As a qualified practising counsellor, it is a requirement that I undertake ongoing supervision to the tune of approximately 1:12 hours of clinical practice. The recommendation is set in place by the professional bodies with which I am affiliated, the British Association forCounselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and Counselling in Scotland (COSCA), to support safe and ethical practice.
Quite right too. I have no doubt that my ability to work as an effective practitioner would be fundamentally lacking without the regular thinking time, insight and emotional and practical support that supervision affords me. How would I manage to keep myself emotionally well while holding space for the pain and suffering of people I support, without a space to download? How could I stay with the unknown-ness of another person’s process in a boundaried way, without experienced support?
Not only has this has made me think about others who work in a supportive role, where perhaps there is no provision in place for supervision, or at least, supervision that is meaningful and therefore useful, but it has also made me reflect on what it means to ‘be supervised’. How is being supervised different from being mentored? And would mandatory supervision be useful to the doula role for example?
As a midwife starting out on my career as a birth worker, my experience of supervision was mixed. From a call to extend my skills and push the boundaries of my clinicial practice to simply getting to the end of a box ticking exercise. “The world’s your oyster go out and grab it” versus “Whatever you do, tow the line and don’t get ahead of yourself.” Either way, and bearing in mind that my supervisors were my superiors in the workplace, the space did not really feel anywhere near safe or potentially creative enough for me to begin to process any issues I might have brought. This said, that was all a long time ago, and maybe there is something to note about my youth and the limitations of my professional experience at that time, that might have affected my ability to utilise supervision to its maximum benefit.
As a doula, I joined DoulaUK at the beginning, before the role of doula mentors had been developed. We relied completely on peer support, and as the network grew, those of us who were inspired to, organically assumed the role of the first course leaders and mentors. The now ongoing Doula UK mentoring process was set in place in 2004 and continues as an invaluable internal supportive network for new and developing doulas. I have, however, and to the best of my knowledge like many others who have been there from the outset, been obliged to continue to use peer support. To the great credit of my doula peers, this has nonetheless felt useful and safe enough to help me reflect, process and maintain integrity when dealing with difficult situations. But it has raised my awareness that for experienced doulas in particular, it can be a challenge to find a safe space to emotionally download. Someone to mentor The Mentor as it were.
Traditionally, I always have been vocal in the case against the professionalisation of the doula role, but when it comes to accountable supervision, I tend to agree with others in the field who have been highlighting a need for this service among the doula community for some time. I suppose though, that engendering a culture where anyone who assumes as supportive role in their job is required to access emotional and practical support for their practice, makes sense towards limiting the risk of stigmatisation. And then perhaps supervision becomes more about appreciating and maximising the benefits of a supportive relationship, highlighting the act of taking care of yourself, and less about a sense that you are being watched or feeling ashamed for seeking help because you are struggling to cope.
And taking care of yourself IS essential to being able to work effectively as a doula. So if supervision is required, it seems important that it works in a way that is useful to you. A place to think about a critical incident for example, or to explore how you are managing your business perhaps ? Or just generally time to reflect on how things are going, how well you are resourced and where you might be heading with your practice? Bearing in mind that sessions can be undertaken with anyone who has enough knowledge, skill and experience to be able to respond to the issues you bring in a respectful, thoughtful and progressive way, whether in-house, independently or as peer group members, so long as you feel you are engaged in a trusting relationship.
A mentor with whom you have a good working relationship can be invaluable, yet there may still be times when talking things through with someone who is not party to the internal politics of your workplace could be useful. And this perhaps becomes more relevant and crucial the more experienced you are in your field. Ultimately, if the reflective space does not feel safe and available enough for a degree of processing and certainly, for integration, how useful can it be for the worker?
I do believe that supervision which is led in a vibrant, dynamic way can be an empowering, creative and essentially useful route to supporting best practice, whether as a doula, a midwife, a counsellor or anyone else working ‘in relationship’ with others. Although without my recent experience of counselling supervision, I perhaps might not have felt so sure.
To find out more about supervision sessions for doulas and other birth workers on an independent basis, face to face or online, see here.