Group Supervision at Nightingale
One of the things that sets Nightingale apart from most other practices in Vancouver is our commitment to group/peer supervision. Shane and I did our internships at the Adler Centre under the supervision and guidance of Chris Shelley. This is where we learned the power of group supervision. It was barely even a question when Shane and I established Nightingale Counselling and Research that we would model our supervisory philosophy on the one on which we learned.
And now… group supervision stands as one of the pillars of the Nightingale Way. The way it works is simple: all counsellors meet every second week for two hours with of the Clinical Directors, Shane and I. Both of us attend all meetings. To begin with, we decided to attend all meetings, because we believed it demonstrated good and positive leadership. And that remains true. But to be honest, we both attend all meetings, because it is one of the most enjoyable and productive ways of spending a couple hours every two weeks. It allows us to connect with all our counsellors from our interns to our Senior Clinicians.
Typically, conversations begin with the presentation of a client. Traditionally, clients brought to supervision are those who are for one reason or another pose some difficulty for a counsellor. It can be vulnerable for counsellors to bring clients to supervision, because when we bring clients to supervision it is really ourselves that we bring to the conversation.Why? Well… it might sound odd to hear, but there is no such thing as a difficulty with a client. If a counsellor is “struggling” with a client, it means there is some issue in the context of that counsellor’s work and relationship with that client in that moment. And since clients do not attend group supervision, the focus is often on the counsellor who has brought the client to the group.
There is often the temptation in group supervision for one of the supporting counsellors to ask the counsellor who brought the client, “have you tried this or that?” For the most part, except in some particular technical cases, that is the wrong question. Rather, the question is posed to the counsellor, “why is this client difficult for you?” “What is in your history, both person and professional, that makes this client tough?”
But it is also the case that at Nightingale that we discuss successes—not as an opportunity for collective pats on the back but because successful interventions or novel uses of language are further jumping off points for productive discussions. And just as difficult cases are an opportunity for counsellors to reflect on their own practices and beliefs and ways of interacting with clients, so too are successful ones.
We believe that group supervision is one of the most effective and efficient ways at sharpening the skills of our counsellors. We share our experiences across modalities, across genders, across generations, and because we have folks here from around the world, across nations and languages.
Weirdly… counselling can be a very lonely job. Though we do it with clients, we do our work in private. We are sworn to secrecy, as confidentiality is a cornerstone of Counselling Psychology. And so many counsellors who work on their own only get to talk with other counsellors every year or two when attending a generally high priced and branded seminar or workshop.
To work at Nightingale is fundamentally to work together.
Read below to hear the stories of counsellors who work at Nightingale and the importance that group supervision offers.
hart caplan, Dec ’23
For the second year in a row, my family and I went to Mexico for what is affectionately called “the shoulder season” here in my hometown of Squamish, BC. The shoulder season is that time of year when the rains have settled into the valley and darkness has chased us into our home by late afternoon, but the mountains are not yet covered in snow. It’s a dreary time, and a good moment to travel. This year we left for three weeks but then got caught by an illness on our return. I missed five sessions of group supervision.
Now, I really love our group clinical meetings, and I’ve been a proselytizer for them for years. But I do that in part because it’s my job to do it. As one of the Clinical Directors at Nightingale Counselling, I help to shape the clinical culture here. One of the most important ways that I do that is by building a theory and executing a practice about what good clinical culture looks like and then making sure that newcomers to our community are aligned with it. I’ve had so much personal conviction about the benefits of group clinical supervision, but my time away from it was an important experiential reminder about it’s value. I am prone to loftiness when I describe what we do in our meetings and why we do it. I often overhear myself during job interviews talking about the non-hierarchical relationship to knowledge and the bidirectional transfer of learning. I talk a lot about compassion fatigue, isolation, burnout, and the role of community engagement in helping counsellors care for themselves. But what my time away from my community showed me is something much simpler: counselling without supervision sucks.
Don’t get me wrong—I love counselling. I am a confident and highly engaged therapist, energized by the work. I read therapy, psychology, and philosophy books probably 40 weeks of the year and stay connected to the work with these routines. But even still: counselling without supervision just sucks.
At the experiential level, I am reminded that community as a vague and abstract concept is useful, but boots on the ground friendship and conversation and camaraderie are better. Group supervision allows me to think about problems outside of my own caseload, and I get to reflect in unique ways that benefits from the probing curiosity of others. I get to feel helpful to other counsellors at Nightingale, people for whom I have a deep respect. I get to participate in something bigger than just me and my caseload. I get to breathe life into my practice by giving it some air beyond the four walls of the private office that every counsellor comes to know so well. And I get to laugh and feel the vivacity of this work amidst people who carry with them the same passion and intellectual and emotional commitment that I do.
Counselling supervision is not just the attempt to create a panacea to the challenges of private counselling practice. It’s not there just to prevent bad things from happening to counsellors, even though that’s part of what it does. I believe it prevents insular thinking. It prevents feeling stuck and stagnant, and it prevents losing the forest for the trees. I think it wards off burnout, keeps us connected to the work, gives us theoretical and practical stimulation, and sets us up with refinements to our way of working. It also builds up a community of resources for counsellors to turn to in difficult moments. From the client’s side of the table, I think I would rather sit with a good counsellor backed by a group, than with an apparently great counsellor who talks to nobody but her clients.
But beyond all that, group supervision shows me that if we let it enter our practices sincerely, if we accept that it takes a few hours of our time each week, these clinical meetings can become a critical and intimate part of what makes counselling such a joyful and meaningful thing to practice.
How group supervision participates in your professional development?
My philosophy around counselling is rested on continuous growth, exploration, learning, and unending curiosity to deepen my understanding of human experience and the practice of counselling. When I joined Nightingale, it was a prerequisite in my mind that I would be granted colleagues’ time and engagement in clinical discussion. Particularly when working in private practice, where we may easily find ourselves working lone wolf style, alone with our thoughts and perspective, it seems essential to me to make a concerted effort to experience professional collaboration that takes me out of my head. My compensation in this regard is not financial—I truly see it as getting a free workshop or consultation. I am not being asked to pay for this—I am reaping tremendous value for free ;o)
What group supervision does for your confidence as a clinician?
When I hear the support and dedication to my professional growth from peers, it encourages me to continue striving for greater knowledge and understanding in my practice.
When I hear other colleagues feeling stuck or struggling with a particular client challenge, I feel less alone. Since all clinicians experience this at some point, it is important to normalize, rather than ashamedly hide the limits of our knowledge or our blind spots. It is only in this safe and inclusive space that we can leave ourselves open to learning—humbly acknowledging we are human and that we do not have all the answers.
Finally, my guilty pleasure, solving the puzzles of human experience!!! to hear a lively discussion, with perspectives, being built upon perspectives and insight and knowledge —what can I say—I love it!! I feel alive partaking in these conversations ;o)
What group supervision does for you in the room with clients?
I rarely leave a clinical meeting without trying something I learned in that room with clients. I take with me different perspectives, approaches, frameworks for me to conceptualize a client’s circumstance. I know most colleagues may not do this, but I often share with clients that I have discussed their case with colleagues—this is shared as a sign of dedication and respect. I want my clients to know that I care, and that people beyond me also care—that all of Nightingale is interested in seeing them land in their preferred place. As a feminist, I humbly place myself alongside colleagues and clients—from both I can learn, I can further leverage wisdom shared between the two. I take concepts and bring them down to earth. What could I be doing differently in the room? It is a very pragmatic approach I take in clinical.
What group supervision does for you with respect to your relationships with your colleagues?
Knowing more intellectually intimately who I work alongside with adds to my overall feeling of safety in the workplace. It also builds a strong sense of community for me, a value I hold dearly. I feel cared for, seen, and understood by my colleagues and only hope I fulfill this same role for them in any way I can. To feel you risk making mistakes in practice requires an overall feeling of safety to express, if we are to have any chance of not repeating mistakes.
What group supervision does for your relationship with Shane and hart?
As a feminist, woman, mother, wife I know I have a specific perspective and way of navigating the world. When I first started working with Shane and hart, I was very much interested in learning more from a male perspective. This is only possible since I feel safe around them. In clinical, that feeling of safety, support, encouragement has only grown. They both have very different styles and I offer additionally a different style, but the common thread is the deep care for clients. What I gain from both Shane and hart is how very distinct approaches can nevertheless lead to beautiful outcomes. This encourages greater flexibility for me in practice, rather than risking remaining entrenched in one intellectual position. Seeing and breathing professional diversity simply allows for greater growth.