Friday, 30 July 2021

Power in supervision relationships

Kritzer suggests that our societies are "structured through systems of power, some of which operate almost invisibly" in her work about political theatre, where activism as shown through "exposing these systems of power by bringing them to conscious attention" (2008, p. 123). The power that is held in professional supervision in career practice, while it should be overt and transparent, is often hidden. 

Some considerations for how power may play out in supervisory relationships are:

  • Words have power, and can be "degenerative. Criticism, put-downs, small-mindedness, hurtfulness, gossip all lead to trauma, shame and the shutdown of learning" (Carroll, 2014, p. 52). This is counter to 'good' supervisory relationships 
  • If we do not feel free to speak, we lack "a voice, [and have instead] silence. Disempowered and with little sense of self, [we speak] but without ‘voice’ — effectively [we] ha[ve] been silenced and eventually" we silence ourselves (Carroll, 2014, p. 54)
  • "Power often determines [the strength of] our voice. When the voices of others are loud, demanding, dominating it can be difficult to make ourselves heard. At times it is easier to subjugate our own voice to the more convincing and powerful voices of others (Carroll, 2014, p. 55) 
  • Failure to adequately attend to power dynamics in supervision can result in ineffective or even harmful supervision that presents legal and ethical risks to supervisors and supervisees (Cook et al., 2018, p. 188) 
  • Good supervisors will "attend with empathy and compassion to what we say, to what we don’t say, to what we can’t say, and to what we dare not say. They help us express [what we need to say], and by doing so we learn to deal with" whatever is troubling us in our practice relationships (Carroll, 2014, p. 52).

We need to carefully consider the strength of our own power, and how equal this feels with the power of our supervisor. If we feel that we have little voice, and are not able to 'speak truth to power', we should consider seeking another supervisor.  

Further, Cook et al developed a Power Dynamics in Supervision Scale (PDSS), consisting of 21 pairs of elements, scored on a sliding Likert scale. For example (2018, p. 190):

  • “I identified the goals for this supervision session” vs “My supervisor identified the goals for this supervision session”; 
  • “I had the power in our supervisory relationship in this supervision session” vs “My supervisor had the power in our supervisory relationship in this supervision session”; 
  • “I was able to speak freely in this supervision session” vs “I withheld information in this supervision session”

If this scale were freely available to those in supervisory relationships, this would be a very useful tool indeed. We could consider our power balance before we entered into a relationship, and measure the relationship effectively as we worked together. 



  • Carroll, M. (2014). Voice, Identity and Power in Supervision. Psychotherapy in Australia, 20(3), 52-59. 
  • Cook, R. M., McKibben, W. B., & Wind, S. A. (2018). Supervisee perception of power in clinical supervision: The Power Dynamics in Supervision Scale. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 12(3), 188-195. 
  • Kritzer, A. H. (2008). Chapter 4: Systems of Power. In Political Theatre in Post-Thatcher Britain (pp. 123-153). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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