In the last section, we discussed ways to evaluate and identify problems in the supervisor-therapist relationship and in the therapist-client relationship: identifying avoidance of conflict and the "Interview Session Checklist."
In your experience as a supervisor, what does the word "empowerment" mean to you? Does it mean, as it does to me, passing on decision-making authority and responsibility from supervisor to supervisee?
In this section, we will examine the basic skills in empowering your supervisee: nurturing, coaching, and mentoring.
♦ Technique: Empowerment Quiz
If you feel empowerment could be a cornerstone in your relationship with your supervisee, here's a starting point. The first step to empowering a supervisee is to understand at what level of empowerment you are. To do this, I have found the "Empowerment Quiz" to be beneficial.
Answer either "I can do now" or "I would need to develop" to the following skills/attitudes:
-- I am very patient with fairly slow supervisees.
-- I think that most sessions can be undertaken without an exceptional amount of supervision.
-- I believe that entry-level therapists have much more ability than other supervisors usually believe.
-- I enjoy teaching supervisees skills even if it takes a lot of my time.
-- I regard most minor mistakes by supervisee as investments in their learning.
-- I believe that almost all supervisees can improve their skills.
-- I listen patiently to explanations of frustrations from a supervisee.
-- I show genuine concern for personal welfare of supervisee.
-- I like to be empowered myself.
There were nine questions in this exercise. How many did you answer, "I can do now," and how many did you answer "I need to develop?" This quiz can give you a road map with specific ideas regarding what you need to change, should you deem empowerment an appropriate attribute to your relationship with your supervisee.
Now that you've taken the nine point quiz to set some empowerment skill development priorities for yourself, let's look at the three key empowerment areas of nurturing, coaching, and mentoring.
Three Key Empowerment Areas
♦ Area # 1 - Nurturing
The first skill used in empowerment is nurturing. Although nurturing can have a pampering connotation, it does not by any means imply to indulge the supervisee, remember the dual relationship to avoid talked about in section 4.
Consider the following 5 nurturing practices that could help empower your supervisee:
1. Showing a genuine concern for the welfare of your supervisee.
2. Investing an adequate amount of time in the supervision sessions. Without sufficient time, your supervisee might feel reluctant to bring up important topics during sessions due to your limited time frame. Many states mandate the frequency and duration of individual supervisee sessions. However, as you are well aware, not all supervisees are created equal and some may need more than the minimum.
3. Congratulating regularly when your supervisee demonstrates skill development.
4. Using your knowledge to improve the areas in which the supervisee is lacking.
5. Obviously, making useful suggestions for improvement.
Just a few of these suggestions in practice might improve your supervising relationship with your supervisee. I know the basics of showing concern, investing adequate time, positive reinforcement, using you knowledge, and making suggestions seem to be almost too painfully basic to recall but they are sometimes painfully overlooked or not viewed important.
♦ Area # 2 - Coaching
A second useful skill, in addition to nurturing, in the art of empowerment is coaching. Do you, like I, believe that coaching is not just for middle school baseball teams, but a means of providing a complex way of helping others to realize their potential? I feel that in the situation of supervision, coaching is a vital tactic for getting your supervisee ready for independent practice of therapy. In the case of supervision, a successful and objective relationship that improves the quality of the supervisee's work is not automatic. Have you found this to be true in your own work in supervision?
Just as we discussed the misuse of authority in section 4, the conception of coaching as an implication of authority is also misleading and false. Coaching, I feel, inspires motivation and requires resolution of interpersonal conflict rather than implementing authority and forcing a supervisee to follow a strict regimen of commands. It also requires the supervisor to pass along sufficient instruction to the supervisee in addition to listening to the supervisee's concerns and careful observation of his or her tactics.
Without this involved approach, you may be subject to vicarious liability, which we also discussed in section 4.
While nurturing is a helpful skill to improve the actual relationship between yourself and the supervisee, coaching is the actual means of empowerment in supervisor and supervisee interactions. One of my supervisees, Sylvia, had trouble at the beginning of her supervision.
I had discussed with Sylvia that the client should be referred for a psych exam and she never referred the client. Instead of reprimanding her with threats of a negative annual assessment, I expressed a confidence in her that she would accomplish the task of making the referral for a psych exam that I had set for her. The first thing the next morning, Sylvia had already referred the client.
Can you see how instead of manipulating her with authority, I used coaching to improve my relationship with my supervisee and provide guidance by showing confidence in her?
♦ Area # 3 - Mentoring
In addition to nurturing and coaching, the third skill in empowerment is mentoring. The word "mentor," you may be interested to know, has its roots in Greek mythology. In The Odyssey, Mentor was an alias used by the goddess of wisdom, Athena. Mentor, (aka. Athena) provided guidance and wisdom to Odysseus's (O-des-e-us) son while Odysseus was lost at sea. As a mentor to your supervisee, you will fulfill a similar role as that of Athena.
By your example and counsel, a supervisee will grow and improve. Mentoring differs from coaching in the idea that the mentor truly becomes a solid role model for the supervisee, whereas, in coaching, the supervisor is merely an advice giver and less prominent in the work of the supervisee. This can mean not only writing recommendations for the supervisee, should you deem appropriate, but also guiding the supervisee to an area of therapy in which you believe he or she would most likely flourish.
While as a supervisor you may exhibit some of the characteristics of a mentor, once you've utilized the basic skills we've discussed in this section (i.e. nurturing and coaching), you will most probably be more capable of empowering your supervisee towards independence and efficiency.
In this section, we discussed the basic skills in empowering your supervisee: nurturing, coaching, and mentoring.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Aarts, H. (2019). Goal setting theory and the mystery of setting goals. Motivation Science, 5(2), 106–107.
Amaro, C. M., Mitchell, T. B., Cordts, K. M. P., Borner, K. B., Frazer, A. L., Garcia, A. M., & Roberts, M. C. (2020). Clarifying supervision expectations: Construction of a clinical supervision contract as a didactic exercise for advanced graduate students. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 14(3), 235–241.
Livne, Y., & Rashkovits, S. (2018). Psychological empowerment and burnout: Different patterns of relationship with three types of job demands. International Journal of Stress Management, 25(1), 96–108.
Wallace, J. C., Johnson, P. D., Mathe, K., & Paul, J. (2011). Structural and psychological empowerment climates, performance, and the moderating role of shared felt accountability: A managerial perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(4), 840–850.
Zhou, L., Wang, M., Chen, G., & Shi, J. (2012). Supervisors' upward exchange relationships and subordinate outcomes: Testing the multilevel mediation role of empowerment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(3), 668–680.
What are three basic skills that you may wish to utilize to empower
your supervisee? To select and enter your answer go to