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Deepening Your Supervisory Relationship

Countless articles have been written on ‘How to get the most out of supervision’. After all, we pay for our supervisory hour, and the time is precious. But does this transactional stance towards supervision mean we sometimes overlook the real issue? For Robin Shohet, good supervision – like therapy itself – is all about the relationship. So he has devised a set of questions to help supervisees reflect on their supervisory relationship – and perhaps kick-start a few important conversations.

How often do you and your supervisor speak directly about your relationship? If you feel unable to do this, then I would suggest you already have some interesting data. We human beings are funny old things – we both want intimacy and avoid it. In trainings, I have often used certain questions to help supervisors and their supervisees deepen their relationship, exploring how that relationship is co-created, and how it serves all the stakeholders in the work. We ask trainees to fill in this form with their supervisor, two supervisees and a colleague, and they invariably report that it has deepened the relationship. I think it can be adapted to look at any relationship.

Relationship

How would you describe your relationship with your supervisor, both literally and metaphorically? You could try imagining yourselves as two animals? What animals might you both be, and how might you be relating to each other?

Strengths

What do you think are your strengths? How do you bring them into the supervision relationship? What do you see as your supervisor’s strengths? Give some concrete examples.

Values

What values are important to each of you, and how do they show up in your work?

Focus/Purpose

Think about your last supervision session. What was the main focus of the session? How was that negotiated?

Core beliefs

We all have core beliefs. Examples might be, “I should always know the answer” or, “I must be helpful”. Think about your own core beliefs, and what you have noticed might be your supervisor’s core beliefs. One way of accessing your own is to choose someone that you find difficult and see what rules of yours they have broken.

Boundaries

Much learning happens around boundaries and through ruptures. How are boundaries managed in your relationship? Have there been any ruptures? Is there any part of the process you might find difficult or avoid? Has it changed over time and in what ways?

Safety and Challenge

Good supervision embodies safety and challenge, and each supports the other. How do you think that safety is created in your relationship? Can you think of an example of a challenge that might have deepened the relationship?

Power and Deference

How are these operating in your relationship? What leads you to move towards your supervisor, and what leads you to defer or retreat? How easy is it to talk about what is going on between you and use this as a resource for the work with clients? A way in to this might be for you complete this sentence: ‘What I can’t say in this relationship is… and I can’t say it because….’

Difference

How is difference handled in your relationship, and how much is it available for comment? What is the difference you might find most difficult to talk about?

The Wider System

How are other stakeholders and ghosts in the system brought into the room? A ghost is someone from the past who is hanging around. An example might be a previous supervisor, or a parental figure. Stakeholders are people who have an investment in your sessions such as the client’s family, the agency in which you work, or your professional body.

Use of Self

How confident do you feel in using yourself as data in supervision? Is the concept of parallel process used in your work?

Vision

It is a year hence. Imagine you and your supervisor have both made changes to deepen and develop your relationship. In what ways did you contribute?

Final reflection

How have you found answering these questions? Could you ask your supervisor to fill it in from their perspective?

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Robin Shohet

Robin Shohet is the author of many books on clinical supervision, including Passionate Supervision (2007) and is co-author of the seminal training text for supervisors Supervision in the Helping Professions (with Peter Hawkins). He is co-founder of the Centre for Supervision and Team Development. Robin has supervised for over thirty years and co–founded the Centre for Supervision and Team Development in 1979.

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