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4 Things Your Supervisee Wants to Hear from You

Posted By Kyler Shumway, Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For the tiny town of Cottonwood, Idaho – population 900 people and 1800 cattle – sports were something to rally around. 

My senior year in high school, we made it to the football state championships.  When we took to the field for the championship game, it was breathtaking to see half the town in the stands, ringing cowbells and bellowing themselves hoarse.  We knew they were counting on our ragtag band of teenagers to make everyone proud and bring home the win. 

We were losing the game at halftime, physically and emotionally defeated.  I remember being on the verge of tears, outraged and fearful of the possibility of a loss – of the town’s loss.

I was dumbfounded when my coach entered the locker room with a grin on his face. 

“C’mon boys, smile!” he said. “You’ve worked hard to be here!  I am so proud of you… you’ve made us all feel like champions.”

Those words meant the world to me. 

I played harder than I had in my entire athletic career.  A simple shift in perspective and affirmation dramatically altered my drive. This was the power of leadership. 

On the playing field of integrated care, supervisors have the opportunity to equally inspire and lead others.  Many of us recognize the vitality of supervision the future of primary care behavioral health; yet, supervision was only just recently recognized as a core competency by the American Psychological Association. 

As a supervisee, I hope to share four of the most meaningful things I have been taught in my training. 

#1 – “Keep Your Chin Up”

Many supervisees (including myself) tend to be excellent self-critics.  Push yourself harder than any coach can, and no coach can push you hard enough.  Although this mentality promotes motivation and careful analysis, the focus remains on failure rather than victory. 


In my first year of clinical training, I remember discussing my work with a patient with whom I was “failing at therapy.”  We had completed around four sessions, with little to no progress towards our goal.  My supervisor wisely pointed out three things: 1) that I was still in training, 2) that the patient’s condition was stable and not worsening, and 3) that the pressure I placed on myself might actually interfere with the therapeutic relationship.  “Keep your chin up, you’ll get there” she said.  


The role of a supervisor incongruously straddles that of the coach, the administrator, and the therapist.  Although supervisees need direction and motivation to grow, sometimes encouragement can do wonders for the self-critic.  

#2 – “Thank You”

This one is more of a friendly reminder.


The importance of expressing appreciation is not unbeknownst to supervisors.  Yet, a simple thank you can go a long way. 


My colleagues and I were together at a group supervision meeting after a particularly heavy week.  As we began to discuss ongoing issues with client work and external stressors (classwork, life transitions, etc.), our supervisor caught us off guard. 


“Thank you all, so much, for your hard work and dedication despite these challenges.  Our clinic couldn’t do this without you.”


Instantly, I experienced a refueled sense of clinical purpose.  The work of a mental health professional is just as challenging as it is meaningful, yet we often lose sight of the meaning.  A well-placed “thank you” can affirm, motivate, and provide perspective to even the most burned out supervisee. 

#3 – “These are Skis”

A supervisor once shared a story about the first time they went skiing. 


“As the class began, the ski instructor held some of the equipment up and said ‘everyone: this is a ski.’  That’s when I knew I was in the right class.”


Many of the fundamental elements of behavioral health become second nature for supervisors.

As a supervisee, I have felt challenged to ride the fine line between competent and coachable.  Asking for direction, particularly when the direction seems fundamental, can feel threatening to a supervisee.  Some of the most helpful instruction I have received in supervision has focused on the fundamentals – how to document, how to introduce myself, how to use the phone system, which drinking fountain tastes best. 


The evaluator-evaluated dynamic of supervision does not always foster an environment where basic questions can also be safe questions.  Sometimes, being able to ask what a ski is can make a mountain’s difference in supervision. 


 #4 – “I am Human, Too”

The power differential in supervision is an unavoidable necessity.    


Every supervisor has a different style, yet the general structure is designed for supervisee training and oversight of patient care.  As such, the role of the supervisee can feel less-than-thou, or at least needing to prove oneself. 


One of my supervisors arrived late to our meeting looking a bit spread thin – coffee in one hand, a stack of referrals in the other.  Despite this, they arrived with their usual warm and welcoming smile.  So, I asked how they were doing. 


They chuckled, and said “Ah, I have no excuse.  I was up late watching Netflix and I slept through my alarm.  I am human, too!”


The pressure to be on top of one’s game, it seems, is mutual in supervision.  Just like the supervisee, the supervisor may also feel the weight of performance. 


Acknowledgement of the supervisor’s humanness greatly enhanced our working alliance.  I noticed myself being more willing to share my shortcomings, which then increased my supervisor’s capacity to provide feedback. 


We ended up losing that state championship game. 


My teammates and I scrapped and fought until the final whistle blew, but it just was not enough.  And while the sting of defeat still pangs me today, I will never forget the impact of my coach’s leadership. 


As supervisors and supervisees in the world of integrated care, we have the chance to provide that kind of leadership.  Your words matter.  We stand at the forefront of a monumental movement in healthcare, one that will be shaped by the standards we set as leaders and followers. 


Have you shared a similar moment as a supervisor or supervisee?  Share them with the CFHA community in the comments below!

  Kyler T. Shumway, MA, is a doctoral student in George Fox University's department of clinical psychology. Kyler graduated from Duke University in 2014 and began pursuing a career in Primary Care behavioral health. Kyler's upbringing in rural Idaho spurred a passion for bringing behavioral health services to marginalized and underserved communities. To learn more about Kyler, check out his website at 

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