How to Create Positive, Healthy Supervisory Relationships

To be a positive change agent, you don’t have to have a Ph.D. or a dozen publications under your name. There is no more valuable contribution to the field than shaping the next generation of ABA professionals.

BHCOE held a webinar exploring the power of a constructive, relational approach to supervising. In the webinar, Dr. Linda LeBlanc and Dr. Tyra Sellers, authors of Building and Sustaining Meaningful and Effective Relationships as a Supervisor and Mentor, explored why a relational approach is so effective. They shared strategies for building a framework for supervising and offered exercises for facilitating stronger relationships. The material was based on their extensive experience in the field and principles they wrote about in “Recommended Practices for Individual Supervision of Aspiring Behavior Analysts,” which appeared in Behavior Analysis in Practice in 2016.

Supervision is an exceptional opportunity to make an impact. Sellers explains the potential of the supervisory relationship by saying, “Supervision is critically important to the success of our profession, for practitioners, but also for clients because there is an inescapable link between quality supervision, quality case management, and client outcomes.”

Why a Relational Approach to Supervision is Effective

Relationships drive healthy human interaction. Professionals are more likely to be engaged and become better at delivering high-quality care if supervision is happening in the context of relationship and mentorship.  A relational approach creates an environment of partnership and cooperation—both parties are rolling up their sleeves to discover how to make a more meaningful impact in the field and on the clients they are committed to.

The Key Purposes of Supervision

The overarching purpose of supervision is the sustainability of high-quality care. Supervisors are engaging in the process of developing people who will then develop more people to create high-quality services. Effective supervision ensures that ABA professionals not only have the knowledge and skills they need, but that they can also work productively with stakeholders and the client to problem-solve and make tough decisions.

Sellers observes, “We’re not training technicians; we’re training analysts. That is the superpower of ABA professionals: to observe and make decisions in the moment. And that ability either comes with extensive experience or great training. Let’s put in the effort where we can, which is great training.”

Within this overarching purpose, LeBlanc and Sellers identify five key facets of the why behind supervision. In the webinar, they explored how each of these facets plays a role in making supervision effective.

  1. Guiding actions to ensure high-quality services and desire client outcomes
  2. Improving and maintaining clinical skills
  3. Developing behavior-analytic, professional, and ethical repertoires
  4. Building behavioral case conceptualization, problem-solving, decision-making, and assistance seeking repertoires
  5. Modeling high-quality supervisory practices

How to Build a Healthy Supervisor-Supervisee Relationship

After establishing how a relational approach improves supervision and describing its benefits to both supervisor and supervisee, LeBlanc and Sellers offered three specific strategies that can help supervisors build strong and effective relationships with their supervisees.

1. Clarify Expectations

The first step in establishing an effective supervisor-supervisee relationship is to ensure that both parties understand their roles, the process, and the scope of supervision. A range of expectations should be covered in the first few meetings, including:

  1. Introductions and histories
  2. Contract and requirements
  3. Scope of the supervisory relationship
  4. Logistics and professionalism
  5. Bi-directional feedback
  6. What happens when a mistake is made
  7. Strengths, preferences, goals, and values
  8. Available resources (ethics code, policies, and procedures, books, etc.)

2. Create a Committed and Positive Relationship

The most effective supervisory relationships are built on a commitment to a positive learning context. This means acknowledging that both parties are engaging in a learning process that may be uncomfortable at times. People make mistakes, but that’s ok—they can be used as a learning opportunity.

A positive learning context also requires attentiveness to the supervisee. Effective supervision doesn’t happen in the midst of distraction. Just like any relationship, the supervisory relationship needs focused attention—no scrolling on the smartphone when in meetings.

Additionally, it requires welcoming all perspectives and seeking diversity of experience. Be open to new ways of doing things. Make space for new approaches and make sure that supervisees feel safe and comfortable being their true, authentic selves. The foundation of a positive learning context is open communication and feedback.

3. Take a Functional Approach to Feedback

A skilled supervisor adjusts feedback for each supervisee, monitors the effects of the feedback, and makes changes to the feedback when needed. Feedback is not one size fits all. For example, some supervisees appreciate public praise while others are uncomfortable with it. Adjust your approach based on the needs and desires of the supervisee. Ask supervisees about their past experiences with feedback—what worked well and what didn’t?

Effecting Positive Change For The Future

Each person is a product of their own complex history of influencers. In the context of supervision, ABA professionals have the opportunity to effect positive change and contribute to the growth of the next generation of professionals.

Watch the entire webinar to learn recommended strategies for developing relationships and discover activities that can be used with your supervisees.

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