Competency-based Clinical Supervision in Psychology & Counselling/Psychotherapy

One of my roles is being a clinical supervisor. I have supervision meetings with colleagues who work in private practice or in some cases in other settings. I offer small group and one-on-one supervision.

According to John Barletta, clinical supervision is considered a process whereby colleagues of a similar profession schedule meetings with the intention of learning new skills and developing a professional orientation, while concurrently focusing on enhancing client’s wellbeing. Such supervision has both a preventative and a corrective function (Pelling, & Armstrong, 2017, p. 16).

Many definitions of clinical supervision have surfaced from the more elementary to the more detailed. I like the three concepts identified by Mary McMahan (2002) who states that professional supervision includes a [professional] relationship, a developmental process, and a learning environment (p. 18).

Supervision, however, is not personal therapy (Falender & Shafranske, 2017) as supervision is a professional relationship between colleagues and taking on a dual role such as therapist and supervisor elicits ethical issues that need to be avoided.

Clinical supervision is never boring or predictable. The process of supervision is challenging, ever changing and inspirational. It is a position in which the more experienced clinicians guide, mentor and coach interns and peers through the many factors they need to consider throughout their practice. Supervision’s main aim is to increase the self-awareness of the supervisee and enhance professional competency.

Although counsellors’ competency in the first place is based on formal relevant training and education, the development of a counsellor’s competency is enhanced through one-on-one supervision as well as small group interactions.

A clinical supervisor has many roles including mentor, coach, consultant, educator, evaluator, and facilitator. Some roles are more emphasized in early supervision when students are finalizing their internship or when graduates are candidates in the process to becoming a professional or certified counselling therapist. Supervising components during these phases include presenting a client case, explore treatment modalities, the use of assessments and exploring psychological issues.

Administrative components such as progress notes, record keeping and keeping track of one’s case load are part of this process. When supervising more experienced practitioners the roles focus merely on mentoring, coaching, and consulting (Barletta, 2017).

Armstrong (2017) includes in supervising more business components, which I feel are often overlooked. As many counselling therapists end up in private practice or become independent contractors, those issues need to be addressed. Not all clinical supervisors would feel competent in assisting practitioners new in private practice to advise them on business implications and therefore other professionals can be of help. Those supervisors, however, who have been successful in developing a smooth-running private practice have a lot to offer and it would be a waste of a resource not to include these components in supervision sessions.

Ongoing clinical supervision throughout one’s career is important and benefits all parties. My training in becoming a supervisor started in Australia as supervision was mandated, intensive and deliberate. Interestingly, and very importantly, the resources from Australia integrate the perspectives of those trained internationally. For instance, the book edited by Nadine Pelling, and Philip Armstrong includes articles by authors from Australia, Canada, Unites States and Singapore.

Supervision has many components. The most important and fascinating topic is ethical decision making. As addressed prior, supervision has an educational component. The way I address this is by creating a different “educational” topic for every group supervision session. The relevant ethics and “a case study” are part of the discussion. Often, after a group supervision meeting, there is an exchange of resources. The supervisees gradually on obtain more in-depth information on many different topics. What is important is that updates based on new research findings in the field of psychology and mental health are shared and discussed.

The topics are selected based on relevance and on requests by the supervisees. These requests in-turn are based on self-identified gaps in competencies. The competencies as set out by our counselling associations are continuously expanding. They fall into the following categories:

  • Human functioning and developmental psychology
  • Counselling theoretical frameworks (psycho dynamic, humanistic, cognitive behavioural and integrative and eclectic approaches, among others)
  • The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
  • The main classes of psychotropic drugs
  • Diversity and multi-cultural counselling
  • Professionalism & Business practice
  • Code of practice, Code of conduct, federal and provincial requirements & Legal issues
  • Code of ethics and ongoing potential Ethical issues
  • Therapeutic process: Consent, assessment treatment plan, relationship, outcomes
  • Supervision and consultation
  • Research in psychology and counselling therapy
  • Own mental health, beliefs, values, biases

In comparison to (small) group supervision, one-on-one supervision is more focused on the quality of the therapeutic work of the one practitioner as it allows time for direct observational practice.

Often, experienced clinicians take on supervision, stating that they want to give back to the profession, but based on personal experience, I feel that supervisors themselves gain many skills during the process.

I hope that this Blog post adds information touched upon in other posts that focus on competency-based practice. Supervision plays a major role in safeguarding the integrity of the profession and therefore is instrumental in protecting clients.


Falender, C. A., &. Shafranske, E. P. Eds. (2017). Supervision essentials for the practice of competency-based supervision. American Psychological Association, Washington D.C.

McMahon, M., & Patton, W. Eds. (2002). Supervision in the helping profession. A practical approach. Pearson Education, NSM, Australia.

Pelling, N., & Armstrong, P. Eds. (2017). The practice of counselling & clinical supervision. 2nd ed.  Australian Academic Press Group. Pty. Ltd. Queensland, Australia.

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