What is the Exact Opposite of Good Clinical Supervision?


What is the Exact Opposite of Good Clinical Supervision?

Good Clinical Supervision


I woke up this morning and checked my email and like every morning I saw various Facebook updates, Amazon promotions, and random buy me stuff from around the internet, except this morning there was something a little different that stood out. It was the title “CEOs are Psychopaths.”

My interest had been peaked, so I clicked and was directed to a CBS News story about how psychopathic traits make for good CEOs.

As I read, apparently not only do psychopaths make good CEOs but there is a former Navy Seal operative who is charging big money to teach CEOs and CEO wannabes how to refine and hone their psychopathic traits while getting rid of the bad traits that get in the way of success such as empathy, caring, understanding, and other bothersome roadblocks to career advancement.

Really, was my day supposed to start like this? I rolled out of bed (but didn’t really want to) and as I brushed my teeth I got an uneasy feeling about the world, about managers, and just about people in general.

As words and feelings tossed around in my mind like a dryer on spin I found myself slowly turning this story into something positive, something useful, something helpful.

The first realization I had is that I am so happy to be a counselor. Somehow, we as counselors, have an exceptional ability to see the positive, to reframe, to turn bad into good in a way that pulls others and ourselves out of negative tailspins.

Counselors are like bringers of hope and revealers of contextual “truth.”

The second thought I had, more specifically to the point of this blog, was that these ideas, honing the traits of the psychopath and intentionally reducing empathy, are the exact opposite of what good supervisors should do.

Good supervision, and in this case I will specify counseling/social work supervision but it really applies to any supervision, is ALL about cultivating and harnessing empathy and understanding.

In management the main focus is on the bottom line, the measure of success is profit. In supervision the focus is on understanding and growth and the measure of success is confidence, genuine relationship building, and transparent collaboration with clients and others. That is what leads to positive outcomes and growth.

How do we become good supervisors? We adopt the opposite mindset of the psychopath (did I really just say that?). We seek to expand our empathy and understanding so that we can have real conversations with our supervisees and clients about how they understand the world and the lives they are living.

With empathy and understanding as a base to build upon, we add relational skills and clinical approaches to counseling but the foundation of empathy and caring has to be firm or the clinical techniques don’t matter.

I must admit that there are days when I question being a counselor and doing the hard work that we all do, but the email I got today was a gift because it reminded me that I can spend my day helping, understanding, and cultivating empathy rather than thinking of it as a bad management habit.


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J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

J. Christopher Hall, LCSW, Ph.D.

Chris holds a PhD and LCSW specializing in clinical individual and family therapy. He is a researcher, educator, practitioner, and supervisor with over 16 years experience. He has published chapters and articles in peer reviewed scientific journals and is an active scholar on the effectiveness of clinical practice.

June 3, 2014


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