Among the emergency procedures many counsellors are now drawing on as they take their work online for the first time, I have noticed that supervision is, concerningly, often being missed out. In today’s blog, I want to talk about some ways in which online supervision may differ from face-to-face supervision.
Online supervision requires us to acknowledge that, in addition to the many relationships that supervisees usually bring in to the counselling space, there is now the relationship with technology. It’s there in the middle, supporting and surrounding the work. And it has to be named and acknowledged.
In these early days, supervisors may find they are required to bridge the cyber gap of our supervisees’ knowledge with basic information and signposting. Perhaps more than ever, (online) supervision needs to be a place where it’s ok to express negative thoughts and not-knowing.
Many parallel processes may be coming to light as both clients and supervisees find themselves thrust into the online therapeutic world, and not out of choice. Supervisors may notice parallels in faulty internet connections, forgotten or rearranged sessions, late attendance or lack of payment. Exploring whether there is simply an error, or something unconscious at play, can be fruitful. The supervisor plunged into online practice can call on their prior experience of working with the counsellor to gauge the impact of technology – both positive and negative.
Online disinhibition is a phenomenon whereby we might behave differently online. Consider the concept of the ‘keyboard warrior’, and transfer that to the counselling session. The remoteness of the contact may mean that counsellors find themselves facing challenges from clients who would not behave in this way in the counselling space. This new level of intensity may be transferred to the supervision session, sometimes to the bewilderment of both counsellor and supervisor.
The online counsellor may find, for instance, that they are receiving unexpected disclosures of abuse. These can happen rapidly and unexpectedly in the online world, assisted by the combination of both distance and intimacy that video or text offers.
Alternatively, the supervisor may observe a detachment they don’t recognise in their supervisee, as well-known safety mechanisms belonging to either the client or the supervisee begin to develop. Online supervisors should watch out for times when the focus is being redirected from counselling work. In particular, opportunities to hide anxiety and smudge boundaries (is your supervisee attending a session while sitting on their bed, for example?) are increased when connecting online.
The computer can act as both shield and microphone to the outside world. A feeling of sadness, panic and anxiety is around for many at this time. This can be hard to shake off, and I notice the heavy energy can be felt strongly via webcam.
It is also important to observe that face-to-face models of supervision were not developed at the same time as trolling, catfishing and ghosting became methods of communication. This meant it did not feel necessary to consider the impact of technology on ourselves and each other in the counselling space. Now, perhaps, this is something we are all switching on to.
We are not at the end of the information highway any more than we are at the end of the ongoing world crisis. As supervisors, whether online-trained or learning as we go, we must continue to adapt to meet these challenges.
You can view information about Online Training for Counsellors’ CPCAB Diploma in Online Therapeutic Supervision here.
Online Training for Counsellors has training aimed at all levels, including an online Diploma in Supervision
The original version of this article was published on the PESI Blog on 14 April 2020