|"Kenneth is waiting for his online supervision session to begin with Angela. She recently started working in a prison and Kenneth is very conscious that he has never worked in a prison setting himself. Nor has he previously supervised anyone else who was working in a prison. He is wondering what issues Angela will bring to supervision and whether his lack of experience matters. When they discussed this in their last supervision session, Angela was OK about his lack of experience but Kenneth is still worried" |
|"Serena’s description of her client Alex, a new counsellor in training, as unwilling to engage with therapy, prompts supervisor Graham to question Serena’s expectations. ??Graham waits for his supervisee, Serena, to continue their dialogue" |
|"Fiona Robyn debates the ethical issues raised by maintaining two identities – one as a practising psychotherapist and another as an online blogger and author"|
The online supervision session has just begun and Mary is waiting for Sophia, her supervisee, to type what she wants to discuss. Mary has been offering supervision online to Sophia for a couple of years. The wait for Sophia to start seems longer than usual and Mary wonders if there’s a connection problem. Finally, words begin to appear on her screen.
Online supervision: too much information?
Sophia: I have an issue I need to raise but it’s not a client issue.
Mary wonders what it can be, but wants to help Sophia feel able to say what is on her mind.
Mary: I am happy to hear what it is and see how I can help.
Sophia: Well, actually, it’s about you. It’s about something I read that you wrote on one of your blogs.
Mary doesn’t reply at once. What has she written? What is the issue? She genuinely has no idea.
Mary: I’d like to know what it is that I have written that has meant you needed to mention it today.Sophia: Well, you recently wrote about being a counsellor and a supervisor and how hectic it can be at times, juggling your professional work with the demands of your family life. You said, ‘Sometimes it feels like my personal space just for me is so, so precious’. And it just seemed like you were doing too much and I wondered how much I was contributing to this.
Mary reads Sophia’s words. Yes, she remembers typing them a few days earlier. It is something she feels, she really does appreciate time for herself, time away both from her professional work and the demands of her family – she has two young children with her current partner and an older teenage daughter from a previous earlier marriage. But she still can’t see what is worrying Sophia.
Mary: Yes, I was saying just how important ‘me-time’ is, so to speak. I realise I am not sure what has arisen out of this for you.
Sophia: Well, I found myself thinking that I’m not really helping, am I? Maybe you need to have less supervisees and I do email you between sessions sometimes, and there has been a few times recently with issues that have come up.
Mary takes a few moments to re-read what Sophia is saying. It feels like Sophia is trying to rescue her, but is that putting a therapeutic spin on what she’s saying? Is it simply an expression of caring and concern? Clearly what she wrote in the blog has made an impression on Sophia, enough for her to now raise the matter. Is Sophie taking it personally? Yes, there have been some recent email exchanges and some extra on-line dialogue regarding a couple of issues that arose in Sophie’s counselling work; is Sophie thinking that her blog was a reaction to this?
Mary: I appreciate your concern, and I’m sitting here wondering whether you are thinking that what I said was specifically a response to our recent online dialogues?
There’s a pause before the response comes back.
Sophia: Well, it did seem something of a coincidence that you wrote the blog a couple of days after our last online dialogue.
Mary thinks back to when she had written the blog. If she’s completely honest with herself, it had been a hectic period and maybe the extra online supervision time with Sophia had been a contributing factor. But it was by no means the only or most major factor. She considers how she might best respond.
Points for reflection
Richard Bryant-Jefferies: What are your own reactions to the supervision dialogue as it has unfolded?
Caro Bailey: It seems as if Mary’s recent blog struck a particularly resonant chord in Sophia, possibly evoking feelings of guilt that she was overloading herself as well as her supervisor – though she offset the latter by querying whether Mary had too many supervisees. I would find it rather irritating to have my workload queried in this way but I would be more concerned with re-visiting the initial contract about contact between formal supervision sessions. Or, more disturbingly, is Sophia not getting quite what she wants from her supervision?
Richard: Blogging and social networking provide a platform for the thoughts, attitudes and experiences of supervisors and therapists. Where does this leave professional boundaries regarding self-disclosure?
Caro: Wide open. If therapeutic practitioners are going to use sites like these – and more of us are – vigilance is needed to ensure views expressed take into consideration the widest possible contexts of the issue(s) under discussion. It strikes me as nigh on impossible to write what you feel while holding in mind all those with whom you work and are in contact and whether they might respond adversely to what you are expressing.
Richard: How should Mary now respond? What would you want her to say next to Sophia?
Caro: I would say to her: ‘Several things are going through my mind about what you have raised, Sophia. First, I am touched that you are concerned about me but, as I said to you when we first started work, I am mindful about the balance of work and the rest of my life and do revisit this regularly in my own supervision. I ensure I take care of myself so that you and my other colleagues don’t have to. More importantly, I am concerned about whether you feel you are making too many demands on me. I also own to being a little curious about whether you feel your life–work balance might be out of kilter. Might it be helpful for us both to look at these issues?’
Richard: Is there a therapy issue here for anyone and, if so, for whom?
Caro: Possibly but not necessarily. I am more inclined to think this is a supervisory issue that needs to be explored: Sophia with Mary to clarify boundaries and Mary perhaps with colleagues and her supervisor of supervision. If Sophia was in therapy, as her supervisor I might suggest it would be useful for her to explore with her therapist her concern about me and her supervision with me. But I don’t believe this would be an occasion of itself when I would advise her to start therapy.
Richard: Blogging leads to people voicing all kinds of opinions. What should happen where an opinion given by a counsellor or psychotherapist in a blog or through another form of social media might be considered out of line with the BACP Ethical Framework?
Caro: My immediate thought is I simply don’t know and a feeling of panic at the sheer size of it all. More rationally, it’s like the dynamics of any group containing a member who is at odds with its norms and values. That which exists in a group has to be resolved within it, however large the group. Therefore, those who engage in the various discussions will have to address the individual concerned. We are our own authorities, particularly in matters of belief and conscience, and in this instance we have to be self-regulating. As with any group, the resulting discussion will hopefully cause that individual to reconsider his or her views – or leave.
Editor’s note: an additional factor to consider is that online publishing, including blogs, is governed by the same laws as traditional publishing.
What do you think? How would you have responded to this scenario? To contribute your own points for reflection or join the discussions, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Caro Bailey has been counselling, supervising and training for over 30 years and is a co-tutor on the CASCADE diploma in individual and group supervision
Richard Bryant-Jefferies has written a number of books on counselling and alcohol use, in particular using fictitious dialogue to allow the reader to engage with characters and processes within the counselling room. He has been a counsellor and supervisor in the NHS and in private practice. www.richardbj.co.uk