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Most people have had supervisors before they get very far into their college years. Supervisors make sure they are on time, fulfill their obligations, and perform satisfactorily on the job. These professionals are administrative supervisors. They don't necessarily have a specialized body of knowledge or understand all aspects of the supervisee’s job.
A professional who is training as a marriage and family therapist has a clinical supervisor: a highly qualified professional who reviews cases and takes professional responsibility for diagnoses and treatment. This individual may be required to discuss ethical and legal complexities. In many cases, the professional is not an employee of the agency where the supervisee works. The vast majority of states allow – and even expect – associate marriage and family therapists to contract with professionals. However, there are exceptions. In cases where an associate cannot contract directly, it may be permissible to arrange for supervision through an institute.
Click Here to learn about locating approved supervisors with the AAMFT Find an Approved Supervisor Resource.
It is important to know the legal policies of the particular state. Many states require that the supervisor be an experienced LMFT who has training in supervision. Those that do not permit associates to contract may set standards lower, allowing for supervision by other professionals with comparable licenses. (Jurisdictions may also do this to make it easier on rural practitioners.)
It can be a good idea to have some knowledge not only of your own state’s requirements, but those of other states. If your jurisdiction sets them substantially lower than others do, this can create issues down the line. In some cases, it can mean not receiving a professional level license immediately upon moving to a new state; professionals who have independent licensing in their own states do occasionally find themselves fulfilling hours under an associate license.
Some jurisdictions require every potential supervisor to submit paperwork and go through an approval process. If the state has its own approval/ certification process, you will likely find a list of approved professionals on the licensing site.
Many states have adopted the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) supervisor standards as their ideal, although they may set up alternate pathways. In most states, the AAMFT is a good starting place to look for supervisors (http://www.aamft.org/imis15/Content/Supervision/Supervision.aspx). Some state divisions also have resources.
You may want to seek out a professional who has training in supervision, even if this is not mandated by your board. Thomas Kimball and Alan Korinek, writing in “Managing and Resolving Conflict in the Supervisory System”, note various conditions that can contribute to conflict. Some relate to the actual practice of therapy. The professional and associate may disagree, for example, about whether individual or couple therapy is more appropriate and about what referrals are necessary. The beginning therapist may feel uncomfortable bringing up issues like drug use or sexual dysfunction with clients.
There are other conditions that can lead to conflict besides service delivery. Among these are insecurity and the need to be perceived as competent. Supervisor and supervisee may also have different ideas about how to spend the supervisory session. The supervisor may want to systematically review all documents while the supervisee wants to spend sessions discussing key cases.
It is easier to avoid conflict if there is a supervisory contract in place and both parties know what to expect. Some state licensing agencies require a detailed supervisory plan before supervision commences.
If you feel anxious about the process, you may want to research potential supervisors and select one based on experience, MFT philosophy, and/ or supervisory style. If you opt for an AAMFT-approved supervisor, you know the individual has not only had coursework in supervision, but has gone through a lengthy mentoring program. LMFT Shaun Kell, writing for the Georgian Division of the AAMFT, notes that to his knowledge no other profession sets supervisor standards so high.
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