Subscribe to our newsletter

Are You a Clinical Supervisor by Default or by Choice? by Susan Vichick Johnson, LCSW

CATEGORIES: The art of Supervision

Nov, 16 2012


I remember the day that I became a Clinical Social Work Supervisor. I was working at a community counseling agency in which there was a need for a supervisor for their graduate student interns. 
“Susan would you like to supervise a student this semester?” the Clinical Director asked.
“Sure,” I replied and, just like that, I had become a Social Work Supervisor.
Like many Social Workers, I became a Clinical Supervisor because there was a need in the work setting. As the years went by, I found that I enjoyed having a graduate student or post-graduate LMSW on my supervision roles. As I moved into the private practice arena, I listed Clinical Social Work Supervision as one of the services I offered. 
We look to our State Boards for the rules and regulations of Clinical Social Work Supervision. We look to A Position Statement of the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Workas our guide to understanding and following the objectives of Clinical Social Work Supervision. We attend yearly CEU trainings about the ethics of Clinical Social Work Supervision. We learn the mechanics of supervision.
Like many Clinical Social Work Supervisors, I became a supervisor by default. I learned the mechanics of supervision, and I developed supervision skills throughout the years. It was something I kept in my tool box, something I was capable of doing because I was, after all, a Social Worker with an advanced license.
Then it happened…the dreaded supervision breakdown. It would have been acceptable (and easy) to describe the supervision breakdown as an issue with the supervisee and move along to the next supervisee. After all, I’d had successful supervisions prior to this. Fortunately, I recognized the supervision breakdown as my professional growth opportunity as a clinical supervisor.
With much reflection and consultation, I came to realize that I had been practicing Clinical Social Work Supervision by default and not by choice or intention. This supervision breakdown gave me the opportunity to recognize the difference between practicing the mechanics of supervision and having an authentic and deliberate supervision style. I had made the choice to become Social Worker, and had spent many years in education, internships and training to hone those Social Work skills. I had made the choice to develop my style as a psychotherapist with more education and training and practice. I had not committed the time and energy to developing my voice as a Clinical Social Work Supervisor …it was something that just happened.
Just as couples’ therapy and play therapy are specialty areas within the clinical field, Clinical Social Work Supervision is a unique specialty area. The supervisory relationship is not as intimate as the psychotherapy relationship, nor is it as informal as the peer consultation relationship. Clinical Social Work Supervision is a dynamic relationship that is continuously evolving to meet the developing needs of the supervisee. Along with the many objectives of supervision outlined by state regulatory boards, the goal of supervision is for the supervisee to develop his/her unique voice as a Social Worker, by “melding theory, skills and personal strengths into a unique clinical style” (Robert Taibbi).  
When we make the choice to be Clinical Social Work Supervisors and cultivate our authentic supervision style, we are giving our supervisees the space, the structure and the foundation to foster their individual voice as a Social Worker and clinician. 
Susan Vichick-Johnson, LCSW
Texas State Board Approved Social Work Supervisor
LCSW Supervision
Supervisory Consultation
Clinical Case Consultation