Different Supervision Styles for Different Situations: What's Your Leadership Style?

Introduction: Supervision Styles and How They Can Affect Your Team

Supervision styles can have a huge impact on the productivity of your therapy team. In this article, we will explore the different supervision styles and how they can affect you as a supervisor or a therapist. There are usually three types of supervision styles within the management of organizations: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. These supervision styles are commonly used in a variety of workplaces. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. However, within the counseling supervision process, we can consider more therapy-informed supervision styles that are common in the individual supervision of therapists.


I am The Boss

Autocratic supervisors are those who give orders and expect their employees to follow them without any questions asked. They are not open to any input from their employees, which could lead to a lack of innovation in the workplace as well as a lack of motivation for employees. In the therapy world, we could consider this supervision style to be more of an “administrator” approach toward therapists. Ensuring that therapist is following policies that are specific to the workplace and are competently operating by governing laws and ethics within their respective counseling fields. While this may be a good approach for beginner therapists who may need additional guidance in their early development of conducting therapy, it may not be as suitable for more advanced therapists who are evidenced to be ethical. In these cases, more of a mentorship style of supervision may be suitable to meet trainees in their level of development.


Majority Rules in Fairness

Democratic supervisors allow for some discussion with their employees before making decisions but ultimately make the final call themselves. Supervisors of therapists that implement this style may interchange the approaches of a “mentor” in the supervisory relationship. This type of leadership style is good for motivating people to be productive and self-directed, but it might not be as efficient when rules and regulations are not followed. The risk is impasses, microaggressions, and a lack of trustworthiness within the supervisor and therapist relationship. When therapists under supervision feel more confident or inclined to make their own decisions, decisions may be delayed in spite of the supervisor’s final call.


The Free-Spirit

Laissez-faire supervisors are those who give their employees a lot of freedom to make decisions and act on those decisions. This style of management has been shown to be more effective for people with low self-confidence or high levels of fear. This management style follows that of a “coach” role with the therapist in training. The supervisor in the “coach” role often takes into consideration the therapist as a whole person within the context of work but when conflict arises policies and rules must be implemented. Though, this type of leadership style is used by managers who want their employees to feel like they have freedom in the workplace but can also cause a lack of productivity and decrease professional boundaries within the supervisor and therapist relationship.


So, which supervision style fits you best? 

When it comes to supervision, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. One could argue that each of these supervisor roles could be implemented interchangeably throughout the course of the therapists' supervision process. In all instances, the supervisor has the responsibility of guiding, directing, and advising the supervisee in the pursuit of their professional goals. Identifying what supervision looks like for everyone is essential to optimizing the process and maximizing results. The role of a “teacher” could aid as a buffer to consistently educate and set goals within supervision and management styles. Therapists would also be able to receive feedback from each of these respective roles as well as provide feedback to them. After all, supervision is an ongoing learning process for both the supervisor and therapist in supervision and in the therapy room. Choose your supervision style wisely and carefully to ensure that the most important factor, the client(s), is receiving quality care.


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