What's Psychotherapy Supervision?

Psychotherapeutic supervision doesn't just involve reviewing the work of an inexperienced psychologist. Also, it's related with the the mental health of the therapist that is being evaluated.
What's Psychotherapy Supervision?
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Written and verified by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Psychotherapy supervision is essential for psychology students who are doing their internships, as well as professionals who are just starting their careers. Supervision exists to correct potential errors that new and budding psychologists make before they aggravate. It’s also important because it gives new professionals a supportive environment in which to take on the weighty responsibilities of the job. In this profession, after all, the consequences of a mistake can be serious.

This is a part of the process for anyone who’s becoming a psychotherapist. As we mentioned above, it’s especially helpful for beginners. However, that doesn’t mean that experts can’t gain anything from it. While experience certainly helps you be better at your job, it doesn’t exempt you from needing psychotherapeutic supervision in some cases.

Today, we’ll talk about what psychotherapy supervision is and how it works. We’ll discover its importance for students and professionals. We’ll also talk about the benefits of getting supervision in different contexts.

How does psychotherapy supervision work?

Supervision involves the presence of an expert professional with the ability to evaluate the course of therapy and the work of the new psychotherapist in their professional practice. The supervisor observes the interventions that the therapist does or doesn’t do. They also include an exploration into the inner world of the person they’re supervising. They explore their cognition, behavior, and emotional health.

A guy talking to his therapist.

From a psychoanalytic perspective (a branch of psychology in which supervision is very important), during the process, the supervisor does the following:

  • Analyzes the content of the session.
  • Evaluates transference and countertransference.
  • Explores the strategies that the therapist uses.
  • Educates the therapist about practical and theoretical content.
  • Acts as a support structure.
  • Actively listens and observes.
  • Encourages their mentee.
  • Provides feedback.
  • Explores and challenges the mentee’s hypotheses and assumptions.
  • Encourages the learning process.

As we mentioned above, this process happens with students as well as professionals.

For students

Psychotherapy supervision is part of the requirements for graduation. It’s a practical look at what psychotherapy is and what psychotherapists actually do. The supervisor is the one who decides when the student is ready to do their supervision. They also intervene during the sessions they observe if they believe it’s necessary. To prevent the consequences of potential errors, they give students low-risk cases. That means low risk to the student, as well as the patient. That makes it more likely that the supervisor will be able to let the student take the lead.

Supervision happens in three different ways:

  • Online. New technologies have brought big changes that can have important benefits. In this particular case, technology provides psychotherapists with new tools such as Skype and Zoom. Today, supervisors often use video calls to do supervision.
  • One-way mirror. This is a resource psychologists use so that people can observe a therapy session without the presence of others having an effect on the patient. One-way mirrors are opaque on one side and transparent on the other so that the supervisor can see what the therapist is doing without getting in the way.
  • In-person post-therapy session. In this scenario, the therapist tells the supervisor about their session with a patient, and the supervisor makes observations and suggestions.

Psychotherapy supervision for professionals

Experienced psychotherapists can use supervision as a way to grow and improve in their profession. They might ask for supervision to try to understand what’s going on with their patients, when they don’t feel comfortable, or when they don’t know what to do. This gives them the opportunity to hear another perspective and figure out what steps to take.

In addition, some specialties actually require it. Psychoanalysis, for example. In fact, this field suggests that future psychoanalysts should be psychoanalyzed before starting to practice. Part of that analysis can talk about what stays with the psychoanalyst based on the therapy they’re providing.

The benefits of psychotherapy supervision

In general, psychotherapy supervision has important benefits. It’s good because it:

  • Incentivizes analysis.
  • Facilitates the process the patient has to go through.
  • Is an opportunity to share knowledge.
  • Contributes to professional development.
  • Provides reference points for the supervisee.
  • Enriches the psychotherapeutic practice.
  • Encourages the therapist to consider more points of view.
  • Fosters self-discovery.
  • Incentivizes self-care.
  • Releases tension.
  • Increases empathy.
  • Protects the patient and the therapist.
  • Is a great opportunity to review concepts.
  • Encourages the experiential education process.
Psychotherapists doing psychotherapy supervision.

All that being said, there’s some controversy surrounding the idea of supervision. Dr. Héctor Fernández-Álvarez suggests as much in his article. He writes that “So far, the results of the study aren’t enough to empirically prove that supervision, as it has been used up to know, helps increase the benefits of psychotherapy”. However, many areas that use psychotherapy haven’t participated in these studies. Nor does the data invalidate the subjective feeling that people who participate in supervision can count on.

In conclusion, supervision is an active process that involves building knowledge. This process is good for the supervisee because of the learning process, and great for the supervisor because they have to prepare themselves to provide good supervision.

So how do you find supervision? If you’re a student, there’s probably someone at your school who has that role. If you’re a professional therapist, you can talk to your experienced colleagues. You can also look for supervision online. You’re sure to find someone suitable.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.