Developing and maintaining quality supervision skills is not easy, we are not born with this attribute. The Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS) certification plays a role in assuring strong supervision. According to the ATCB Code of Ethics, Conduct, and Disciplinary Procedures “Art therapists who act as supervisors are responsible for maintaining the quality of their supervision skills and obtaining consultation or supervision for their work as supervisors whenever appropriate.” So how can we know if our supervision skills are up to par?

Most supervisors, at some point or another, have been stymied or caught off guard by unexpected events or questions within the supervisory relationship. This can lead to feelings of incompetence, defensiveness, or even a question as to their own ability to supervise. Another feeling a supervisee can evoke can be a maternal/paternal feeling, “I must take care of her/him, I’m the authority here.” When these and other feelings arise, it is important to confront them in our own supervision, our own artwork and with the supervisee.

Remembering my first supervisee—an art therapy student intern—I can’t help but wonder about the job I did then. Thinking back, I thought that my student was the ideal supervisee: she had prior work experience in art education, she asked perceptive questions, accepted suggestions, was not afraid to say what was on her mind.  Essentially, she was a “perfect” supervisee to have as a first-time supervisor. But how may I have failed her? It is impossible to know in retrospect, and my thoughts “What if… If only… Why didn’t I think to…” are moot. The point is, I do things differently now, having had more training, supervision skills development, and my own supervision. We all start somewhere, and luckily I had an excellent supervisor at that time, so hopefully that guidance and support carried over to my supervisee.

My current position of Clinical Placement Coordinator has allowed me to meet many types of supervisors, both art therapists and allied professionals. They have taught me what makes supervisors effective. as well as what makes supervisors ineffective.  Traits such as; defensiveness, poor listening skills, not making regular time for supervision or not taking it seriously, showing jealousy towards or feeling threatened by the supervisee, not being culturally competent, rigidity, and taking an authoritarian approach to supervision to name a few. Perhaps more training, and consistent, high quality supervision of the supervisor are the answers to ineffective supervision.

It seems that once we have received our ATR, supervision is finished and we do not need it anymore. This is far from the case. Having effective supervision, along with continued education in supervision over the course of one’s career is vital to developing quality supervision skills. Becoming a certified art therapy supervisor requires keeping up supervision training; ten CECs related to supervision per the five-year credentials renewal period are needed to keep the supervisor certification. Most allied fields also have supervision requirements. For art therapists, it is not difficult to get the required CECs. The AATA conference offers many supervision options; going to workshops and courses offered locally by various related fields is another way of getting supervision CECs, and online seminars and workshops can fill in any last-minute gaps. As another way of getting CECs, supervisors can count five credits for having supervision with an ATCS. The benefit of training and supervision of supervisors, is the chance to learn from people with more experience, having the opportunity to discuss challenging cases, and connecting with other supervisors.

The helping professions are continually changing, hopefully growing and becoming better at serving clients and communities. Some allied fields already require supervisor certification in order to supervise; it may be just a matter of time before all licensed professions, including art therapy, require certification. And that is a good thing for therapists, supervisees and clients.

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This article was originally published in the ATCB Review Spring 2017, Volume 24, Issue 1 

Written by:

Lisa Garlock
LCPAT, ATR-BC, ATCS,
Director-Art Therapy Credentials Board