I seem to be in a reflective mood of late and was thinking back over my relationship with supervision. How it’s changed, why I have evolved from initially thinking 'I don't need it', to it becoming the main part of the work I offer and, why on earth I would spend the last 4 years (and still counting) submerged in researching it for my doctorate!
So, in the beginning…
I was a newly qualified Probation Officer, working in a lifer prison. My day-to-day work involved interviewing lifers for reports as part of their progression through the prison system. I had already worked in a prison before, so the ‘other worldliness’ of working there was not new to me, nor was working with people who had committed crimes, I’d been working within probation for a few years. The world of lifers was a challenge, as the nature of the report writing meant that I had to spend a good deal of time assessing the prisoner, their life story, the crime and how they had addressed their rehabilitation in custody. The work was interesting, challenging, and difficult. Because the prisoners were lifers, this meant that they had been involved in, sometimes horrendous, acts of violence to warrant the life sentence. To immerse myself into understanding and discussing these levels of violent acts took its toll.
To counteract this, I was expected to attend monthly, mandatory clinical supervision with a psychotherapist, I’ll call her J. At the start I had no idea how, or why it would help me. I always felt like I was resilient and was able to ‘hold’ the work, with little impact on my personal life or professional wellbeing. Which I now know was not only naïve, but potentially damaging for my longevity in the job and my overall wellness. You see, you can't unknow what you know. Working with trauma changes your world view.
So, of I went to see J, she was a highly experienced, warm, no-nonsense supervisor, we hit it off straight away! It was this meeting that was the catalyst in my journey with supervision. She explained how I could use the space to reflect on my work and how it impacts my overall wellbeing, I could bring the challenges and success of my work and she also ‘gave me permission’ to bring other stuff about me and my life. It wasn’t therapy, but my goodness it was therapeutic! I haven’t left supervision since.
I recall one appointment asking J, “how do I sit in your chair?”....
The journey continues…
So, in essence, my passion for supervision comes from having experienced how useful it has been, across several professional roles where I’ve helped others. It has kept me able to reflect on my work and my' self', both personally and professionally. I know the value of having a space where I can examine my practice, my resilience, the ‘ouch’ moments, and the ‘hooray’ moments, all with an experienced, independent professional.
J has been pivotal in me being able to 'sit in my own chair' as a supervisor and develop my specialist interest in it. I can’t thank her enough, as I now can help others reflect on their work and resilience, so that they can continue to help others. Fundamentally, it's an essential part of your resilience toolkit if you are a 'helping professional'. I see the value of it across the wide range of the helping professions, to such an extent that I'm submerged in researching self-care in supervision for my doctorate, and I can't wait to share the findings!
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