7 Things to Expect from your LCSW Supervisor
Are you looking for an LCSW supervisor? Congratulations on your decision to work towards licensure! Clinical social work is a rewarding and challenging career path. It can be very fulfilling and flexible, but also competitive and overwhelming. Finding the right guidance is key to building a career that meets both your clients' needs as well as your own.
Great therapists are surrounded and supported by great mentors. We can't work in a vacuum! So, choosing your clinical supervisor is a big decision that can help shape your career for better or worse. Below, I've outlined 10 things you should look for in a clinical supervisor. My hope is that it will help you begin to own your career from the start in a way that honors you and best supports your growth.
1. Look for chemistry from the start!
Finding a supervisor (like finding a good therapist) is a little like dating. No, you shouldn't be physically attracted to your supervisor. That's a big no, no, of course. But you should feel an instant (or at the very least quick) warming to this person. If it feels awkward between you or you are totally intimidated or you don't feel heard...move on! If your schedules don't match well or you can't afford the rates or you just don't like how he/she runs things...move on! You will most likely be working with this person for a few years. Make sure it's someone who gets you.
2. Business practices should be clear
Therapists are helpers at their core. This is great and super important, but doesn't always mean they are also good business people. But whether you are going into private practice or agency work, believe me. You will need to understand paperwork requirements, practice policies, and payment issues. How can someone teach these critical skills if they are not applying them in their own policies and procedures as a supervisor? So, look for a supervisor who clearly structures how to contact them, how they will get paid, when you will meet, and what to expect.
3. Ethics, ethics, ethics
Most people just assume that a supervisor will be ethical. And most are. However, there are bad apples in every bunch. You want a supervisor that is highly knowledgable about the legal and ethical guidelines of your licensure. Look for supervisors who participate in peer supervision groups specific to providing supervision. Listen to your own gut. If something doesn't sound right, question it. An ethical supervisor will either direct you to the exact standard that supports their advice or will be willing to admit when they are wrong or need additional information themselves.
4. Share some interests with your LCSW Supervisor
The field of social work is fabulous because it is so diverse. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, you can work with infants or the elderly, in rural settings or urban, in medical settings or in your clients' homes. The range of specialties is huge! But a supervisor who has worked all their career with adults with schizophrenia is not likely well-equipped to guide you in working with autistic kids and their families. Be sure to look for a supervisor who has experience working with the populations, issues, or treatment modalities that speak to you.
5. Look for a good feedback loop
A good supervisor praises, encourages, educates, challenges, and listens. Look for someone who is comfortable doing all these things. The last thing you need is to be praised and supported in everything you are doing while not being challenged on a potential ethical dilemma. Similarly, if you only get advice during supervision and are not challenged to learn things for yourself, you might never develop the independence you will need once fully licensed.
Furthermore, you want an LCSW Supervisor who gives feedback in a way that you can hear. Obviously, this involves you being open to feedback in general, but do you prefer direct face-to-face feedback and/or written feedback? How often do you need feedback? Thinking about these things before choosing a supervisor will help you find one who fits best with your own learning style. Finally, you want a supervisor open to receiving feedback. Look for someone who listens to what you want out of supervision--someone who looks to tailor your sessions based on your educational needs.
6. Consider availability
Part of being a good fit is making sure your schedules and availability align. While a supervisor might be perfect in terms of experience and personality, if they aren't available to you either for supervision or for questions in between meetings, you will soon become frustrated and even resentful. Move on to another option instead.
7. Group vs. Individual
Have an idea before choosing a supervisor if you prefer group, individual, or some combination of the two. Every state is slightly different, but most states require at least some one-on-one supervision. Group is allowed, but usually limited to make sure you get individual feedback. Maybe you know you work better one-on-one. Or you may have financial restraints that would lean you towards more the more economical group sessions. Personally, I recommend a mixture of both. Individual supervision allows you to really hone in on your individual needs and questions. Group builds relationships with peers (which will be invaluable once you head into practice on your own) and provides more than one perspective.
Choosing an LCSW supervisor can be tricky. If you work for an agency, you might be assigned a supervisor. Hopefully this is a good fit, but if it's not, consider looking outside your employment setting for an individual supervisor who better meets your needs. Remember, these early days in your career will lay the foundation for the rest of your clinical experiences. So, take a moment to shop around, find a good fit, and never stop learning!
Traci W. Pirri, LCSW-S is a therapist in private practice in Austin, Texas. She provides individual and group supervision to budding therapists, particularly those headed towards private practice and interested in working with trauma and adoption issues.