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  • Writer's pictureKarine Guibert

The supervision relationship

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

While participating in a supervision demonstration, I witnessed an incident between the supervisor and the volunteer who had agreed to be supervised in front of the group. As the supervisor questioned the supervisee about the experience he wanted to explore, the volunteer began to express discomfort and misunderstanding about the process. Although the questioning approach seemed quite classic, a gap inevitably widened between the two, until the supervisee decided to leave the session.

Several elements can hinder the supervision work, starting with what each one brings in session. In the situation I witnessed, the understanding of what will happen and the adequacy of everyone’s expectations could have been more considered at the beginning of the session. But beyond this first step, supervisee and supervisor come into session with their own beliefs and fears, which can not only derail the collaborative learning process, but significantly affect the relationship. Supervision, like any support or development relationship, is a space where vulnerability and trust are two sides of the same coin.

Three points are specifically to be considered in the supervisory/supervised relationship:

  • The quality of the implicit contract between the supervisor and the supervisee

If the explicit contract covers the administrative aspects of the relationship, roles and responsibilities and confidentiality, another more implicit contract should be considered. Called a psychological contract, it will clarify everyone’s commitment to co-create a safe learning environment. This agreement, which addresses specifically what supervisee and supervisor expect from each other and how they will work together, the re-contractualization during supervision will be useful to possibly change the supervision or relationship.

  • Concerns about exposure and loss of control

A supervisee seeks, in supervision, a balance between support and challenge. But the idea of getting help or receiving feedback can be a source of concern for the supervised whose autonomy would then be perceived as threatened, with the fear of losing their status or freedom. An honest and direct exchange between supervisor and supervisee on the subject will normalize this concern and address it if necessary.

  • The power relationship between supervisee and supervisor

Because of their status, experience or even title, the supervisor may sometimes be perceived as “better” or “superior” by the supervisee. While this is a normal tendency, it is essential to remember that supervision is a collaborative learning space where neither the supervisor nor the supervisee has the solution. First, because the solutions to the problems posed are multiple, but also because it is an exploration of the thought and operation models of the supervisee, which are its own and unique.

Normalize and address if necessary this tendency can be important during the relationship.

It is not uncommon for what happens in the relationship between supervisee and supervisor to reflect what happens between the supervisee and their client or employee. Specifically address everything that can hinder it, from the beginning and throughout the relationship, will optimize the collaborative learning conditions offered by supervision.

Now that we’ve explored the behind-the-scenes relationship between supervisor and supervisor, it’s up to you: what do you need to optimize your relationship with a supervisor?


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