My Supervisor is Breaking up with Me

by Christopher Murray

My supervisor is breaking up with me. It was one of those ‘we need to talk’ moments that regularly occur in Hollywood rom-coms. I had been talking to my supervisor about reducing my own clinical caseload when he made the announcement. The ironic thing was that I had been talking of the difficulty in raising the issue in my own practice and it felt premature. It would usually be the case that my supervisees would end our arrangement due to a change in job or moving away. So I had talked to my supervisor about the difficulties that I experienced in talking to supervisees about my need to end our arrangement. I began by saying, ‘We need to talk’ and one supervisee responded with ‘are you breaking up with me?’ When I recounted this to my supervisor he said ‘we need to talk’ with a knowing smile and I realised what was coming. ‘You are breaking up with me?’ He had taken the opportunity to broach the subject. I was taken aback but admired his opportunism. We have been together since July 2010.

Of course I asked if he had anyone he could recommend and he initially said no and that perhaps I should look further afield and think about using Skype. We would be finishing in December or sooner, if I was able to find a replacement. I don’t really remember much of the rest of the session.

Since then I have dealt with shock and disbelief that our relationship is coming to an end as well as my reluctance to begin the search for a replacement. I felt all of the stages of attachment, separation and loss in a short period of time but ignored the practicalities of needing to look for another.

I realised, as if I didn’t already know, the importance of our relationship. I had met with my supervisor monthly for over four years and had been able to bring everything to the space, feeling vulnerable and exposed, allowing us to reach deep insights. There was a deep trust and intimacy between us in this journey and at one point my supervisor suggested that I had come home in three ways: one to depth psychotherapy, the second to myself and the third to my country. He was right; I had come home. It was a phrase we used intermittently when we talked about where we were and where we had come from. At some level the coming home coincided with the ending and no matter the pain it caused I began to be able to accept the loss and separation.

As I began to reflect on our process and the task of finding another supervisor, I returned to the relationship metaphor over and over again. When a long relationship comes to an end we are encouraged to take some time before we look for another and yet in our work we are required to find a replacement immediately.

I have to say that I dragged my feet for the first six weeks, feeling adolescent and hoping he might change his mind but it was evident at the next session that he wouldn’t; there was no going back. I had conversations with colleagues about alternatives and was surprised when they told me how poor their own supervision was and that if I found someone would I tell them.

It was obviously playing on my mind. Whilst I consciously tried to ignore the reality, my unconscious was busy at work. Early one morning I woke aware that my mind was writing an article about finding a supervisor and this article is formed from that awakening.

When I woke from my slumber I began the search in earnest – speaking to supervisors on Skype and interviewing in person without success. I had been fairly clear what I was looking for but was unsuccessful.

I then proceeded to search various websites including BACP, UKCP, IAHIP, ICP, Counselling Directory, LinkedIn as well as general Google searches. Some sites gave name, phone number and location whilst others declared ‘I offer supervision’ but the information was so minimal that there was no possible way to choose. I likened it to searching the internet for companies that sold a particular type of car but all the search results showed were sites that said ‘I sell cars,’ so that to find the car you want you would have to visit each one. Most of the sites were bereft of information that would help in initial selection.

As a consumer searching for a particular service it has been a frustrating experience and at the same time I accepted the challenge. In my post- dream state I was imagining having a better system that would allow an easier matching between therapist and supervisee. Most websites simply say ‘supervision’ or ‘accredited supervision’ with no further information. How do we make an initial choice, draw up a shortlist? To keep the romantic theme it would be more like a dating website where individuals register their details and someone seeking a relationship would give their personal details and matches would be made.

I am not sure how else this might work when we are looking for relationships that are safe and allow us to bring everything. I thought recommendations might be one route but I am surprised how reluctant colleagues are to recommend, including myself.

I am not sure if it has become a distraction from my own search but I think that there is a need to clarify how professionals and professional bodies manage a register of supervisors that offers more than ‘I offer supervision.’

I have recently exhibited at my first art exhibition and was asked to produce a ‘bio’ so that people would know something about me. The bio is a brief statement that gives others a pen picture stating who you are, where you come from, what you do, how you do it and so on. I wondered if it was something that as a profession we might consider including on websites and professional registers.

I then thought that if I produced a person specification I would be clearer about what and possibly who I am looking for. I talked this through in supervision to try and produce greater clarity.

My person specification looks something like this:
I am looking for someone who works relationally; holds the core conditions as default; who has an understanding of transference, counter-transference and in particular projective identification; is interested in reflexive practice; the current neurobiological influences in our work; has an understanding of childhood development; who can hold mind, body, feeling, experience in one space; who is non-dualistic and dialogical; holds a social constructivist and post-modern framework; and finally is able to allow understanding and learning to emerge from being in the relationship.

I then went on:
Broad shoulders, holding arms, strong hands, open-hearted, steady, reliable, consistent, present, interested, awake, mutual, reflexive, accepting, positive, process-oriented, and well-read.

Above all I want to be in relationship with someone to whom I can bring everything without judgement that will lead to insight and learning. I feel that I am unlikely to find someone with those qualities but that is my search and my hope.

I had a couple of amusing thoughts as I took the relationship metaphor further. What about ‘Grindr’ for supervisors; two-minute speed dating that would offer some access to the nature of each relationship; a supervisor dating site that would offer a matching service. Even though there is a funny side to all of this there is something about getting into the 21st century and using the technology and techniques that exist today.

Something also emerged for me and that was an awareness that I am not looking for a service but for a relationship. If the relationship is the healing factor in psychotherapy then it must also be so in supervision.

I am presenting this article because I wish to generate a conversation about how we currently advertise ourselves as supervisors and how registers and websites present information about supervisors. For myself, I would recommend a national register of supervisors that asks supervisors to provide biographical, personal and professional information that includes background, philosophy, style and approach, training and influences.

I have been influenced in the past while by the work of Scharmer and Kaufer (2013) in working with change. This is a quote and it represents the principles of supervision to me, uncertainty, openness, curiosity, risk, intimacy, knowing that something will emerge:

Stepping into the field of the future starts with the opening of a crack from within. Following that crack requires us to let go of the old and ‘let grow’ something that we can sense but that we cannot fully know before we see it emerging. This moment can feel like jumping across an abyss. At the moment we leap, we have no idea whether we will make it across.
(Scharmer, 2014)

What about you, what do you think and feel about this matter?

Christopher Murray IAHIP ICP BACP, Senior Accredited Counsellor, Psychotherapist and Supervisor in private practice, Belfast.

References:

Scharmer, C. O. & Kaufer, K. (2013). Leading from the emerging future: From ego- system to eco-system economics. California: Berrett-Koehler.

Scharmer, C.O. (2014). Relational inversion: The presencing institute. Retrieved 1 December 2014 from https://www.presencing.com/ego-to-eco/relational-inversion.