Nice But Not Necessary—And Other Clinical Supervision Myths Part Two

One thing I love about my MFT PhD program at Antioch New England is the opportunity to provide clinical supervision to masters students as they embark on their journey towards becoming therapists. As a student of experiential and Emotionally Focused Therapy, I feel strongly that effective supervision starts with developing a secure bond with each supervisee and, when you’re lucky enough to have a group of supervisees, building security and cohesiveness within the group as well.  In our Masters program students start with live supervision, and then ultimately graduate to self-report and video review and eventually more distance supervision as they undertake their internships. Working with student therapists, over our year together my key focus was on helping build confidence, growing within a theory that personally resonates, and exploring the multitude of person-of-the-therapist issues that arise starting with seeing first clients.

I have had the honor of supervising two cohorts of supervisees (my second one will end in August), and each experience has been humbling, exciting, terrifying, rewarding, and challenging on many levels. Over this time I have learned that supervising is not only critical to the supervisee’s growth but also to the growth of the supervisor. I’m pretty sure I learned more about myself through this experience than any other experience in my program. It is my fondest hope that I will have the opportunity to continue to supervise therapists throughout my career.

This May, my first cohort of supervisees graduated and I was so excited for them, I could barely stand it. My mind raced with questions: what were they feeling, thinking, and exploring as they left the security of an institution and embarked on their careers? What might they need as they spread their wings? What do they wish they had known before embarking on this career? What can we learn from them as they face the field with fresh eyes?

I posed a set of questions to them and received answers that could benefit all of us educators, supervisors, researchers, and students alike. Below are their responses that reflect a few perspective, I would also love to hear from anyone that is newly embarking on a career in the field! Please respond in the comments section.

What advice would you give incoming graduate students who are seeking to pursue a degree in MFT? What do you wish someone had told you?

“The transition to being a grad student is hard.  You will want to quit in your first three months, it is normal, it IS HARD, you will adjust and be ok. It is not just you, it is everyone. Reach out to peers, reach up to the class ahead of you, and most importantly reach within.”

“Take your time with things. If you need extra time, ask for it. This is a difficult process and it require lots of time and mental, spiritual and emotional energy. Find your network of support before you begin. Let your support team know that you will need them and will call on them when things get hard. These are all things I wish someone had told me.”

“I would suggest that incoming students pay special attention to hours and make sure that they have a firm grasp and understanding of hours, hours forms and to please ask questions without hesitation. There isn’t really much I wish anyone told me except I just wish that I knew how to track hours and I wish that I paid more attention to it and understood how vitally important hours are.”

Do you have any fears now that you are no longer in school? If so, what are they, and what type of support do you hope to receive as you continue your career?

“Yes, but that is a good thing. Being a novice at something means a constant learning curve.”

“My fears are just that I won’t be able to afford all of the training that I would like to become certified in.”

“My fears revolve upon career development, and setting out a path that will lead to my long-term goals. Becoming involved in NEAFAST is one way I can reach out and find the support.”

“The peer supervision is something I think I will definitely miss, although I have some ideas about how to create this opportunity after graduating.”

Social Justice and Practice:

How do you see issues of social justice impacting your work?

“Social Justice is a key part of my work. While it is a theme I bring into session with clients, I am also committed to destigmatizing mental health through community outreach .”

“A background in Social Justice is crucially practical for this work. I don’t believe that therapy can be effectively implemented without having a firm understanding and grasp of issues of race, socio-economic status, oppression and privilege.”

Do you feel you had enough schooling and practice with diverse individuals, couples, and families to practice with confidence?

“Yes, I do, however, that might not be true of other students.”

“I do not feel as though I worked with enough couples.”

“Yes. If I only saw clients at the university clinic, I don’t know that I could say this. I was able to work at 2 different clinics during my internship that helped me to see a much wider spread of the population and see people with various backgrounds and difference.”

Graduate Education:

What about graduate school gave you the most confidence to become an MFT?

“Supervisors who asked me tough questions, provided respectful insight, and trusted my clinical judgment when I was unable to.”

“Within graduate school and supervision there was a lot of self-work that I experienced and through self-exploration I was really able to better understand myself as a person and future clinician. I must also say that my professors and supervisors played a huge role within my ability to not give up on myself. ”

“The practical training! Without question, the direct supervision and practical training was what gave me the most confidence. I’m so glad that we started to see clients as early as we did.”

What do you wish you had more of in school to prepare you?

“The practical operations of being a therapist such as insurance, self-promotion, self-definition of goals, and financial aspects.”

“More time to explore techniques, interventions and theories.”

“More cultural and diversity training. My one class was great but it felt like that should have been the first class to prepare us to have discussion on these topics throughout the entire program. Also, more courses in responding to trauma. Trauma was touched upon in various courses but it was not given the time and attention it deserved.”

“More support for student's emotional process would have increased the learning outcomes.”

“I wish there were more trainings … around theories and techniques.”

“A more complete trauma training.”

The future of Marriage and Family Therapy

What do you see as the most important direction for the field of MFT?

“Educating the public about the importance of systemic therapy and how it differs from other therapies.”

“I think that it needs to identify itself as Family therapy or Systemic Therapy and drop the term of marriage as part of the title. It is ultimately family therapy, regardless if the work is with couples or not. So why not call it what it is.”

Do you have any concerns about the field?

“I am too new to really understand the complexities the field faces currently.”

“It’s very important that we continue to work systemically and my biggest concern is within the ‘name’ of the program itself. I do hope that somehow we will be able to change the name from Marriage, Family Therapy to something more inclusive. As systemic therapists we do not want anyone within the system to feel as though they aren’t qualified to receive psychotherapy from a MFT. ”

Career plans:

Do you plan to pursue licensure and if so, which state(s) and why? What do you plan to do with your degree?

“Yes.  It will provide me the ability to accept insurance and increase earning potential.” 

“I plan to get a license in the state of MA and pursue private practice in some form. Hopefully, after obtaining the license I will be able to combine my work in wilderness education and therapy in a wilderness setting.”

“Become an LMFT and establish a small group practice in the Pioneer Valley.”

“I do, in the state of MA. I would like to become certified in Accelerated Resolution Therapy and work with clients that have experienced trauma. I also would like to specialize in working with couples, trauma, substance abuse and domestic violence."


Clearly this is a small sample of graduates, but I hope this article has inspired you to take an active interest in graduating MFT students, ensuring supervision is available whenever possible, and, if you are a new student, reaching out with your own thoughts, ideas and needs.

Special thanks to Natalia Varela, Erin Sprong Murrell, and Rafe Halsey who provided comments for this article and over our time together taught me more than I can express. Also special thanks to Dr. Walter Lowe, who provided inspiring meta supervision my first year at Antioch and Dr. Kevin Lyness who provides meta supervision for me now.

Rafe Halsey is a Masters Level Clinician with the Center for Human Development in Greenfield, MA. Natalia Varela is a Masters Level Clinician at Providence Hospital (Brightside). Erin Sprong Murrell is working as a Masters Level Clinician in the Pioneer Valley.

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