness to practice due to health or changing circumstances, and instances where harm may have been placed on the client. It is also a useful place to discuss and clarify personal responsibilities as a counsellor. In all cases, it can be productive to have a more experienced supervisor who can act as a mentor. In a systematic review commissioned by the BACP (2007), it was found that in 25 studies there was limited evidence that supervision can benefit client outcomes, counsellor confidence, skills development, and client satisfaction. More research is needed on the role and benefits of supervision within counselling, however, the limited evidence thus far is favourable.
Although I am in the early stages of my training, I feel that I have already gained insight into supervision – both giving and receiving. When discussing skills practice scenario’s with a peer, some of the questions that seemed to help provide support during case discussion include:
What will be in the best interest of the client?
Is that decision in keeping with what is best for the client?
What benefit will that be to the client?
What is your agenda?
What is your rationale for that?
What are the possible options?
How did that make you feel?
How does this client make you feel?
What advice would you give someone in your position?
Are you being non-directive?
Each of these questions, to differing levels, prompts the counsellor to consider the key components of person-centred theory and whether their practice adheres to that. In particular, the questions encourage them to remain focused on what is best for the client while also remaining self-aware, ethical, moral, and accountable.
One of my course goals is to use such questions on myself after every skills practice to ensure that I examine my own strengths and weaknesses through enhancing my self-awareness. Indeed, my goal will also be to pro-actively utilise the feedback provided to me by my peers and tutor. For example, my tutor commented on feedback I had provided to a peer that, “Good feedback – but I’m wondering if an extended action point giving more information could be more in line with the ‘bun’ of your feedback.” This feedback has been placed at the forefront of my mind so that I ensure I address it. It can be all too easy to read and acknowledge feedback without acting on it. I have learnt that feedback is a gift that can be used constructively to help you meet your personal and career goals. As a result, I no longer see feedback as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – it is always ‘good’ if processed and, where appropriate, acted upon.
BACP (2007). Ethical framework for good practice in counselling and psychotherapy. BACP, 2007.
BACP (2013). Ethical principles of counselling and psychotherapy. BACP, 2013.
Inskipp, F. & Proctor, B. (2001). Becoming a Supervisor, Twickenham, Cascade: McMahon, M. & Patton, W. (2000). Conversations on clinical supervision: benefits perceived by School counsellors. British Journal of Guidance & Counsellors, 28(3).