No. 6: Supervision

I must be getting old. How can I have a daughter who is old enough to babysit? Isn’t twelve too young? How old was I when I first babysat? Oh, geez, I was twelve!

Her dad and I need to figure this out. If we let her, she’d be watching a five year old and a four year old this Saturday from 2:30 to 5:30. That’s not a big deal, right? She gets along great with those kids. They seem to listen to her. She’s quite the little taskmaster, actually. I’ve heard how she barks orders at them when they are playing house in the neighbors’ back yard. Honestly, she sounds like me. She’s more responsible than I was at her age.

She really wouldn’t be on her own. I’ll be at my sister’s baby shower but her dad will be here right next door. If anything serious happened, he’d be there. He can keep an eye and ear out for her. That makes me feel better. She’ll have supervision.


It can be a struggle for parents to know how much supervision their children need. Anxious, obsessive parents rarely let their children out of their sight. As well intentioned as this parenting strategy is (i.e., it is usually an attempt to keep children safe), obsessive parenting will not protect a child from sickness and injury and evidence suggests that providing too much supervision and setting overly strict rules may contribute to the development of major mental health issues in adulthood such as obsessive compulsive disorder (Timpano et al., 2010). The other end of the parenting extreme is also problematic. When children have overly permissive parents who don’t model healthy behaviors or provide sufficient supervision, they are more likely to pick up bad habits like smoking and abusing alcohol and they also struggle more in their relationships (e.g., listen to this Freakonomics podcast for an overview of the influence parents have on their children).

When I work with parents, I remind them that the reward for good parenting is that their children will leave them. Of course, I am not telling them that if they do a good job their children won’t want to talk with them, will no longer love them, or will refuse to come visit on weekends and holidays. I am saying something else entirely. Good parenting teaches children how to live a life of their own, one that does not require regular parental supervision. When children become well-adjusted adults, they usually have loving relationships with their parents and deeply value the time they spend with them. Yes, a typical result of good parenting is that children eventually leave the home; good parents, in addition to feeling some sadness when their children leave, find the experience to be strangely fulfilling. More often than not, they discover that they remain an important part of their children’s lives.


It is common for therapists-in-training to receive between two and three hours of weekly clinical supervision. It is in supervision that therapists synthesize 20-30 hours of weekly academic work with 10-20 hours of weekly clinical experience. Supervision is a place where therapists receive feedback and work with their peers and supervisor to develop treatment plans for their clients. Just as a little exercise goes a long way toward improving physical health, a relatively brief weekly supervision meeting can make a huge impact on therapists’ development and the effectiveness of their work with clients.

Good supervision experiences allow therapists to grow personally while they develop technical skills. One study of therapy trainees’ best and worst supervision experiences revealed that the best supervisors were those who welcomed creativity, were accessible and open to feedback, taught practical skills, were respectful, accepted mistakes as part of the learning experience, were direct and straightforward, and provided regular praise and encouragement. The best supervisors adopted a leadership style that was neither micromanaging nor laissez-faire. As long as they were not the emphasis of supervision, therapy trainees said they appreciated when their supervisor made them aware of their skill-deficits and called them on their resistance to the learning process. This shows that good supervision favors discussion of individual strengths without avoiding discussion of growth areas.

Supervision is Essential

A good supervisor is a teacher, encourager, and protector. All of us need supervision from time to time. Under the supervision of parents, teachers, and mentors we learn life’s most important lessons that keep us safe, broaden our minds, grant us wisdom, show us how to love, and teach us how to guide the next generation.