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Counselling - The Theory and Practice of Supervision


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Counselling - The Theory and Practice of Supervision

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The theory and practice of supervision came about as a result of the training of counsellors by qualified counsellors (Bernard and Goodyear, 2009). Early models of supervision had their focus situated around theories in counselling, such as Adlerian, person-centred and Cognitive Behavioural Therapies. However, these models are more recently being challenged, due to the fact that there are features of supervision that differ from those of counselling. For example, being fit to counsel does not automatically make one eligible to supervise (Falender and Shafranske, 2004).

Contemporary models of supervision integrate theories from the discipline of psychology as well as other schools of thought. They bring into fruition one-to-one, peer and group supervision sessions. As further focus has developed towards supervision, various models have emerged, encapsulating a spectrum of developmental, integrative and agency models (Smith, 2009). Consequently, the original counselling theory models have, to some degree, been substituted with the more recent theory models of supervision. This grants supervisors the opportunity to utilise a variety of different models in order to both meet the requirements of, and streamline the intricacies of supervision (Powell, 1993). The paper at hand will cover a definition of supervision as well as outline two different models of supervision – agency and developmental.

What is Supervision?

Supervision has been defined as an intervention on the part of a senior member of a given profession, to a junior member or members of the same profession (Bernard and Goodyear, 2004). The literature indicates that this type of intervention is of an evaluative nature, extending over a period of time and includes a simultaneous purpose, which is to enhance the specialised functioning of the junior professional (Bernard and Goodyear, 2004).

The process of supervision involves a counsellor seeking support from another counselling professional who has been trained to identify psychological and/or behavioural changes in the counsellor that may have potentially developed due to an inability to cope with the issues that one or more of the clients have raised in their counselling session(s). The role of the supervisor is also to challenge practice and procedure, form new and/or improved techniques and inform their supervisees of complementary theories or practices as well as any changes to the field of mental health. The aim of supervision is to provide an encouraging and informative process whereby supervisees are supported in their application of counselling theory and practice to client issues (Bernard & Goodyear, 2009).

The burden of responsibility for the protection of the mental health of the supervisee, and consequently the mental health of the public, lies with the supervisor. A common occurrence within counselling is transference, which may cause the counsellor to burn out without having recognised the symptoms in order to take preventative measures. The purpose of the supervisory relationship is to prevent the development of such issues, as counsellors are granted the opportunity to discuss their client experiences freely with a professional who is trained in both supervision and counselling. Raising and acknowledging supervision issues provides a learning opportunity for the supervisee to develop the skills in order to recognise early symptoms of transference or burn out (Australian Counsellors Association, 2009).

A variety of models have been proposed in the attempt to provide a framework for supervisors to organise their approaches to practical supervision and provide a better sense of understanding of their reality (Powell, 1993).

Agency Model of Supervision

The agency model of supervision was established by Alfred Kadushin in 1976. Kadushin had proposed that the fundamental aim of supervision is to present the agency’s service to the client in the most efficient way possible. This is done by streamlining and coordinating the work of the supervisees within the agency, providing education to the workers in order to enable more adept performances within their duties as well as providing support and maintenance towards the motivation of the supervisee’s within their duties (Kadushin, 1976).

Kadushin’s description of a supervisor is "to whom authority is delegated to direct, coordinate, enhance, and evaluate on-the-job performance of the supervisees for whose work he/she is held accountable. In implementing this responsibility, the supervisor performs administrative, educational, and supportive functions in interaction with the supervisee in the context of a positive relationship" (Powell, 1993).

The administrative function of supervision is to promote and maintain respectable standards of work and constancy to organisational policy and practice. This entails reviews and assessments of the supervisee’s work. The administrative function is suggestive of an induction on the supervisor’s part of the norms, values and finest practices to the counsellor.

The supportive function of supervision is to emphasise counsellor morale and role satisfaction as well as ways in which to deal with stress. The stressors associated with the counselling role have the potential to influence the counsellor’s performance in their work as well as imposing psychological and physical consequences on the practicing professional. The more severe and prolonged a situation is, the more likely the counsellor will be to experience burn out. Supervisory support ensures that the counsellor manages their stress in a more effective manner and provides the practicing professional with emotional backing (Tsui, 2005).

The educational aspect of the counsellor-supervisor relationship ensures that the counsellor has adequate knowledge in their field in order to be efficient in their work. This also includes accountability on the counsellor’s part in the work they perform and the development of their skills through feedback and further learning. The aim of education among supervisory theories is to grow an understanding and develop skills through reflection and exploration of their work (Tsui, 2005).

The agency model has various strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of this model are that provides a flexible framework whereby both the supervisor and supervisee are open to exploring and experimenting different ideas. It allows for the framework to be tailored to the needs of the supervisee and the variables which the supervisor deems significant. The weakness of this model is that unless the supervisor has sufficient experience to provide correct direction and support, the framework may prove an unsatisfactory model for practical supervision.

Developmental Model of Supervision

The developmental model of supervision holds the stance that supervisors and counsellors are ever growing and developing over time. This process of personal evolution includes stages of a predictable nature. Generally, developmental models of supervision have provided definition for the progressive phases of counsellor development – from the beginner stages to the expert stages with every stage consisting of specific features and skills (Bradley and Ladany, 2000).

For instance, supervisees in their novice phase would be expected to be limited in their skills and confidence as counsellor, while those in their middle phase may possess more advanced skills and feel conflicted about their perceived dependence on their supervisor. Those in their later developmental phase are expected to execute better problem-solving skills and use reflection as a tool in understanding their counselling and supervisory course (Haynes, Corey and Moulton, 2003).

Three phases were identified by Erskine (1982) to encapsulate the development of counsellor skill. Each phase presents precise characteristics and responds directly to the specific training needs of the counsellor. In the first stages of training, counsellors will present operational needs due to the fact that they are developing their professional skills. They also need a consistent theoretical framework and techniques for intervention. During the second phase, Erskine suggested that counsellors seek to reinforce their personal identity as counsellors and that their goal is to assimilate their sense of self and reflect on any personal problems that may pose as obstacles in their work with clients (Bradley and Ladany, 2000). Throughout the advanced phase of counsellor training, it is imperative that trainee counsellors familiarise themselves with supervisory theoretical frameworks and distinguish alternative interventions in order to encourage their flexibility when choosing between them (Stoltenberg and Delworth, 1987).

A disadvantage of the developmental model of supervision is that each individual has their own unique method of learning and speed of developing. The model at hand fails to show the ways in which the supervisee develops and moves on to their next phase, or the ways in which this is connected to the supervision process (Bradley & Ladany, 2000). It must be suggested that supervisors employing this model should be mindful of their supervisee’s developmental progress and support them through each stage for as long as necessary (Stoltenberg & Delworth, 1987).


In both models, it is highlighted that supervisors are responsible for the professional development of counsellors. This entails covering issues such as informed consent, dual relationships and confidentiality (ACA, 2009). Throughout the process of supervision, the supervisor must take responsibility in evaluating the quality of the supervisory relationship – especially when conflicts arise or there is a development of an impasse (Powell, 1993).

The central issues in supervision relate to ethical and legal concerns. A dual relationship would be considered as unethical as it could upset the balance between a supervisory and therapeutic relationship (Powell, 1993). There are different ways in which dual relationships may occur. A supervisory relationship may present an opportunity to develop a close emotional bond, and this will result in a decrease in the efficacy of the supervisory relationship. With consent from both parties, the emotional relationship is allowed to be continued. However, the supervisory relationship, in this situation, must come to an end. It is necessary for the supervisory relationship to be directed by the same ethical rules as a therapeutic relationship (Powell, 1993).

It is also the responsibility of the supervisor to maintain the confidentiality of the supervisee and any information the supervisee obtains through their consultations should be discussed with the intention of professional purpose only as well as limited to the people or person directly involved in the case (ACA, 2009).


Irrelevant of which theoretical framework is applied, supervision may be used as a means for professional development. It is necessary for a supervisor to intervene if and when they believe that a client’s wellbeing is at risk. It is suggested that a supervisee sees it imperative to adhere to ethical guidelines and standards of professionalism. The literature suggested that professionals should develop their own unique model of supervision in order to understand their own behaviours and which factors are inhibiting their change (Powell, 1993). Overall, the purpose of supervision is to provide the supervisee with an opportunity to identify the obstacles that are preventing them from growing, learning and providing good counsel to their client, and to support the supervisee through their process of self-development (Bradley and Ladany, 2000).


Australian Counsellors Association (2009). Professional Supervision. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 23 July 2017]

Bernard, J. M. and Goodyear, R. K. (2009). Fundamentals of clinical supervision (4th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Bernard, J. M. and Goodyear, R. K. (2004). Fundamentals of clinical supervision (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Bradley, L.J. and Ladany, N. (2000). Counsellor Supervision: Principles, Process and Practice. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner-Routledge.

Erskine, R.G. (1982). Supervision for psychotherapy: Models for professional development. Transactional Analysis Journal, 12. pp.314-321.

Falender, C. A. and Shafranske, E. P. (2004). Clinical supervision: A competency-based approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Haynes, R., Corey, G. and Moulton, P. (2003). Clinical supervision in the helping professions: A practical guide. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Kadushin, A. (1976). Supervision in Social Work. New York: Columbia University Press.

Powell, D. (1993). A developmental approach to supervision. In Clinical supervision in alcohol and drug abuse counselling. New York, NY: Lexington Books.

Smith, K. (2009). A brief summary of supervision models. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 23 July 2017]

Stoltenberg, C. D. and Delworth, U. (1987). Supervising counsellors and therapists. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tsui, Ming-Sum (2005). Social work supervision: contexts and concepts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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