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Power relationships

We cannot get away from the differences between us as supervisor and supervisee. Some of these differences can be used in a positive way to help each individual challenge their thinking and assumptions, and they can promote creativity.

It can be useful to think about differences between the supervisor and the supervisee and how these may affect the way that power is understood. This may allow some things to be spoken about and may constrain or prevent other areas from being addressed. It may highlight areas that could be taken for granted, but which it may be helpful to focus on. Sometimes just thinking about these issues yourself is enough; at other times it may be helpful to clarify possible concerns from the outset with the other person.

Even an experienced supervisor may not be aware of certain things that are important to a supervisee in helping them to develop as a learner. Power can impact on the supervisee to make them behave in a very defensive way. This can have the effect of paralysing their ability to think and, out of fear or excessive respect, they may accept ideas the supervisor imposes on them. It can also affect the supervisor, who may feel particularly challenged or de-skilled by certain supervisees.

If either supervisor or supervisee feels there is a ‘clash’ between them, so that the supervision process is not working successfully, they need to know where to go for help in managing this. It may be the case that either or both of them would develop a more helpful working relationship with a different person.

Thinking points

  • What kinds of difference between clinicians could be important in thinking about power? What can be done to address these issues?
  • Differences you might have thought about include age, gender, culture, sexuality, full-time or part-time work, seniority, qualifications, disability, speech accent, parenthood.


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