Providing constructive feedback in clinical supervision

Written by George B. Haarman, PsyD, LMFT
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6 simple strategies for success

Therapy is both an art and a science. Clinical supervision allows for new mental health practitioners to gain experience, insight, and confidence from a more seasoned professional.

But the relationship between a supervisor and a supervisee is different from the relationship between a clinician and a client. When stepping into a supervisory role for the first time, many people may struggle with what kind of feedback to provide, how best to deliver criticism, and how to build rapport with their supervisee.

One starting point is to offer constructive feedback. This is more than just simple praise or criticism. It is given with the idea that the person can then make some change in their approach or style to improve the quality of care they provide to clients.

This feedback should be based on factual observations and data sets like client surveys, not your personal feelings. There’s nothing wrong with statements like “I would typically…”, but these aren’t genuine feedback. They’re simply an expression of preferences.

Your feedback should address some specific issue or concern, so that your supervisee is left with a direction and concrete problem to address. It should be honest, but not delivered in a harsh or bitter way. Additionally, it should be positive without shying away from critiquing areas of improvement.

You may worry that this kind of feedback will damage or destroy your relationship with your supervisee, but good constructive feedback will actually strengthen your working relationship. It should come across clearly that your intent is not to disparage but to improve the supervisee’s skill set.

Always remember: The purpose of constructive feedback is to raise awareness of an individual’s behavior in a way that will lead to improvement. Here are six helpful tips to help you get started:

1. Use the feedback sandwich

When you’re giving someone constructive feedback, remember the acronym PIP. Start by finding something positive in the situation. Provide the critique or need for improvement. And end with the positive results to be obtained if acted on.

2. Focus on the situation

Don’t attack the supervisee personally. Make sure to comment on the issue, not the person. Feedback should not be about their character, but instead about a specific behavior. A statement like “you aren’t detail oriented” feels like an attack, while “an important detail was overlooked” offers room for growth.

It can be helpful to avoid using active voice and the word “you.” Use passive voice instead. Consider the difference between how these two statements may be perceived: “What could you have done differently?” versus “What could have been handled differently?”

3. Be specific with feedback

Be focused in what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t do global feedback; provide specifics as to who, what, and when. Remember not to ask for too much change. Your goal isn’t to make your supervisee perfect, but to help them move to the next proximal stage of development.

Being specific goes for both strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you’re catching your supervisee doing things right and providing feedback on this as often as you’re catching negatives and mistakes.

4. Only comment on things that can be actionable

Only provide constructive feedback on things your supervisee can do something about. Commenting on circumstances that they can’t change or control will only make them feel discouraged. Remember to only provide feedback on things that can be done differently in the future.

5. Give recommendations on how to improve

Don’t shy away from offering your thoughts on areas of improvement. Your recommendation provides a direction and a call to action. Supply feedback and suggest a course of action, but allow for conversation, dialogue, and ownership.

6. Don’t make assumptions

You may have received a complaint from a client and are ready to meet with your supervisee about it, but have you gotten your supervisee’s perspective on the situation? You may find out that clients aren’t always giving you an accurate picture. Provide your supervisee with an opportunity to clarify their perspective and actions. Hear both sides of the story before deciding a way forward.

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Register today.

George B. Haarman, PsyD, LMFT, is a licensed clinical psychologist and a licensed marriage and family therapist with over 40 years of experience. A member of the American Psychological Association and Kentucky Psychological Association, Dr. Haarman is in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky, and serves as a consultant to several school systems regarding the assessment of children. For 24 years, Dr. Haarman worked in the Department of Human Services (DHS) in Louisville, serving as the deputy director for the last 12 years of his tenure. His prior experience with DHS included working with youth detention centers, juvenile group homes, child protective services, and juvenile probation. Dr. Haarman received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Spalding University and has been an instructor at Jefferson Community College, Bellarmine University, and Spalding University. He has presented seminars regionally and nationally on psychopathology, depression, and emotional disorders in children and adolescents. He is also the author of three books: “School Refusal: Children Who Can’t or Won’t Go to School,” “Mastering DSM-5®,” and “Clinical Supervision: Legal, Ethical, and Risk Management Issues.”

Learn more about his educational products, including upcoming live seminars, by clicking here.

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