The Four Stages of Supervision

The Four Stages of Supervision

Establishing a Lasting Relationship with Your Supervisee

By Robert Taibbi

November/December 2021

In my work over the past 40-plus years as a clinical supervisor, I’ve come to see how my role must shift as supervisees move through different stages of their learning. I’ve found that clarifying these different roles—teacher, guide, gatekeeper, consultant—helps me tailor my work with my supervisees to encourage them to discover their voices, skills, and styles.


At the first stage of a supervisee’s development, the clinician is painfully aware of her inexperience. She “only knows what she doesn’t know.” She usually says she’s doing okay only because to admit her insecurity would, in her eyes, confirm what she thinks everybody is already thinking about her. She worries about Doing It Right. Her clinical goals are often vague and idealistic. Like her clients, she can get swept up in the crisis of the moment.

What do you do? You help her feel welcomed and safe. You set realistic and clear expectations—ones that are usually a bit lower than her own. You gently begin to set boundaries so she can do the same with her clients. You try to help her sort out her own problems from her clients’ problems and realize what she can control and what she can’t. You spend time assessing her skills and learning style. You give her positive feedback to offset the criticism she lays on herself.

This stage of supervision poses several challenges. If the clinician remains intimidated or continues to put up the “I’m okay” front, you essentially…

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