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The One Most Powerful Thing You Can Do to Sustain Trauma-Informed Care

Regular clinical supervision for every employee who interacts with clients may seem like an un-affordable luxury. But when you consider that employees that are the most satisfied with their jobs are those that rate their supervisors most highly, feel they get regular attention and recognition, and feel they have a voice in how the work gets done, then you understand how cost effective supervision really is. Anything that cuts down on turnover and helps maintain happy, productive employees must be important.

What does supervision provide? It offers an opportunity to step back and think and a chance to vent. The supervisor has the opportunity to teach clinical thinking (looking beneath the immediate behavior to the why) and to create culture of self awareness. It is the primary place where we fight the erosion of trauma-informed thinking, and pay attention to counter transference and vicarious traumatization. Within supervision we collaboratively handle staff performance issues, and help staff to grow, which are primary mechanisms to keep staff energetic and hopeful while doing this difficult work. Furthermore supervision gives the supervisor the opportunity to notice trends in milieu and recognize when more training or support is necessary.

Supervision takes place when the employee does not have responsibility for direct supervision of clients, and away from the work space. It can be individual or in small groups. It happens on a regular schedule. Asking a person who is working how they are doing and having them say “fine” is not supervision. Neither is only speaking alone with an employee when that employee has done something wrong.

What trauma principles are important in supervision?

  • Relationships matter
  • We are all doing the best we can at the moment
  • Symptoms are adaptations- yes, even for adults
  • Current relationships are influenced by the past
  • Self awareness is essential
  • Relationships are the vehicle of growth
  • Parallel process: how we treat each other influences how we treat the clients
  • Collaboration, empowerment, caring, respect- it all matters

In short, all the principles of trauma-informed care apply equally well to supervision.

How do we see these principles in action in the various stages of a supervision session?

At the beginning:

  • Be on time and pay attention
  • Connect with the supervisee
  • Set frame and boundaries of the session: length, agenda, etc.
  • Remember details about the supervisee and their life

As the supervisee talks about clients:

  • Validate
  • Provide a safe relationship to explore personal reactions
  • Use symptoms as adaptation lens, explore how the client’s symptoms helps them solve a problem
  • Self-awareness essential for both supervisee and supervisor

Going deeper into the supervisee’s reactions:

  • Acknowledge the validity of his or her concerns
  • Explore connections between reactions and the past
  • Encourage and deepen self-awareness

When handling administrative issues:

  • Validation and push for change
  • Need to handle difficult issues kindly
  • Set clear expectations
  • Be collaborative and empowering
  • Use mutual problem solving not blaming
  • The staff member can’t have healing relationships with the clients if she or he is feeling blamed, scapegoated and angry

What are the most challenging issues in providing trauma-informed supervision?

The supervisor must wear many hats. He or she must provide both support and accountability. She or he has many roles including clinical supervisor, boss, evaluator of job performance, and role model. He or she must decide when to listen and when to problem-solve. Just as in treatment, we often jump too soon to problem solving when listening and validation are much more powerful. Supervisors must work with resistance and defensiveness. And there may be special issues such as supervising former peers, people older than you, etc. At all times we must be mindful of the boundary between supervision and therapy.

The goal of supervision is to treat your supervisee as you wish the supervisee to treat the clients. Although the time pressures we all face may push us to cancel or not plan supervision, this tool can prevent many other time-consuming headaches in the futures.

Supervision is a powerful method of maintaining hopeful, engaged, energetic workers who can provide the most effective healing possible for out clients.

 Would you like a list of guidelines for reflective or trauma-informed supervision? Get it here:
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