Reflective Supervision

Reflective supervision for psychologists

What is Reflective Supervision (RS)?

Reflective supervision is a collaborative, relationship-based approach to professional development with an emphasis on reflection.

Reflective practice is important due to the necessity of being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reactions as a therapist. Therapists also have to be aware of their own position in terms of professional status, gender, class, ethnicity and so on, and how these impact upon the therapeutic process.

What is the Aim of Reflective Supervision?

The aim of RS is to provide a supervision process that promotes the supervisee's sense of ownership, understanding, and mastery of the clinical processes in which they engage.

What is the Goal of Reflective Supervision?

The goal RS is to improve the quality of psychological services and outcomes in therapy.


Work with clients can evoke a psychologist’s own thoughts, emotions and memories. Personal experiences the psychologist brings to therapy, and associated personal reactions can interfere with the therapeutic process and its effectiveness. RS allows a venue to explore, understand, process and effectively manage the emotions, thoughts and reactions elicited when engaging as a therapist in psychological therapy.

Developmental Aspects of Reflective Supervision?

During the supervision process, the supervisee will progress through stages from novice to independent practitioner. Each stage will consist of discrete discrete and advancing skills.

As a novice, the supervisee is expected to have basic counselling and psychology skills and maybe lack confidence.

A supervisee at the end of supervision, however, will have confidence to work independently and be able to engage in appropriate self-reflection during the therapy process, conduct assessments and effective case formulations, and apply appropriate problem-solving skills.

The supervisor needs to identify the supervisees developmental stage to be able to provide appropriate supervision at each stage. The supervisor also facilitates development of the supervisee to the next stage. The process by which a supervisor encourages a supervisee to use previously acquired skills and knowledge to progress to the next stage is referred to as ‘scaffolding’. As the supervisee masters each stage and progresses through the stages, they are expected to develop advanced critical thinking skills.


Cycle of Reflective Supervision.png

1. The Event - description and clarification
(‘What happened?’)

The purpose of this stage is to tell the story to understand the issues without attempting to address them.

The supervisee claims ownership of the case through:

  1. Describing the key questions, the supervisee wants addressed in supervision, and

  2. Identifying the core issue

This initial stage is fundamental to set a clear agenda and ensure the supervisee is taking ownership of the case.

The retelling of the story enables the psychologist to hear their own telling of the event and to re-experience the situation.


The supervisor not only becomes informed of the case details but are able to observe the manner and personal reactions of the supervisee as they retell the story.

During the case description the supervisor’s approach is to:

  • Listen to the retelling of the story, and

  • Reflect on the significance of this case for the psychologist and what it reflects about the stage of their knowledge and competence.

Together the supervisee and supervisor establish exactly:

  • The question(s) being brought to the supervision session, and 

  • What the supervisee wants to take away from the session.

2. Impact - reflection
(‘What did you think and feel about it?)

During the impact stage, the student is encouraged to reflect on the issue brought to supervision and consider:

  • How it might have impacted on him or her, and

  • What meaning this event had for them in relation to current and previous experiences.

The task is to help the supervisee identify their own reactions, so the potential influence of those reactions can be managed.


Some relevant questions include:

  • How is the supervisee feeling about the issue?

  • How have these feelings been expressed?

  • Have these feelings influenced the work?

  • How have these feeling been managed?

  • What thoughts, ideas, opinions or judgements has the supervisee about the situation?

  • Have any of these been experienced before?

  • Are there any patterns emerging?

3. Implications - evaluations
(‘What frameworks have to be considered?’)

During this phase the focus moves from the supervisee to the professional broader context. Broader frameworks are considered such as:

  • Theory

  • Policy

  • Legislation

  • Treatment protocols

  • Professional ethics

Here the supervisor can be more active and guide the supervisee to undertake further reading in critical areas and apply that learned knowledge. This helps ensure consistency between practice and the broader elements described above.

It would be expected that as a supervisee advances, they consider and prepare to present the application of these elements for reflection in the supervision in the session.

4. Formulation (abstract conceptualisation): 

‘ Psychological formulation is the summation and integration of the knowledge that is acquired by the assessment process that may involve psychological, biological, and systemic factors and procedures. ...formulation will draw on psychological theory and research to provide a framework for describing a client’s problems or needs, how it developed and is being maintained.’(Division of Clinical Psychology, 2010: 5)


A formulation is a clinician’s provisional explanation, or hypothesis, to be tested (Butler, 1998; Weerasekera, 1996). 

Some tests for a good formulation:

  • Does it make theoretical sense?

  • Does it fit with the evidence?

  • Does it account for predisposing, precipitating and perpetuating factors?

  • Do others think it fits?

  • Can it be used to make predictions?

  • Can you work out how to test these predictions?

  • Does the past-history fit?

  • Does treatment based on the formulation progress as would be expected theoretically?

  • Can it be used to identify future sources of risk or difficulties for the person?

  • Are there important factors left unexplained? (Butler, 1998)

5. Active Experimentation - implementation
(‘What next?’) 

Supervision goes beyond:

  • A solution being identified, or

  • An understanding or insight being gained.

Supervision promotes a strategy or plan to be identified and then evaluated.


To evaluate a plan, the following questions might be explored:

  • Is this the best plan?

  • What are the limitations?

  • What will happen if the strategy fails?

  • What fears and knowledge gaps might negatively impact on the plan?

  • What extra preparation, resources or support does the supervisee require?

6. The Evaluation
(Has the issue been adequately covered?)

During the evaluation stage both he supervisee and supervisor reflect on whether the agenda item has been successfully addressed.

7. Meta-reflection

Once all agenda items have been covered in a supervision session there is an opportunity for meta-reflection. Meta-reflection allows time for both parties to reflect on:


  • Emerging or common themes in supervision, 

  • Challenges,

  • Development,

  • Supervisee progress, and

  • General feedback.


Feedback reassures the supervisee, keeps them on track through the supervision process and encourages them to recognise areas to be further developed.


Butler, J. (1996) ‘Professional development: practice as text, reflection as process, and self as locus’, Australian Journal of Education, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 265–283.

Davys, A. M., & Beddoe, L. (2009). The Reflective Learning Model: Supervision of Social Work Students. Social Work Education, 28(8), 919–933. https://doi.org/10.1080/02615470902748662

Division of Clinical Psychology (2010) The Core Purpose and Philosophy of the Profession, Leicester: The British Psychological Society.

Haynes, R., Corey, G., & Moulton, P. (2003). Clinical supervision in the helping professions: A practical guide. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Johnstone, L., & Dallos, R. (2006). Formulation in psychology and psychotherapy. London: Routledge.

Lambers, E. (2000). Supervision in person-centered therapy: Facilitating congruence. In E. Mearns & B. Thorne (Eds.), Person-centered therapy today: New frontiers in theory and practice (pp. 196-211). London: Sage.


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