Wright, N. (2002) ‘Professional Confidence’, The Christian Counsellor, January-March, Issue 12, pp34-35.
I work as a church leader and oversee a small pastoral team which provides lay-counselling support for people in the local community. Although the work of the project is supported by an advisory committee which helps to guide our overall thinking, plans, direction etc., I am personally responsible for providing individual supervision for each member of the team on an on-going basis.
I have no real training in supervision and tend to rely on a combination of prayer, instinct and my own pastoral experience. Nobody in the team has complained about the quality of supervision received but I often find myself feeling anxious that I might be missing things that I should be picking up. Can you help?
I'll try to! Although significant progress has been made in recent years by organisations such as the British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) and Association for Christian Counsellors (ACC) in defining practice standards for supervisors as a basis for formal training, evaluation and accreditation, I'd guess that the vast majority of people providing supervision, especially in relatively informal environments, find themselves in a very similar position to your own.
This is sometimes because training support has not been available locally or as part of wider ministerial/vocational training. More often than not, it's because supervisors (perhaps, especially church leaders?) often find themselves holding this kind of responsibility by default rather than design. The feelings of anxiety you mention are, too, very common. My advice would be:
Firstly, take heart - the fact that you haven=t experienced negative feedback from members of the team to date probably suggests that they consider the support they=re receiving is sufficient for the kind of situations they are currently dealing with. In order to check out this point, have you thought about asking team members for specific feedback in order to help guide your own development as supervisor?
Secondly, prayer, instinct and your own experience are very important contributors to good supervision practice. Although there can be certain dangers in relying purely on your own experience, I'm sure you will be in a good position to offer genuine empathy and care. I've jotted down some brief references below that you may find helpful in order to develop your expertise in this field. Incidentally, have you thought about exploring further the 'instinctive' aspects of your work to take into account associated dimensions such as intuition and spiritual discernment?
Thirdly, part of the supervisor's role is to help counsellors identify their own limitations and boundaries and to know when to refer to specialists. In order to help your team members stay firmly on solid ground, it will be very important for them to know in advance when, where and how to refer for further help. Local specialists (e.g. child protection officers) are often happy to provide short training seminars for counsellors and this might help to compensate for some of the 'risk' areas where you feel less experienced or confident.
Finally, if you are likely to continue in the role of supervisor, it really is worth exploring options for formal training in this field. Details of accredited training opportunities are available from the BACP (www.bacp.co.uk) and ACC (firstname.lastname@example.org) directly.
Other ideas for supporting personal/professional development as supervisors (e.g. peer-supervision, good books, e-resources) were included in the Christian Counsellor journal (Issue 11: Oct-Dec 01) in an article entitled, "The Learning Supervisor" and this, too, may be worth glancing at as you decide on the right way forward.