3 Ways to Transform Your Experience of Supervision

Clinical work can be incredibly difficult and fraught with multi-layered problems.  It is for these reasons that supervision is a must for all of us, should we desire to develop our practice and enhance the clinical skills of our staff.

Guest author: Dan Lawson, LMHC, CASAC

“Water the flowers, not the weeds.” Fletcher Peacock

1. Make a Positive Start

Supervision is a parallel process.  Building rapport is essential in developing the kind of relationship that produces remarkable clinical results.  Before getting to work on goals, it is important to relax both the minds of the supervisor and the supervisee.  We can do this by spending the first few minutes of supervision targeting confidence.  Increasing confidence allows for both goal creation and goal consensus in the supervisory relationship.

Increase confidence by simply assisting the supervisee to recognize their strengths and successes through the use of process questions (i.e. How did you do that?).  If we are able to teach our staff to self-validate, they become more resilient, work more independently, and demonstrate more approach (goal driven) behaviors.

[Try this: Obtain competencies in your staff.  Begin by asking your supervisee, “What have you done that you are you most proud of since our last meeting?” or “Where have you been more successful since our last meeting?”

For a first-time supervision meeting, ask, “Please tell me about your best accomplishment thus far in your life.”  Continue to ask how they achieved this success and what character strengths are reflected from that experience that can be used in the current clinical work.

Studying our supervisees’ patterns of success allows us to understand how they learn, use their skills, and overcome difficulties.  All these dimensions can be transferred to their clinical work.

2. Maintain a Goal Focus

Understanding the nature of the supervisory relationship means first clarifying the goal of supervision itself (which may change at each meeting).  Maintaining a goal focus each meeting keeps things intentional, increases motivation, and avoids emotionalism that can disrupt the supervisory relationship.

[Try this: Start by asking your supervisee, “What’s your best hope in our meeting today?”  This assists in focusing the conversation and allows the supervisee to communicate their immediate need.  With continued practice, the supervisee becomes more and more aware of the appropriate use of supervision and comes prepared for supervision.  This also communicates respect, as the supervisee is seen as a collaborator and their needs viewed as important during the supervision process.

As the supervisee’s agenda is addressed early in the supervision, urgency does not build and you will have an easier time communicating your own agenda as supervisor during the time you both are together.

3. Work on Progress

Discussing and looking for signs and signals of more progress is helpful for both supervisors and their staff.  Helping to build off success, rather than fixing what is broken, maintains positive momentum and engagement in the learning process.  As clinicians study their success, they are not as prone to having to protect their ego and have greater capacity to learn from error.

It is important that supervisors take a growth mindset with their supervisees, recognizing that failure is necessary for learning to take place.

Try this:  Look for exceptions.  For example:   If your supervisee says that he really wants to get better at leaving work on time; have them pay attention to times when they are able to keep to their schedule either at work or in their personal life.  Ask them “How were you able to make that happen?”  Studying the exceptions can open up more awareness of possible solutions to their current difficulty.


The employee experience produces the client experience. The way we engage in the supervisory relationship has a deep impact on those we train and educate as well as the way they deliver services to their own clients.  When we change what we focus on in supervision, the focus of our supervisees’ changes, and that can make a world of difference for their clients.  Become a good gardener; water the flowers, not the weeds.  Teach your staff to do the same.

References and Resources


The Cycle of Excellence: Using Deliberate Practice to Improve Supervision and Training by Tony Rousmaniere, Rodney K. Goodyear, Scott D. Miller, Bruce E. Wampold, 2017

Strength Based Clinical Supervision: A Positive Psychology Approach to Clinical Training by John C. Wade and Janice E. Jones, 2015

Handbook of Positive Supervision: For Supervisors, Facilitators, and Peer Groups by Fredrike Bannink 2015

The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact  by Chip and Dan Heath

1001 Solution-Focused Questions by Fredrike Bannink

Solution-Focused Brief Therapy: Its Effective Use in Agency Settings by Teri Pichot

The Heroic Client: A Revolutionary Way to Improve Effectiveness Through Client-Directed, Outcome-Informed Therapy by Barry L Duncan, Jacqueline A. Sparks, and Scott D. Miller

The Heart & Soul of Change: Delivering what Works in Therapy by Barry Duncan, Scott Miller, Bruce Wampold, and Mark Hubble



Author Bio

Daniel Lawson, LMHC, CASAC, works in private practice in Buffalo, NY. He specializes in a variety of areas including solution-focused supervision. Dan is a passionate, eclectic practitioner and bases his practice heavily on a solution-focused approach to therapy.  He also uses DBT, positive psychology, mindfulness, CBT, existential, motivational interviewing, and narrative therapy. Dan has an additional specialty in supporting Catholic men and women as he combines his faith with his psychological training to provide therapy deeply rooted in Catholic Theology and Philosophy. As a balanced professional, he works effectively with his clients regardless of their spiritual/religious beliefs.  Prior to starting a private practice, Dan worked at Horizon Health Services for ten years. In addition to his clinical experience, Dan is a dynamic trainer, keynote speaker, and provides individual and organizational consultation and training services.  Visit his websites for information or to contact him at Catholic Therapy Solutions or Counselors Corner.  

Published 3/20/18

instructor Dan Lawson, LMHC, CASAC.