Understanding Supervision and the Importance of Self-Care

As the end of our MSc Speech and Language Sciences course at UCL was fast approaching, and many people were starting to realise that we will all soon have to face reality again, Cathy and Sam’s visit was a welcome reminder of the importance of self-care in our future profession.

As a student on placement, I found that I always had someone overseeing my work, someone to answer my persistent questions, someone to provide me with guidance and to support my learning. I could feel as independent as I liked, but was protected somewhat by a ‘student bubble’. Suddenly I realised that September is looming and I will be out in the real world, working as a newly qualified Speech and Language Therapist, with no personal educator or placement peer to support me. That can feel quite daunting.

Who do I turn to if I have questions? What if I don’t know what to do? What happens when I get given more complex clients that are often not on a student’s caseload? Cathy and Sam’s visit was excellently timed to put us all at ease and answered these questions.

I worked for the NHS prior to this degree, so I was fortunate enough to have a positive experience of supervision. I’ll be honest, though – I wasn’t aware of the supervision structure at all, I just attended meetings when I was told to and shared experiences when I had them. Cathy and Sam’s session enabled me to reflect on my previous experience, and made me realise that I had managerial supervision with my line manager (in this case, the ward sister), and professional supervision with a Band 6 therapist. I was fortunate that my line manager recognised that I wanted to be a speech and language therapist (SLT), and she arranged for me to have an SLT as my professional supervisor.

I had professional supervision once a month and managerial supervision every 6 months. I found my professional supervision to be more useful to me, personally. I was given the opportunity to discuss my learning needs on the job, my personal objectives, and to debrief after some very difficult cases. It was a time to reflect on my own practice, and to think about the future. Supervision with my personal educators as a student seemed different. I always felt somewhat reserved as you are aware you are being assessed.

During our session with Cathy and Sam, we were asked to write qualities of a supervisor and a supervisee. It was interesting to see that we all had the same idea of what we would expect, common themes being around honesty, balance and supportiveness. As a group, we offered our own experiences of supervision, and it was revealing that many people who had previously worked outside of the NHS had felt that they had not received satisfactory supervision. Many people reflected my feelings about supervision as a student, stating they were very aware they were being assessed, which often limited what they would be willing to discuss, especially when it came to being uncertain about what you were doing with a client.

My previous job was as a Therapy Assistant. I wasn’t expected to know everything, I learnt most of what I knew whilst on the job and I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. As a newly qualified therapist, I believe there is a worry that we are expected to know everything, and for all the knowledge to be freshly available to us. Because of this, I did not think I would receive supervision in the same way as I did in my old job. Imagine my surprise when Cathy and Sam revealed that I would in fact be entitled to more!

Whilst there is no nationally prescribed frequency or duration for supervision, it is recommended by the RCSLT best practice guidance that newly qualified therapists receive one hour a week during the first three months, followed by one hour a month thereafter. This is for managerial and professional supervision, meaning that I would receive two hours a week of supervision for the first three months on the job. This was a great relief to hear. Even if I find that I have no questions (which is unlikely!), it is good to know that I have the option, should I need it.

As Speech and Language Therapists, we work in a wide variety of settings with many different client groups. Sometimes our work can be incredibly emotionally challenging, and I have already witnessed this as a student and as a therapy assistant on a stroke unit. It is imperative that we make the most of supervision, and that we know what we are entitled to, especially as newly qualified therapists. Our first jobs will undoubtedly shape our future professions; it would be a shame for someone to become overwhelmed by their experiences which could negatively impact their future practice, when it could be shared and dealt with during supervision.

I would like to thank Cathy and Sam for putting all of our minds at rest and for letting us know what to expect as newly qualified therapists. It was a great session to learn and share experiences, and a chance to reflect on what we feel we may all individually wish to gain from supervision in the future.

Kim Talbot