Supervision is a central component of professional training and development, providing opportunities for sport psychology (SP) practitioners at all levels to use the experiences and knowledge of others to examine themselves. Supervision is also required for certification or licensure (e.g., registration, chartering) in most of the psychology and helping professions (e.g., psychology, counseling, social work), and in the exercise and sport science fields (e.g., athletic training, strength and conditioning). Those seeking supervision to fulfill degree requirements, or to become eligible for certification or licensure, must know what requirements are expected by their institutions, and the licensing bodies in that area (e.g., American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association [APA], Association for Applied Sport Psychology [AASP], British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences [BASES]). Ideally, receiving and providing supervision are career-long endeavors.
Definition and Purposes of Supervision
Supervision is a relatively long-term interpersonal relationship aimed at developing self-knowledge and comprehension of services and therapeutic processes through feedback and communication with another skilled professional. The primary goal of supervision is the welfare of clients in the supervisees’ care. SP supervision also serves several purposes for trainees, experienced practitioners, and the general public. Supervision helps trainees, and even seasoned practitioners, learn to work ethically and effectively, develop new skills, gain confidence, and enhance self-awareness—all of which are necessary for effective practice. For skilled practitioners, supervision helps ensure ongoing feedback and opportunities for growth as service providers. The general public benefits from supervision because supervisors assume high degrees of legal and ethical responsibilities for supervisees and their clients, serving gatekeeping and quality control roles that protect the public from inept, or even dangerous and exploitative, practitioners.
A Brief History of Supervision
In the fields of clinical and counseling psychology, supervision is considered a central feature of professional practice. Thousands of research articles, books, and chapters on supervision models, processes, and training in these areas of practice have been published. With regard to training, licensed psychologists and professional counselors in the United States are required to complete 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised training and, in many cases, to take coursework in supervision. The field of physical education (PE) also has a long history of supervision with an emphasis on overseeing of student teachers’ internships. As in psychology, supervision is an integral component of training and development. SP is closely related to both psychology and PE, and it is somewhat surprising that supervision has received limited attention in the SP research literature and in terms of requirements for certification (licensure, registration). For example, the BASES-accredited sport psychologists are required to have completed only directed studies and consulting under the guidance of a supervisor who is accredited. Similarly, a practitioner who becomes a Certified Consultant of the AASP (CC-AASP) must complete coursework but need to have only 400 hours of supervised practicum experience under the guidance of a supervisor who holds the CC-AASP credential. In Australia, attention to supervision of sport psychologists is greater than many other countries but that is because SP practitioners are trained as psychologists, and to become registered (i.e., licensed) psychologists, students must complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience in a master’s degree or 1,500 hours in a professional doctoral program.
The limited attention in the SP literature to supervision in terms of research and practice may both reflect and contribute to the low levels of SP supervision provided and received. A study of SP practitioners in the United Kingdom (see the last entry in the References: section) showed that 31% of those surveyed had received no supervision of their practice in the past 12 months, and 50% had participated in only one to five supervision sessions in the past year. Further, when asked about the need for supervision post accreditation (after obtaining licensure, registration, chartering), 71% reported that supervision was important only when needed. One might assume that the 29% who indicated that supervision was important and should occur monthly or fortnightly received regular supervision, but only 5% of the sample had been supervised 11 or more times in the past year. It appears that applied SP supervision is advocated as a best-practice guideline but has yet to be fully integrated into training and practice.
The Focus of Supervision
The focus of supervision varies greatly depending on the theoretical orientations and models of supervisors and supervises (e.g., psychological skills training [PST], cognitive behavioral approaches, narrative therapy models). In general, supervision involves client-case conceptualization (e.g., formulations of what is happening for the client), discussions of centered around professional growth (e.g., supervisee’s self-reflections, knowledge gained, knowledge needed), and the dynamics of the working alliance between supervisors and supervisees.
The “hows,” “whys,” and “wheres” of conducting supervision also vary widely and may include in vivo observations of a supervisee’s work with an athlete, coach, or team, and reviews, critiques, and discussions of digital audio and video recordings of client–practitioner interactions, or indirect observations through supervisees recounting their experiences in narrative forms or engaging in role plays with their supervisors to rehearse upcoming encounters with clients. Also, part of supervision may look like advanced training where supervisors instruct and model new techniques to help supervisees expand their helping repertoires. There are no specific guidelines for the frequency of supervision. AASP recommends 1 hour of supervision for every 10 hours of service delivery, but the duration and frequency of supervision vary depending on the developmental needs of the supervisee. For example, students starting their first SP practica need much more attention than a seasoned professional taking part in peer supervision.
Models of Supervision
As there are many effective approaches to psychotherapy, coaching, and teaching, so are there many different approaches to supervision. The best model of supervision is the one that fits the supervisor and supervisee in the particular circumstances in which they are working. For many SP consultants, the model of supervision is a reflection of, or runs parallel to, the type of treatment model the supervisee is employing in service delivery. For example, the supervisor of a practitioner who is addressing performance enhancement issues via a PST model might focus on the skills used in teaching those interventions to athletes. Supervisors might also work with supervisees on their own professional concerns (e.g., anxiety, irrational thinking) regarding SP practice, and may support them in using PST interventions to address their development and practice (e.g., mental rehearsal of sensitive client interactions, examination of supervisee self-talk). A supervisor using a psychodynamic approach might examine supervisee–client transference and countertransference processes, as well as the supervisor–supervisee transference and countertransference dynamics.
Most models of supervision include commonalities—supervisees’ expectations, desires, theoretical backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, skills, knowledge, and anxieties—that are discussed and used to determine the course and focus of supervision. Supervisors and supervisees usually identify mutually agreed-upon goals, monitor progress toward goals, and evaluate goal attainment. These processes typically occur in regular face-to-face encounters (or distance interactions through Internet or phone connections) between supervisors and supervisees or in small groups (or both). In the relatively long-term intimate working relationship in supervision, effective communications between supervisors and supervisees play central roles. To enhance communication and the quality of the supervision experience, it has been suggested that supervisors be mindfully present in supervision encounters. This mindful stance positions the supervisor in the here-and-now moment and nonjudgmentally open to anything that arises. The supervisory space becomes a caring and holding environment where supervisees’ strengths and frailties are both embraced in loving care. Often supervisees need to disclose to their supervisors difficult or embarrassing material (e.g., counter-transferential responses). A mindful supervisor with many Rogerian characteristics (e.g., genuine, empathic, nonjudgmental, and having unconditional positive regard) may help reduce the potential perception of threat and allow supervisees a safe and secure space to examine (with curiosity, not dread) their human qualities, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
Supervision as an Assisted Form of Self-Reflective Practice
Self-reflection is an important component of effective practice that can enhance self-awareness, help individuals identify their strengths and weaknesses, and make it more likely that practitioners will approach challenging situations in thoughtful ways. Self-reflection is an essential component of effective practice, but self-reflections cannot take the place of supervision. Supervision involves an interpersonal relationship that is focused on the development of the supervisee’s insight, professional growth, and development. Practitioners who rely on self-reflection without supervision lack an outside voice that might provide corroboration, doubt, oversight for the athlete’s welfare, and gatekeeping to protect the public and the field. Self-reflection is important, but it is probably most effective when combined with supervision.
Clarity on the part of the supervisor can make it more likely that self-reflection will be a part of the supervision process. Effective supervisors encourage self-reflection, the expression of feelings and opinions, and follow all ethical guidelines including those with regard to confidentiality and modeling professional behavior. Supervisees are likely to benefit from opportunities to self-reflect as part of supervision if they are prepared for supervision sessions, have kept up-to-date progress notes, have acted ethically, have been willing to critically examine themselves as SP practitioners, have not concealed information about their athlete sessions, and have provided feedback about supervision.
The Future of Supervision
SP lags behind psychology and PE in terms of the attention paid to supervision, but there are many opportunities with regard to supervision for SP professionals. The history of supervision in sport and performance psychology has not been particularly bright, but the future has the potential to be all that is needed to best serve the athletes with whom sport psychologists work. For example, in Australia all registered (licensed, chartered) sport and exercise psychologists have to complete at least 10 hours (every year) of continuing professional development that involves speaking to peers or mentors, in a supervision context, about their work with clients (or students). Studies have shown that post-registration supervision is often seen as ad hoc rather than as something essential to practice. A possible path for the future of supervision may be that policies and standards, such as those found in Australia, will become widespread across the globe.
- Andersen, M. B. (2002). Training and supervision in sport psychology. In T. Wilson (Clinical and Applied Psychology Section Ed.), International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences (pp. 14929–14932). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science.
- Andersen, M. B., & Tod, D. (2011). Professional pathways and territories in sport psychology. In T. Morris & P. Terry (Eds.), The new sport and exercise psychology companion (pp. 403–423). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
- Andersen, M. B., Van Raalte, J. L., & Brewer, B. W. (2000). When applied sport psychology graduate students are impaired: Ethical and legal issues in supervision. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 12, 134–149.
- Knowles, Z., Gilbourne, D., Tomlinson, V., & Anderson, A. G. (2007). Reflections on the application of reflective practice of supervision in applied sport psychology. The Sport Psychologist, 21, 109–122.
- Van Raalte, J. L., & Andersen, M. B. (2000). Supervision I: From models to doing. In M. B. Andersen (Ed.), Doing sport psychology (pp. 153–165). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Watson, J. C., II, Lubker, J. R., & Van Raalte, J. L. (2011). Problems in reflective practice: Self-bootstrapping versus therapeutic supervision. In D. Gilbourne & M. B. Andersen (Eds.), Critical essays in applied sport psychology (pp. 157–172). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Watson, J. C., II, Zizzi, S. J., Etzel, E. F., & Lubker, J. R. (2004). Applied sport psychology supervision: A survey of students and professionals. The Sport Psychologist, 18, 415–429.
- Winstone, W., & Gervis, M. (2006). Countertransference and the self-aware sport psychologist: Attitudes and patterns of professional practice. The Sport Psychologist, 20, 495–511.
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