Early last year, I had the privilege of undertaking training in delivering Compassion Focused Supervision with the Compassionate Mind Foundation. Since then, I’ve been providing more CFT generally and CFT clinical supervision for groups of therapists studying for the Diploma in Compassion Focused Therapy. My role is to provide a safe space for people to learn, reflect and practice their new skills, ensuring supervisees feel heard and able to ask vulnerable questions. In this article, I’m sharing what I’ve learned from the experience so far.
‘The compassionate mind is the mind that transforms.’ – Paul Gilbert, Mindful Compassion:
Clinical Supervision is Crucial
Clinical supervision is a reflective space where supervisees can discuss their caseload and clinical practice with a trusted peer or colleague. It’s a space to share and explore what’s going well or not so well in the therapy room and then identify where we can make improvements.
Supervision plays a crucial part in ensuring safe, effective therapy delivery and maintaining high standards of professional development. It’s an opportunity to hypothesise, check out and receive new perspectives about the therapy you are delivering. Ultimately, it should be a safe space and an energising experience that helps you feel fully present and confident in the therapy room so you can be the best therapist you can be.
Supervision is also the perfect safe place to practice compassionate mind training, testing out the practices such as soothing rhythm breathing or cultivating our compassionate selves and getting feedback from others. Everybody experiences a practice differently and supervision is a great starting point to learn about this.
Being a Beginner Isn’t Easy
Learning a new therapeutic model is exciting and scary. Most of the therapists undertaking further training in Compassion Focused Therapy are already experts in their field. It’s been a while since they’ve stepped away from their expertise and needed to engage their beginner’s brain.
Being a beginner isn’t always a comfortable experience, especially if we haven’t done it in a while. It can create an urgency to learn and know it all very quickly. In the first few months of the diploma course, there is a keenness to know the structure and to want to know the individual steps of delivering a Compassion Focused model. However, because we work with individuals, and everyone has their own needs, how the model is structured depends on the client you are working with.
My background is in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, where models and structure are essential. The early days of learning CFT felt very different and a little frustrating, but this soon became the most transformational part of the process. It’s where I fully understood how to be collaborative in my approach as a therapist.
Learning something new doesn’t mean forgetting your existing knowledge and skillset. It’s about being as helpful as you can, incorporating everything you know, with a solid foundation from the science of compassion. It’s about always working to be helpful, not harmful.
It’s Important to Slow Things Down
Supervisors have a huge motivation to do their best, serve their supervisees, meet their needs, and calm their urgency for learning. This can take us all directly to our threat system, creating a tricky learning environment. When we acknowledge this, we can then give ourselves permission to slow things down.
Learning a new skill takes time. Just like learning to walk or drive a car, it will feel clumsy at times and there are days when you will do better than others. As your supervisor, it’s my job to support the layering of your new knowledge in a timely, considered manner so it can be absorbed gently into your therapeutic landscape.
A Compassionate Stance is Essential
Delivering Compassion Focused Therapy often brings us back to the core principles of counselling and the importance of taking an interest, being curious and incorporating Socratic questions for guided discovery. Helping people begin to understand themselves within the framework of a compassionate formulation is a skill that’s also useful for supervisors to reconnect with.
As supervisors, we need to anchor ourselves in our compassionate stance and turn towards difficulties. Just as we would with our clients, we need to think with and not for our supervisees.
Our Brains Are Tricky Too
Trainees of Compassion Focused Therapy are learning a therapeutic model based on evolution and neuroscience. What you are learning for your clients also becomes what you are learning about yourself. This can be enlightening but also uncomfortable at times. That’s growth for you – uncomfortable!
Identifying this during supervision allows the supervisee to consider it for themselves and begin to share their experiences. There are usually some big realisations, but this unique journey becomes so valuable within our work with our clients. We will build our compassionate selves, learn about our inner critic and parts of us that can be cruel and callous, and then embrace common humanity. In short, it’s messy but very rewarding.
Luckily, Compassion Focused supervision considers the fact there are two humans in the therapy room with tricky brains. Supervisees may not have previously brought themselves fully to supervision, which can feel daunting and trigger a vulnerability. To facilitate this, I might share my experience of learning about CFT and how I also found it a personal process. For example, I remember becoming fully aware of my own inner critic and the extent of her impact and cruelty. This has been profoundly helpful because with awareness, I then had the choice to transform my inner critic into a more useful, compassionate inner coach.
Delivering Compassion Focused Supervision is Very Rewarding
I am immensely enjoying the experience of providing supervision for The Compassionate Mind Diploma training. It is fulfilling to be engaged in new challenges and to update my knowledge and skills. I’m gaining a wealth of new insights and learning opportunities through this experience.” and spending time with inspirational therapists doing amazing work. I’m learning a lot.