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Supervisory Relationships

Supervision is the formal relationship between a therapist (supervisee) and a qualified supervisor with significant experience in the field. The purpose of supervision is to support clinical work with empathy, sensitivity, diligence and care. Also ensure that the requisite standards are met and to help develop practice. The supervision process can greatly contribute to personal growth, understanding and strengthening self-esteem.

A supervisory relationship is created when two or more people form a formal collaborative process with shared objectives on how to work together to provide safe, competent and ethical services to clients. Supervision is an essential model of professional mentoring and accountability, also to assist in the advancing professional abilities and to ensure consistency in their client’s wellbeing.



Clinical supervision in the mental health profession started out similar to apprenticeships in other occupations. In this setting, the student or apprentice with minimal knowledge and skill would commit to learning from an accomplished member within the same field. The presumption was that since the ‘master’ had achieved a certain level of experience, they would equally be good at imparting their knowledge and understanding by supervising and teaching the ‘apprentice’.

Clinical supervision initially began as a practice to observe, assist and receive feedback. Over time, the need for specific supervisory interventions was evident and different supervisory models were developed unique to specific psychotherapy models. Different supervisory approaches in clinical supervision include psychodynamic supervision, person-centred supervision, integrated development model, integrative models of supervision, cognitive-behavioural supervision, developmental models of supervision, Ronnestad and Skovholt’s Model and systems approach.


The Supervisory Relationship

A supervisor and supervisee relationship is one of the components of the therapeutic alliance.  In therapy, the therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the client is crucial to the patient’s healing process. For the patient to experience a sense of safety to a point where they reveal and express themselves, they need to feel heard and understood. The same conditions apply between a supervisor and a supervisee for there to be meaningful supervision. Both relationships are similar in the sense that they are relational and intimate.

Acting as a supervisor implies significant experience and broader knowledge in one’s field. The supervisor, therefore, adapts to the supervisee based on their needs while providing the opportunity for in-depth understanding, application and development of theory, broadening their perspectives and building their future career pathways. However, these elements can only be realised in a strong alliance between the supervisor and supervisee. In such an environment, a supervisee should feel safe and can share confidential information with their supervisor. Ultimately, supervisors and their supervisees work together for the benefit of the client.

The supervisor-supervisee relationship is complex, dynamic and multifaceted. At different times and occasions, the supervisor can take the role of a teacher, judge, manager, facilitator, trainer, mentor, and/or colleague. As a result, the supervisor has substantial power over the supervisee and the potential to greatly influencing them. However, this power must never be wielded inappropriately or with ego basis but must be regularly observed by the Supervisor. A positive relationship, therefore, between the supervisor and supervisee (s) is necessary for supervision to be effective.





Supervisors are directly responsible for ensuring their supervisees engage in ethical and competent practice. In some jurisdictions, supervisors are considered legally liable for the actions of their supervisees. Even in instances where supervisors are not legally accountable for the actions of their supervisees such as failures or omissions, supervisors are still ethically obligated to ensure that their supervisee does not harm their clients intentionally or unintentionally.

Dynamics of the Supervisory Relationship

To a great extent, the quality of the relationship between the supervisor and supervisee determines the process of accountability and the ability of the supervisee to provide competent service to clients.

Two major components of the supervisory relationship are shared meaning and trust.


Shared Meaning

Shared meaning refers to the existence of mutual understanding and agreement between the supervisors and the supervisee. The presence of mutual understanding and agreement ensures that the supervision operates smoothly. Clear communication is the fundamental feature of shared meaning between the supervisor and the supervisor. An absence of clear communication, either caused by differing values, nonverbal cues, poor communication or false assumptions may result in disagreement and misunderstanding.


Safety, honesty and respect are all essential elements in the supervisory relationship. The responsibility of establishing trust lies mainly with the supervisor. However, in certain instances, establishing trust may become impossible or difficult if the supervisee is not able to trust or behaves in an untrustworthy manner. Trust can be established by the supervisor’s expressed confidence in the supervisee’s ability while the supervisee can take into account their supervisor’s professional experience.



Supervisory relationships are, at best, complex relationships. A competent supervisor must not only be good in the domain of psychological science but also capable when it comes to trainee development and client service. The competent supervisor, in addition to comprehending the different knowledge bases and understanding of how they are connected should also apply them on a case-by-case basis.

In conclusion, it is worth asking yourself what you bring to the relationship either as a supervisor or trainee. Bear in mind that we all have our own attachment and relationship patterns that need to be negotiated and sensitively observed. Awareness and attention are therefore important while approaching clinical supervisory dynamics.

A good supervisory relationship consists of both the supervisor and the supervisee being heard and harnessing mutual respect. In addition, the supervisory relationship should renew the supervisor’s interest and zeal for the profession and, over time, assist both in gaining more confidence and a sense of being on the right track. At the end of the day, supervisory sessions should reinvigorate both parties.

It is important to note that supervisory relationships can be strenuous and demanding. In case there is dissatisfaction among either party, the supervisor is encouraged to discuss with their supervisee whether to continue the supervision with a renewed focus or to end the supervisory relationship and change their supervisor. However, fun, laughter and plenty of creative play also have their place to ease and make more palatable those potentially strenuous and demanding aspects that this unique relationship may bring.



Christian Dixon. 2024.


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