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Clinical supervision is a formal relationship in which a more experienced member of a profession provides oversight and guidance to a junior member of the same profession. Most clinical supervisory relationships occur between individuals who work for the same organization. Clinical supervision is mostly used in the fields of mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, and psychotherapy.

The clinical supervisor's goal is to help less experienced supervisees develop into well-rounded, effective practitioners. Supervisors should help supervisees to develop needed skills to work in appropriate fields. The supervisees should be able to learn from their own experiences during the clinical supervision.

Supervisory Relationships

Once a supervisory relationship is established, clinical supervisors meet regularly with their supervisees over an extended period. The purpose of these meetings is for the supervisor to evaluate how the supervisee is performing, monitor the quality of services being offered, and provide professional support and guidance. Clinical supervisors also play a crucial role in helping supervisees to develop and maintain strong medical ethical standards. Effective clinical supervisors are knowledgeable, competent, skilled, and appropriately credentialed as both counselors and supervisors. Credentialing requirements vary by profession and state.

Clinical supervisors work closely with their supervisees to ensure that the supervisees are capable of offering the best possible care to clients. Supervisors focus on developing strong, positive relationships with their supervisees. They promote professional development by helping supervisees to develop a greater degree of self-awareness, make connections between theory and practice, obtain a stronger foundation of clinical knowledge, and improve functional skills. Clinical supervisors play four key roles with supervisees: teacher, coach, mentor, and consultant.


Clinical supervisors act as teachers, or those who provide education, to their supervisees by promoting the continual refinement of professional knowledge and skills. They may work with supervisees to identify specific developmental needs and make recommendations for how these needs can be addressed. For example, counseling supervisors may share their own knowledge and experience about specific cases with supervisees as a way to show how a problem could be resolved. Alternately, supervisors may recommend that the supervisee review certain learning materials, take additional courses with local educational institutions, or even pursue a particular certification.


Clinical supervisors act as coaches, or ones who offer support, to their supervisees in a number of ways. First, they may encourage their supervisees by affirming the clinical choices and approaches made by the supervisees. Supervisors may work on building supervisees' self-confidence so that the supervisees begin to trust their intuition when interacting with clients. They may even act as "cheerleaders" to help less experienced supervisees feel more supported and assured in their work.


Clinical supervisors act as mentors , individuals who offer advice and guidance, by offering feedback and professional counseling on professional issues. They may spend session time discussing the clinical choices made by the supervisees. Supervisors also may offer alternative viewpoints to help the supervisees see clients or issues in different ways.


Supervisors act as consultants, or experts about a certain subject, because they have expertise in their field. As consultants, supervisors carefully review the progress and outcomes of supervisees' clients to monitor how supervisees are performing and to determine how clients are progressing under the care of the supervisees. Supervisors may offer feedback on individual cases to guide the supervisees toward the best possible path to take to get the greatest outcomes with clients. They may make recommendations and suggestions to supervisees about ways to adjust treatment plans for clients.

Clinical supervisors also may play a larger consulting role at a specific organization. They may act as the organization's "gatekeepers" to ensure staff are performing to the level required and clients are receiving the best and most appropriate treatment. Clinical supervisors may be expected to make recommendations for discipline if supervisees make poor choices or consistent errors.


Clinical supervision has many benefits for supervisors, supervisees, and the organization for which they work. Some of these benefits include the following:

  • Supervisees have a strong, ongoing support network. They are able to speak directly to one or more senior professionals regarding their work as well as discuss any issues they are experiencing with clients or the organization.
  • The quality and level of clinical skills in the organization tends to steadily increase. Additionally, supervisees typically gain more complex clinical skills over time as they receive feedback from supervisors and are guided in their professional development.
  • Because all an organization's staff members are required to participate in clinical supervision, performance across the organization becomes more standardized, which is shown to have a positive effect on clients.
  • Staff members at all levels tend to feel more satisfied with their jobs. This may be due to a number of factors, including the high degree of communication promoted by the clinical supervisory relationship as well as a feeling of connection with others. Employees satisfied with their jobs usually have higher morale and a longer tenure with an organization, creating a more stable environment for both clients and other employees.
  • Client outcomes tend to improve because more professionals are participating in their cases.

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"Workforce Development 'TIPS.'" Australia's National Research Centre on Alcohol and Other Drugs Workforce Development. Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation Ltd (AER). 2005. Web. 27 Jan 2015.