Why Do a Course in Supervision… a Personal Recollection

by Suzanna Knight

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” William Butler Yeats

Supervision is becoming a mandatory requirement for many people in the ‘Helping Professions’, and not just the therapeutic ones. Attendant with this has been the growth of the profession of Supervisor. When I started supervising support workers within the field of domestic violence about ten years ago, we did not call what we were doing ‘supervision’ even though that’s what we were doing. I suppose we thought this the preserve of therapists and counsellors. Although I had completed post grad studies in counselling, I was not and am not an accredited counsellor.

For me, supervision began by simply wanting to look at how support workers were affected by their work and the need to reduce the high levels of burn out and distress. Early on I discovered just how inextricably linked these two factors were. The high numbers of workers who had also experienced violence in their own relationships seemed to magnify this link between personal reactions to the work and burnout.

Encouraging practitioners to be aware of self was a large part of what this early supervision was about. For me, what was important was not only their awareness of feelings of tiredness, stress or overload, but how they felt in relationship to their clients, that is how being with their clients made them feel. What became clear was just how easy it is to react in any ‘helping relationship’ with a client, from an unmet personal need or unresolved personal issue. Crucially, I came to understand how unhelpful or dangerous this could be to a client living in a life threatening situation, like domestic violence. The goal of supervision became developing the ability to respond to clients from awareness of self, in order to be fully with their clients. Bread and butter to therapists and counsellors, but not so for support workers… yet.

Thus began my passion for supervision and as I continued, I added more pieces to the puzzle that supervision became for me. As I added pieces, sometimes the picture clarified, but more often than not became more confused. It was as if I was trying to complete the puzzle without having the picture on the box to guide me.

Further training I undertook as a Parent Coach as part of my work with parents, only added to my understanding of the importance of being able to be in a helping relationship with another, whether it be a child or person experiencing domestic violence, and be fully present to their needs. And that in order for this to happen, awareness of self, aided by a supervisory process, is essential.

However, my sense of missing some pieces of the puzzle persisted and culminated in a strong desire to learn more. After searching through a myriad of courses, the one that captured my imagination was a Diploma in Creative Supervision, at the Child Therapy Centre, Ballymore. The gift of exploring and hopefully releasing my creativity was too tempting to pass up.

As I embarked on the course I felt the familiar excitement of being in a room of people I wanted to learn from. The richness of the experience and knowledge in the room was palpable and for me is one of major reasons for undertaking any course. I quite literally became drenched in the collective knowledge and wisdom of the group.

“If you have knowledge let others light their candles at it,” Margaret Fuller

The course not only provided the picture on the box to guide me, but an infinite possible range of pictures, and the ability to create in collaboration with the supervisee. And the piece of the puzzle that enables this, I found to be the use of self. On this course, I discovered I was the missing part of the puzzle. Up until now I had been focussing on the supervisee’s self and forgot about my ‘self’. Re-capturing this knowledge enabled me to bring myself fully to the supervisory process, in awareness and with creativity. In doing so, I discovered the power of modelling awareness and use of self for the supervisee who in turn models for the client.  It is the circular and reciprocal nature of the supervisory process in which client, supervisee and supervisor all teach, learn and gain from each other, which is so exciting.

I have been able to transfer the skills and ideas gained from the course not only in my supervision work, but also to my work with parents and in my own personal relationships. In this way, it could be said that I have truly gained skills for life.

Indeed, I consider this course a gift I have given to myself that reverberates beyond myself – just as supervision, it is a gift we give to ourselves which passes to our clients and beyond. It is for this reason I am also passionate about education. Without undertaking a course I may not have discovered any of this.

There are many reasons we do courses from wanting to learn a new skill or earn more money, all of which of course, are valid. But for me the most amazing part about doing a course like this, is the opportunity to dive into the collective knowledge of a group and come up with treasures that can be passed on for generations.

I am still learning,” Michael Angelo.