Clinical Supervision for Pre-Licensed Therapists – What It Is, Why You Need It, and What to Expect

If you’ve just graduated with your Master’s degree in mental health therapy or counseling, we’ve got good news and bad news: getting your degree was the easy part. Now comes the big challenge: getting your license. And for that, you need to complete clinical supervision hours.

But what is clinical supervision, exactly? Is it just another bureaucratic roadblock in your journey toward becoming a full-fledged therapist? Or is it an important part of your professional and personal growth?

This quick guide will cover the basics of clinical supervision and help you find the answers to your biggest questions as you work toward getting through what I like to call “pre-licensure purgatory.”

What is clinical supervision for pre-licensed therapists?

Clinical supervision is like an apprenticeship. For state licensing purposes, it’s the formal, documented time you (a pre-licensed counselor or therapist) and a clinical supervisor spend together to discuss your work with clients, to review individual cases, and for your professional development.

But there’s more to it than that. 

Clinical supervision is a formative process that teaches you about yourself as a therapist. Many therapists see their clinical supervisors as mentors who help them find direction in their careers and give them important tools for self-care. The relationships you grow during the clinical supervision process will impact your professional and personal development for years to come.

What’s a clinical supervisor?

Think of a clinical supervisor as a mentor or coach that you (or your employer) hire to guide you toward licensure and offer support and encouragement as you navigate the pre-licensure period. They are there to help you gain a real-world understanding of the intellectual concepts you learned in grad school.

While some agencies have clinical supervisors on staff or hire outside consultants to perform clinical supervision for pre-licensed employees, you may have to find your own clinical supervisor.

Why is clinical supervision important?

Beyond fulfilling the required hours to get your license as a therapist or counselor, clinical supervision has a profound impact on the trajectory of your career and the lives of your clients.

  • On-the-job training and feedback – You work in the field under the guidance of a trusted, accomplished professional who can objectively critique your work so you can continue to improve as a practitioner. 
  • Resources, resources, resources– A great clinical supervisor will not only give you feedback on the work you’re doing, but they will also introduce you to the tools and sources of inspiration they use in their own work. 
  • Professional network- As an up-and-coming practitioner, you might not have access to other counseling professionals that can connect you with job opportunities – especially if you live in an area without a robust mental health community. Your clinical supervisor can be a key professional connection throughout your career.
  • Emotional support – According to Administration and Policy in Mental Health, anywhere from 21% – 67% of mental health workers experience burnout, and working in isolation is a major contributing factor. It’s essential to your wellbeing that you fill your network with fellow therapists and counselors who get what it’s like to experience the unique struggles you’ll encounter on a daily basis. Your clinical supervisor will be there to help you get through the tough times and provide you with a sense of camaraderie and encouragement while also challenging you to think things through as a professional therapist.
  • Better outcomes for your clients – According to a 2017 study by the University of Alaska Department of Psychology, 45% of clinical supervisees report that a supportive relationship with a clinical supervisor has a positive impact on mental health clients. An excellent clinical supervisor will provide you with a sense of trust and safety so you can feel free to explore where you’ve fallen short of expectations, learn from mistakes, and go into sessions confident that you can provide your clients the care they need.

What do therapists talk about in clinical supervision?

I love what Motivo clinical supervisor Shayla Peterson has to say about what makes a great clinical supervision experience: 

“Clinical supervision is more than just passing an exam, it is about the opportunity to practice the tools, discover your therapeutic orientation, and learn about oneself in the process.”  

Your clinical supervision sessions can run the gamut of topics, but you can expect them to cover one or more of the following:

  1. Issues pertaining to current clients
  2. Overall development of social work/therapy skills
  3. Development of professional self
  4. Issues related to current employment

One of the areas that come up in clinical supervision is that of countertransference. 

 “The more awareness the therapist has of their countertransference, the more effective that therapist can be in the therapeutic setting,” Shayla Peterson says. She encourages her supervisees to look at their own countertransference, learning to recognize it when it arises, noticing any defenses that pop up, and then how to reflect and reach for tools that can reduce the feelings in the moment. 

What does a clinical supervision session look like?

Clinical supervision can be performed one on one, in a group, or a dyad/triad in which one supervisor discusses the work of 2 – 3 counselors.  

Group supervision can provide unique opportunities to establish critical professional repertoires such as peer feedback skills and public speaking skills.

You can expect your clinical supervisor to employ a variety of techniques to help you gain insights about your work and improve your skills:

  • Case consultation
  • Written activities 
  • Live observation (both as an unseen observer and as an interactive participant)
  • Modeling and demonstration
  • Review of audio and video recordings 
  • Experiential methods like role-playing and art therapy

How many sessions of clinical supervision will I need to complete the requirements for my license?

Depending on your state, you’ll need to complete between 1500 – 3500 hours of supervised clinical experience, including 100 – 200 hours of direct clinical supervision. That takes about two years to complete.

Some states require all of your clinical supervision hours to be individual and face-to-face while some allow for group and virtual sessions. Requirements vary state-by-state, so you’ll want to take a look at your state’s licensure board website.  

Can I get clinical supervision online?

Legislators and policymakers across the nation are allowing pre-licensed therapists to complete their supervision requirements online. That’s where Motivo comes in. We are the largest platform that connects pre-licensed therapists with clinical supervisors through secure video conference. 

Some state’s rules on live/online supervision have been amended in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve dug into board regulations to produce this state-by-state resource guide for you: click here for State-by-State Online Clinical Supervision Rules. 

Where can I find a clinical supervisor?

I know from personal experience: finding a clinical supervisor can be a challenge if you only have a limited pool to choose from. 

Whether you are working in private practice or you are looking to supplement the free supervision you are getting at an agency, Motivo is here to help you find the right supervisor, not just the one closest by.

Find an *amazing* clinical supervisor with Motivo completely online

Rachel McCrickard, LMFT

Rachel McCrickard, LMFT

Rachel is the CEO & Founder of Motivo, a HIPAA-compliant video platform connecting mental health therapists to the clinical supervision hours needed for licensure. She's also a LMFT, and brings her years of experience as both a therapist and a supervisor to her vision for Motivo. She also is a huge fan of pizza and yoga, in that order.

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