So you say your clinical supervisor is incompetent?
Let’s learn to distinguish when a clinical supervisor is incompetent versus poor quality versus unethical. They may be one or all three. Some supervisor relationships can turn catastrophic.
But for sure, let’s learn what you can do about it. But be sure to read Guidelines for APCs from the Supervisors’ Perspective.
The relationship between a psychotherapy clinical supervisor and their supervisee is complicated. Clinical supervisors who provide distance or telesupervision face other challenges. Supervision is not for the faint of heart. One needs to work fearlessly and with confidence and conviction.
It has similarities to a client and therapist relationship. You may be a student in a graduate program. Perhaps it is an employer and employee relationship. Each has specific responsibilities. Very importantly, it is a professional peer relationship.
In any case, if you think your clinical supervisor is incompetent you’re clearly frustrated with with them.
Poor Quality Supervision
We encounter poor quality in everything we buy. Whether it is goods or services. Poor quality at a restaurant or from an online marketplace. Low quality clinical supervision whether provided by a social worker, psychologist or professional counselor.
In some instances what we perceive as poor quality clinical supervision may not be to someone else. So poor quality may not mean your clinical supervisor is incompetent. In addition, high quality supervision can be subjective.
However, when there is consensus of poor quality it probably just is. But what determines quality clinical supervision?
Clinical Supervision Training
There is quality supervisor training and inferior training. If you provide clinical supervision you should be trained properly. Training includes supervision CE continuing education workshops, masters or doctorate supervision coursework, one on one and group training in supervision of supervision and other.
In all situations, the training should meet an industry standard and be practical, logical and empirical. In many cases, a clinical supervisor is incompetent based on poor training. In short, clinical supervision training should be high quality.
A Competent and Experienced Therapist
Assuming our clinical supervisor is well trained, they also need to be experienced as a behavioral health clinician They should be a seasoned therapist with broad skills in treatment of mental illness and addictions. You will need someone to teach you these skills whether you are doing art therapy or working in a psychiatric hospital.
In other words, your therapy may not be deeply clinical. In most work settings, you WILL encounter suicidal and severe psychological disturbance. You need a clinical supervisor who has skill working with those problems.
A Supervisor Should Be Emotionally Mature
A clinical supervisor is held to a higher standard than your boss. In fact, your boss may be held to no standard at all. Perhaps held to a standard as an employee, but not as a boss. Managers are often provided little to no training.
A clinical supervisor needs to be a mentor. They need to know how to promote professional and personal growth. They need to be instructors and critics when needed. These are all skills required to provide counseling and psychotherapy.
Lastly, they should be receiving personal psychotherapy.
Incompetent or Unethical?
In brief, shortcomings in the above areas may suggest incompetence. Whereas not necessarily unethical but at it’s worst incompetent, inept and poor quality. Tragically, there are unethical supervisors.
Acting on Behalf of Another Against Your Best Interests
One encounters this most often when the clinical supervisor is also the boss. There is an inherent conflict with this arrangement. Mainly, in order for the supervisor to keep their job they must act on behalf of the mutual employer.
For example, you disclose to your clinical supervisor you refuse to comply with an employer policy of billing for services not rendered. Your supervisor reports your refusal and you are then fired. Therefore, the only way for you to resolve this conflict is to quit that job.
This does not represent high quality supervisory skills. In fact, there is an ethical violation: your supervisor has violated a confidence that has no bearing on your professional development. In fact, they have attempted to force you to something unethical. Even worse, they have pressed you to do something illegal.
Inappropriate Involvement With Your Off-Site Employer
For example, you inadvertently breached confidentiality. You have inflicted no harm. You ask your supervisor “John” for guidance. The supervisor believes it is their ethical responsibility to report the breach to your employer. They report and you are fired.
Perhaps an argument can be made for reporting to your employer. However, all other matters equal it is a violation of confidence and probably unethical. At the least, it is easy to understand why you might feel betrayed. An alternative solution might be your supervisor using this as a teaching opportunity. The breach was an accident and likely due to your inexperience.
We assume new and experienced therapists all make mistakes. The goal is first ‘do no harm’ and learn from the mistake.
As a side note, John has also put himself in a precarious position– his actions have directly caused termination of your employment. It’s easy to see this clinical supervisor is incompetent and unethical.
Appropriate involvement with an off-site employer can include confirming the worksite is consistent with that filed with the APC application and related matters. As a supervisee, you should provide your LPC clinical supervisor with a copy of the Directed Experience form completed by the Director.
Not Recommending For Licensure
John has supervised you for 12 months. It is time for you to submit your application for LPC licensing. You submit your application and it is denied because the supervisor checked the box that says, “I do not recommend for licensure”.
What happened? Why didn’t John notify you sooner? He told you he was concerned about the frequency of corrective action. However, it would have been best for John to notify you sooner that he did not intend to recommend you. It is probably an ethics concern because John accepted payment for supervision services for 12 months and was possibly aware before then of his intentions to not recommend.
Refusal to Complete Supervision Forms
Sometimes a supervisor will refuse to complete supervision licensing forms. The reasoning may be that the supervisee has an unpaid account balance. Or they do not want to recommend for licensure and refuse to complete the forms. The reason may also be they have formed opinions in their role as boss about the supervisees clinical skills.
Yet another reason, is this same boss / clinical supervisee has opinions about your job performance. Perhaps there is conflict with co-workers or deficiencies in completing agency paperwork.
Regarding an account balance, your supervisor would be wise to address it as a collection matter similar to unpaid patient accounts. In other words, this is not a matter for supervision, it is a fee dispute.
The others above are employer disputes and issues for the employer’s HR department to address. They may not directly reflect a supervisee’s competent and ethical practice.
Rude or Aggressive Behavior
There is a power differential between a supervisor and supervisee. It is unethical to abuse that power through aggressive, forceful or otherwise abusive behavior.
What You Can Do About It
Are Clinical Supervision Services, Services?
Yes they are. Like any service, we can choose to get it elsewhere. Anything we buy is a service and we pay –in some form– for clinical supervision. There is a cost of clinical supervision. That cost can be that an employer provides the supervision. Or we pay cash money for it. Ranging from $50.00 to $150.00 per session and higher.
First, if you have exhausted all efforts to resolve the problem to no avail you can seek supervision elsewhere. If your supervisor refuses to complete your forms, you have several choices: do nothing and accept the license denial, attempt to resolve it with the supervisor, or rebut the supervisor’s refusal with the licensing board. Like all therapists, supervisors are fallible. If you want to justify your clinical supervisor is incompetent or unethical, make note of:
- Can you defend it was an employer/employee dispute unrelated to your clinical competency?
- Did the supervisor violate your confidence?
- Was the conflict a result of your supervisor engaging in a dual relationship with your employer or other?
The Two Most Important Questions
There are two important questions to ask a supervisor during your interview:
• Have they ever refused to recommend for LPC licensure and if so, why.
• Have they filed a board complaint against a supervisee and why.
Determine whether you believe the supervisor had just reasons.
Lastly, request your supervision forms be completed immediately after you terminate with them. You can avoid problems that can result from attempting to get them signed later.