Sunday, 26 April 2009


‘Supervision’ is a word to set most Pagans teeth on edge. This is what the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) has to say about it which doesn’t do much to dispel the problem:

Supervision is a formal arrangement for counsellors to discuss their work regularly with someone who is experienced in counselling and supervision. The task is to work together to ensure and develop the efficacy of the counsellor/client relationship. The agenda will be the counselling work and feeling about that work, together with the supervisor’s reactions, comments and confrontations. Thus supervision is a process to maintain adequate standards of counselling and a method of consultancy to widen the horizons of an experienced practitioner.

My first supervisor was not a very nice person and we didn’t work within the same model of psychotherapy, a fairly toxic combination. She understood supervision to be me giving a phrase-by-phrase description of what the client had to say and her prescribing what I should say in response.

My current supervisor, apart from being highly experienced within the person-centered model has a less authoritarian take on it. She works with the Tony Merry understanding of supervision, that it is a ‘collaborative enquiry’ into the relationship between client and counsellor. Our meetings are held in the same tone as a therapy session would be – respectful, trusting, giving me time to explore my work and find my own answers – and the aim of supervision is to improve my reflective practice for the benefit of the client.

Here’s another therapy-based definition of supervision:

The supervisee comes into supervision in order to ensure that he or she is able to function effectively as a counsellor. Supervision offers the opportunity to acknowledge difficulties and weaknesses and to celebrate and value strengths and achievements. It is a place in which the supervisee can honestly and openly ask questions of his or her practice and abilities and process what emerges, or has emerged, into awareness.
Bryant Jefferies 2005 p7

And another from nursing

. . . self development, self realization, professional enhancement and advancement, and high quality client care. Over time, the ultimate goals of such supervisory practice are twofold: (i) to improve the overall health of the nation and (ii) to promote the progression of the nursing profession. The authors found that a facilitative approach to clinical supervision is therapeutic and self-propelling for both supervisor and supervisee.
M. Chambers 1995

Whatever the case, supervision is a natural and vital part of working effectively – that is, less about box ticking and targets and more to do with working ethically, keeping fresh, knowing your limitations and growing as a person and as a practioner.

There is no supervision available to Pagan chaplains. In my own practice I know this to be a problem. It means I can breeze in and out of a relationship with patients without really considering what I’m doing. It means that pressures can build up tremendously and that there’s no one I can discuss them with not only because of respecting confidentiality, but partly because I’m an old fashioned witch and also because there’s no one available who shares my background as a Pagan chaplain.

A friend who is also a very experienced psychodynamic therapist and supervisor as well as a sensible, grounded Pagan listened to my professional concerns and was certainly very supportive. But because she didn’t know about the way that hospitals or chaplaincies work, and because we worked with different psychological models, and probably because we couldn’t meet face to face, we weren’t able to reach the depth of mutuality that’s required for good supervision to take place. There’s no fault here just a matter of fact situation.

So what are we to do, working in what is by anyone’s standards a bizarre situation, with people who’re very vulnerable and without a unifying theology to guide us? Where do we get our grounded, trustworthy collaborative support? Working backwards from the problem – there being no meaningful support for Pagan chaplains – and using a professional psychotherapeutic model as a guide I believe there may be a theoretical way through this problem. Theory is one thing, practice quite another.

Bryant-Jefferies, R. (2005) Person-Centered Counselling Supervision: Personal and Professional (Living Therapy Series) Radcliffe Publishing Ltd.
Chambers, M. (1995) Supportive clinical supervision: a crucible for personal and professional change. Blackwell Science Ltd

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