Supervision is so important to our growth and development as art therapists, in our commitment to provide quality treatment to our clients and for self care. There can be many questions regarding supervision, I have highlighted the basics below.

What is supervision?

Supervision is a professional relationship that 2 people (or a seasoned art therapist and a group of supervisees) willingly enter into where one is deemed an expert. A supervisor has sufficient years of clinical experience, appropriate credentials, ongoing educational training (perhaps being involved in his or her own supervision process) and awareness of the responsibility of being a supervisor.

There are different aspects to supervision. Both parties are aware that the supervisor is a role model, one who guides and oversees the quality of client care and can provide support in managing and attending to administrative duties as well as support, encouragement and direction for professional development, enhancement of clinical skills and growth as an art therapist.

Who can provide supervision?

Anyone who provides supervision needs to demonstrate his or her knowledge, commitment to the field of art therapy and own ongoing growth and development as an art therapist. Supervisors need to have someone they can access for their own supervision and/or consultation, and have a minimum number of years of practice after they receive their credentials and their own supervision. (The ATR-BC and/or a license to practice in a particular state does not necessarily qualify someone to supervise another art therapist.) Completing the ATR, Board Certification, and state licensure is a huge accomplishment and requires many hours of direct service and supervision. While it is something of which to be proud, it does not automatically qualify an art therapist to able to provide adequate supervision to others.

So, who can provide supervision?

Malchiodi and Riley recommend a number of guidelines for art therapy supervision and for the responsibilities of a supervisor. They suggest that a supervisor have the following qualifications:

  1. Be credentialed in the field
  2. Have no pre-existing relationship with the potential supervisee
  3. Have two years of active practice following receiving his or her credentials
  4. Have supervised experience in serving a similar population to that of the supervisee
  5. Be aware of multicultural issues in both clinical work and supervision
  6. Be sensitive to the evaluative nature of supervision

Who needs supervision?

Supervision is important for on-going growth and development as art therapists, to enhance clinical skills, to receive support and guidance when working with challenging clients, for encouragement, for having a safe place to address countertransference concerns, and for self care.  Art therapists in training, new art therapists working towards their credentials and art therapists working with a new population all require supervision.

What about once art therapists have received their credentials? The mental health field, especially our chosen profession of art therapy, is constantly changing and growing. Reading, attending conferences, being aware of new ideas and approaches, attending advanced training programs, and yes, being involved in our own supervision can help us continue to grow. Supervision is especially imperative in one’s early years of clinical practice, but at any stage of development and experience, a supervisory relationship can be a satisfying and enriching experience for both parties.

While one may not necessarily choose to be in supervision weekly throughout one’s entire career, one does need to have someone to reach out to for supervision and/or feedback. “Supervision provides the distance that the therapist needs to look at cases objectively”- Klorer.

How do you know if you are ready to be a supervisor?

If you do want to be a supervisor, explore working towards your ATCS, an Art Therapy Certified Supervisor. Once you have your ATR-BC, be aware of the many important aspects of supervision, as well as things to think about prior to making a commitment to supervising other art therapists. Consider the following:

  • Do you feel you have adequate experience and clinical skills with the population with whom the supervisee is working?
  • Do you feel prepared to mentor, support, guide, and help another art therapist find his or her voice as an art therapist?
  • Are you prepared to address client – therapist interactions that may need to be looked at more carefully, whether it be related to counter transference, skill level, or treatment issues and goals?
  • How will you structure the supervision meetings?
  • How will art making be included?
  • Are you in supervision yourself?
  • Do you need to sign off on notes that the supervisee writes?
  • Will this take place on site, where you both work, off site, or in a private practice setting?
  • If on site, how will being the supervisor possibly alter your existing relationship with your supervisee?

Our own Code of Ethics, Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, addresses the art therapist’s role as supervisor and should be consulted prior to making the decision to supervise someone. According to article 1.3.4, “Art therapists who act as supervisors are responsible for maintaining the quality of their supervision skills and obtaining consultation or supervision for their work as supervisors whenever appropriate.”

So, while you may be able to supervise someone once you have your ATR-BC, please be thoughtful in deciding if you should, if you feel adequately prepared to thoughtfully take on the roles and responsibilities of supervisor, including administrative, clinical and educational roles, and you are confident in your understanding of and ability to adhere to the ethics of the ATCB regarding supervision.

As Garlock stated in the Spring 2017 edition of The ATCB Review, “The helping professions are continually changing—hopefully growing and becoming better at serving clients and communities. Some allied fields already require supervisor certification in order to supervise; it may be just a matter of time before all licensed professions, including art therapy, require certification. And that is a good thing for therapists, supervisees, and clients.”

To learn more about art therapy supervision visit us here and like us on Facebook & Instagram to keep up with ATCB news and updates.

This article was originally published in the ATCB Review Summer 2017, Volume 24, Issue 2


Written by:

Caren Sacks