blue white and orange abstract painting

Considerations of the use of Power in the Supervisory relationship

With a professional obligation to engage in a supervisory relationship throughout the entire of a therapist’s career demanded by professional codes of BACP, UKCP, BSP the supervisee is compelled to be supervised and this creates a significant power difference.

‘because clinical supervision serves an executive function and supervisors are in a hierarchical relationship in which supervisors serve as gatekeepers…supervisors are in an inherently vulnerable position’

(Ellis, 2017:4)

Conversely, I am also alert to a sense of caution around therapists who chooses to work closely with traumatised clients as this context always provides the potential for those man wishing to exploit their power over others.

First, I will explore the power difference I have in my position as a supervisor, here the dangers go from abusing therapists in Supervision to being unhelpful and a waste of a therapists’ time, energy and money. At the lighter end of this continuum, I recall Madison’s dilemma that once the later stages of Stoltenberg & Delworth (1987) developmental model have been reached and the established therapist no longer requires frequent practical help we are obligated to, ‘avoid supervision becoming a reluctant obligation or a professional habit?’ (2004:1). ‘Harmful Supervision will be discussed further in Criteria 8 through Ellis’ (2017) work in. I agree with Madison’s observation that ‘Existentialist Supervision’ provides a ‘major avenue’ (2004:3) for working safely with established therapists. This is to say there is always opportunity in the Supervisory relationship to unpack experience.

When a supervisor fails to be a supportive resource for the supervisee the supervisee who remains unable to articulate the above dilemma has already begin to withdraw. Supervision has become inadequate and risk that Supervision is hoped to mitigate against are present, Madison (2004) describes this as ‘a secretive world of unsupervised practice or even malpractice’ (p.2). 

A supervisee who is unable to articulate their experience is likely to be in a Supervisory relationship where the Supervisor holds too much power, whether through complacency or cruelty a deliberate withholding of the PCA by the supervisor has a deadening effect on the relationship. One way this might be acted out is for the supervisor to tell the supervisee how they are in a Therapeutic or Supervisory relationship and one way this can be avoided is to encourage the supervisee to develop their own sense of what ‘fits’ with their experience and to explore this together. When a supervisor insists that a therapist is experiencing ‘transference’ or a ‘parallel process’ rather than empowering the supervisee to check for this phenomena themselves, the effect is harmful. 

From an Existential, Phenomenological perspective, authors such as Hawkins & Shohet (2013) and Page & Wosket (1994) complicate things unnecessarily by their use of ‘transference’, ‘countertransference’ and ‘parallel processes’. While Psychoanalytic terms have their role, when there is a power difference these terms have the potential be used to blame and fault a supervisee who feels compelled to agree, the supervisee is hampered by conceptual labels for things which cannot be embodied explored with the ‘felt sense’ (Gendlin,1966) and so acknowledged or refuted. Even when the terms are used by a supervisor who demonstrates a PCA if the supervisee cannot locate them within her own, ideally somatised, frame of reference, they are potentially stigmatising and remain as stuck processes with the supervisee is unsure how to change. An explicit Phenomenological approach encourages a mutual experienced by both professionals of the stuck process in the Therapeutic and Supervisory relationships and offers a chance to relationally work with the experience, cultivating both an exploratory and democratic alliance and a chance for the next therapeutic steps to emerge.

Having this working alliance is essential for me to trust that the therapist I am supporting is as they present themself. I certainly would not want to accuse a supervisee of targeting vulnerable people when they may be doing really healing work with them or have it as an unspoken question between us. And yet the Supervision training course began on the weekend full of allegations against Russell Brand, representing a resurgence of the ‘Me Too’ conversation in British media. To me it is significant that we were reminded that we are situated in a Systemic context which both acknowledges and ignores widespread, blatant patterns of abuse against female trauma survivors by men. While holding the values of the PCA at a relational level I see the systemic context and feel concern when Roger’s (1989/1967:309) prizing, a ‘basic trust – a belief that this other person is somehow fundamentally trustworthy’ is assumed rather than grounded in Experiential relationship. Theorists from Thomson, G (2004) to Proctor’s Supervision Alliance Model (2010)

assumes too easily that practitioners are sufficiently trained and committed to be mature, self-reflective individuals and that our professional communities are capable of sufficient safeguarding, despite frequent examples that this is not the case. 

In a way similar to how family courts work well when there is no abuse and fail to protect when there are clear, recognisable patterns, sometimes even lending the abuser their protection and status, our ethical frameworks and professional communities can create a false illusion of safety which is comforting but allows systemic abuse to go unchecked.  Therefore, Supervision must not be reduced to static models, frameworks, laws and fuzzy assumptions in complacent professional communities, nor can stereotyping and accusing be a way forward. In time, our ethics around Supervision need to be reimagined in terms of responding to harm in the cultural landscape in the wake of MeToo, Black Lives Matter and the recognition of Systemic Post-colonial harm.

For now the Relational, Existential processes of deep listening and being is a way to check for safe working. In my recorded session I commit to his clients by holding my knowledge of how systemic harm plays out in our gendered landscape by men who claim to be on the side of women and see themselves of allies; sometimes these men are competent, safe resources, sometimes well-intentioned, naïve, and dangerous and at other times engaging in malpractice.  Simultaneously, I listen deeply into the process he describes and though a part of me is actively looking and checking I sense authenticity, humility, care, respect, and having done this I can continue to hold my supervisee with unconditional positive regard, for me Rogerian ‘prizing’ is an active experience rather than a default.

Note: for examples of this see a note at the end of the bibliography


Ellis, M.V. Englann J. Taylor, Dylan A. Corp, Heidi Hutman & Kelsey A.

Kangos (2017). ‘Narratives of harmful clinical supervision: Introduction to the Special Issue’, The Clinical Supervisor, 36:1, 4–19, DOI: 10.1080/07325223.2017.1297753

Gendlin, E.T. (1966). ‘The discovery of felt meaning’. In J.B. McDonald & R.R. Leeper (Eds.), Language and meaning. Papers from the ASCD Conference, The Curriculum Research Institute (Nov. 21-24, 1964 & March 20-23, 1965), pp. 45-62. Washington, DC: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. From

Hawkins, P. & Shohet, R. (2013). Supervision in the Helping Professions. OUP: Milton Keynes

Madison, G. (2004). ‘Focusing-Oriented Supervision’ In Tudor, K. and Worrall, M. (ed.) Freedom to Practice. London: PCCS Books

Stoltenberg, C. D., Delworth, U. (1987). Supervising Counselors and Therapists: A Developmental Approach. United States: Jossey-Bass

Page, S. & Wosket, V. (1994). Supervising the Counsellor. Routledge: London

Proctor, B. (04 October 2010). Training for the supervision alliance from Routledge

Handbook of Clinical Supervision, Fundamental International Themes Routledge

[Accessed 04 November 2023]

Rogers, C. R. ‘The Politics of Education’. In H. Kirschenbaum and V.L. Henderson (Eds.) The Carl Rogers Reader (pp. 323–34). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (original work published in 1967)

Thomson, G. (2004). ‘Hoops, Hurdles and Thresholds: Supervising Therapists through Training and Qualification’ In Tudor, K (2004). Freedom to Practice K. London: PCCS Books


Summers, H. (2023). Family Court Files: Parental alienation ‘used to silence claims of abuse. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Available from: [Accessed 27 January 2024]

The University of Manchester. (2023) Shocking impact of family courts on women’s health exposed. Available from: [Accessed 27 January 2024]

Leonetti, C. (2022). How the Family Court rewards abusive behaviour rather than recognising it. The University of Auckland. Available from: [Accessed 27 January 2024]

Parkinson, P. (2013). Violence, abuse and the limits of shared parental responsibility. Family Matters, pp. 92, 7-17 Available from: [Accessed 27 January 2024]

Leave a Reply