Musings and Articles by CST Associates and Partners
Offering Supervision Training: 2004-2012
Supervision of counsellors is professionally required, but unregulated. In the early 2000s relatively few counsellors trained specifically to be supervisors, but for many it was the next step after a few years of Practice. Yet as younger people entered the profession, many were taking up supervisor roles after just a couple of years as a counsellor, which gave them an insufficient basis in experience. In addition, recognition was increasing that the role was distinctly different from that of counsellor, and an approach where people did what had been done to them was unsatisfactory. A supervisor has to have the capacity to take a view of the work of the counsellor that encompasses an analysis of what ails the client, a review of the developing relationship between counsellor and client, and an understanding of the impact of the work on the personal / professional work of the counsellor. Good supervision is restorative of the counsellor, developmental of their professional ability in the role, and serves as a professional monitoring of the quality of the work.
My beginning as a trainer of supervisors all began serendipitously, and responsively in 2003. My old friend and ex-tutor Brigid Proctor, who was a high profile supervision trainer decided she didn’t want to do a day she’d been asked to do about creative supervision for the BPS counselling psychologists in the Midlands, so she gave them my name as a substitute. I was interested, and asked my Cambridge colleague and friend, Anthea Millar, to co-tutor the day. We discovered we worked well together and had a lot of creative fun designing and implementing the day with a challenging group in Birmingham. We were happy to survive the experience and get good enough feedback.
In the next year, Anthea was asked to set up and offer a supervision training for Adlerian counsellors to do supervision associated with their developing course in Wales. She asked me with two Adlerian colleagues if we would like to design a course that would prepare counsellors for their new role, and our quartet formed. It soon became apparent that the other two only wanted to be involved in one x 2 day module out of the four we proposed, so Anthea and I became the core tutors, planned the course in detail, did the other three weekends, and managed the assessments so we could give participants a Certificate. We were all very experienced supervisors, and I was fully up to date, at that point, with current writing and research about the topic, as a result of writing a couple of chapters, doing some research, and my 2 years as editor of the supervision column of our professional journal. Anthea was ready as she had done a Masters degree on the topic at Birmingham university. But I was not trained as an Adlerian, and so there were some new concepts to grasp that Anthea felt were essential for people who would supervise students on an Adlerian course. We wrestled a bit with the course structure, fitting what each considered essential into 8 brief days of training.
Each module felt like rather a marathon, as it entailed taking train journeys to west Wales, as well as the teaching, which was not easy to fit in with an existing busy schedule. Our train journeys were wonderful planning and reviewing spaces, however, and as we got to know each other better, and trust each other as trainers with very very different styles and pace, our enjoyment and friendship deepened.
As that enterprise came to an end Anthea proposed that as we had done so much work in designing the course, we should set one up here in Cambridge. She was always the visionary one, though I was the enthusiastic first mate. So we tweaked our plan, and began to advertise and recruit for the first Certificate. Once more her contacts were helpful in the initial run, as she had been tutor of the Cambridge Adlerian course, and was loved and respected by her ex-students. We enrolled a full course.
After the first course, we decided that we two would be the only full time tutors, and one of the other two, Julia Herrick, would be the practice tutor coming in for a half day each weekend to support the students as they took turns to supervise each other, and get intensive review and feedback about their efforts. This gave us a tutor-participant ratio of 1-4, almost unheard of in CPD courses run by academic or private institutions. We never made much money as a result, and were much too conscientious in our feedback to participants about their written and practice assignments. Two perfectionists working together each admiring the other made for an excellent service to our participants, but ridiculous hours of work for us. Happily, we decided we would meet weekly, swim at 8.00 am, and then go upstairs to the café at the Chesterton school pool for breakfast and a working meeting. This was highly enjoyable, professionally and personally productive, and kept us fit too. We did this till Council cuts closed the early morning swimming option.
Soon, we began to feel that although we were offering a sound base, some less experienced participants were not really ready to call themselves a supervisor by the end of four weekends, as they may have only supervised each other. This is a complex moment of professional development. Does a counsellor begin to offer supervision to get some experience, and then do the training? This often means they have a very limited analytical basis for their work, and generally they do what was done to them. If they had a good model from their own supervision, all is well, but if they have had sloppy supervision, they are unlikely to provide a good quality service. Or should they do some training and then begin to supervise? This means that they may talk the talk, but not be so effective in walking the walk. The professional body was unhelpful in this decision. It has failed to make their professional accreditation for supervisors attractive, and very few people did it, though I had in 2001. They make great play of the importance of supervision, making it a monthly requirement throughout a counsellor’s professional life, but fail to set standards.
So we set up an arrangement for any of our graduates who wanted to, to meet monthly for a year with one of us for group supervision of supervision. This gave the participants plenty of opportunity to practice supervising each other’s actual work with supervisees, and get guidance from one of us too. Our learning from this then formed the basis for the Diploma we designed, which had a quarter of the time in such groups. Once more we had a four-weekend model, though this included two days with external trainers who were a big crowd draw for other supervisors working in the area, who could take the day as a part of their CPD. This proved a helpful financial model, as these days could accommodate up to 20-25 people, so this subsidised the core training a bit. We were still doing all the course admin, assessment and marketing in our own time. However we employed a highly experienced colleague, Karen John, who had taken the Wales training herself, to be an external assessor for the course, and we registered it for accreditation with the Adlerian Society of Great Britain. We were very pleased when our assessor returned a glowing review, although the participants’ reviews of each training day had kept us tuned in to what was working and what needed further tweaking. We were inveterate tweakers.
We spread our wings, again as a result of Anthea’s contacts, to do a 2-day supervision training in Riga, Latvia, on a very cold February weekend in 2010. This was my first experience of teaching through an interpreter, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, though the dynamics in the group between the Russian speakers and the Latvians were tricky.
Sadly my health deteriorated after a virus in September 2010, which gave me a winter with 5 chest infections, and barely a week of good health. I struggled on with a variety of associated health difficulties, until 2012, but then insisted that Anthea find another core trainer. We chose one of our graduates, Jim Holloway, who joined us as a partner as he already had a good local reputation. He only did a year as co-tutor, before deciding it didn’t fit with his other work, and she had to begin again with a third partner, though he continued skilful work as administrator and designer for publicity materials for some years more. Our steady practice teacher, Julia Herrick, has continued throughout, and brings sustained observation and valuable feedback with a quiet presence.
So my decision to end, like the decision to start, had arisen without my intending it. The bit in the middle was hugely satisfying.