How Does it Work?

Susan Reay

Supervisory Alliance

Viewed by many as the most important part of the supervisory process, the relationship between the supervisor and supervisee is critical to the supervision experience (Watkins, 2014, 2018).

  • Supervisory alliances are a strong predictor of successful supervision.
  • It is only within a safe and trusting relationship that disclosure of the supervisee’s challenges will occur.
  • A robust supervisory alliance will reduce defensiveness and increase the likelihood for the supervisee to implement corrective feedback and articulate when support is needed.
  • A solid supervisory alliance makes it easier for the supervisor to be allowed “in” to the delicate parts of the supervisee/client relationships. This process is connected to improvements in client care.

Functions of supervision

A helpful way to conceptualize the supervisor’s tasks is to break the tasks into three domains: administrative, educational, and supportive (Kadushin, 1976). The supervisor is responsible for attending to all three.

  • Administrative functions include day-to-day tasks, managing workload, facilitating paperwork, scheduling, and other necessary tasks.
  • Educational functions include providing verbal and written feedback on case notes and treatment planning, assistance with conceptualizing cases, role-playing, and giving corrective feedback.
  • Supportive functions include helping the supervisee cope with the inherent difficulties of the job, which include facilitating self-care activities and continuing education to reduce the risk of burnout and vicarious trauma.

How supervisees develop over time

Supervisees’ skills develop over time, and thus, they have different needs at different stages. It is helpful for supervisors and supervisees to consider supervisee stages of development to best tailor supervision practices to meet the current needs. Supervisee development generally occurs within three stages.


  • Stage 1: The supervisee may be anxious and worried about their performance, including about ‘saying the right thing’ or causing harm to their clients. Supervisees at this stage need support, significant feedback, and praise. A directive approach to supervision helps guide the supervisee.
  • Stage 2: The supervisee’s proficiency has increased with changing motivation and confidence levels. At this stage, the supervisee’s self-assessment of their client’s performance may be linked to their own emotions or mood after sessions.
  • Stage 3: Supervisees are primarily autonomous, stable in motivation and mood, and competent in Use-of-Self as a therapeutic tool. At this stage, supervisors should encourage supervisee autonomy by assigning more difficult cases, using less direct observation, and allowing supervisees to lead supervisory sessions (Stoltenberg, 1981; Stoltenberg & McNeill, 2010).


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Guidebook for Clinical Supervision in Nebraska Copyright © 2022 by Susan Reay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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