Supporting mental health professionals in a post-pandemic world

Hi I’m Pauline and I’m What’s an empowered supervisor? You may wonder why a supervisor might need to be empowered? Supervision or the role of supervisor comes with inherent power. Well let me explain more what I mean by this concept.

Clinical supervision as a professional competence is an area of practice that is quite new in Canada. Clinical supervision is reflexive and requires a lot of self examination, a great understanding of therapeutic modalities and the micro-skills as well as the ability to navigate and negotiate relationships.

There have been much change in recent years in regards to the professionalization of counselling and psychotherapy. An empowered supervisor acknowledges the challenges and opportunities in the field while navigating the tensions and vulnerabilities that counsellor/therapists face.

An empowered supervisor balances strength and vulnerability in practice and inspires supervisees to do the same. I define strength in terms of our knowledge. Knowledge is comprised of our skills; abilities; education; professional development; certification; registration; licensure; etc, etc.

Vulnerability is a topic that I have been very interested in in the recent years. The concept of vulnerability I am referring to can be summed up from the great Brene Brown:

“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.

When the barrier is our belief about vulnerability, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome?’

When the barrier to vulnerability is about safety, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen?”

From Braving the Wilderness

Vulnerability for me, like with Brene, is about courage. One is brave and does not shy away from using the self.

An empowered supervisor also acknowledges their own biases, attitudes and beliefs. They can draw from their own lived experience or past trauma, mental illness and/or addiction without letting it get in the way of the work and not assuming that one’s particular experience will aid in totally understand the world view of another but maybe appreciate the challenges and/or barriers of someone with a similar intersectionality or lived role.      

Who do I think I am? I’m an advocate and am passionate about social justice and societal change; particularly as it relates to mental health service provision in our communities.

Presently, there is a lack of mental health treatment, counselling and/or psychotherapy services that are government funded. The services that are available, while helpful for some, are often not accessed by those who need them the most. My experience working in a variety of governmental and non-governmental settings has shown me that there is a situation of the most vulnerable working with the most vulnerable.

Frontline mental health workers, mental health counsellors, social workers and therapists are often faced with heavy case loads with minimal access to supervision and professional development support. Many of these positions are awarded to entry level professionals who many not have an awareness yet of what some of the barriers are. Over the years I have heard countless stories about the challenges of managing capacity and the need for creativity (code word for sucking it up and doing your job) in one’s work. No to mention the push towards brief models and preference for only one form of evidence based practice which don’t necessarily take into account the complexities of our folks.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Over the years I have also been privileged enough to work along side and learn from a great number of colleagues and supervisors. One sentiment that is often expressed is that there is still love for the work. The work is not the problem, the clients/patients are not the problem. It has become apparent now more than ever that the issue is with the system. With funding models. The folks most responsible for allocating resources at the end of the day do not really understand what it is that we are doing here. Or if they do they feel helpless to systemic pressures and strong cultural norms. I can imagine that a great amount of government funding will be dedicated to the impact of COVID and to address mental health, but how will this funding be allocated? Will the programming serve the needs of our folks? I hope so.

A bit about education and professional background. Here’s the part where my imposter part needs me to tell you how smart I am 😉

My educational background is in area of counselling psychology. I completed an undergraduate honours degree at the University of Ottawa in psychology and masters of education in counselling. After this I lived and worked for many years in the field. In 2008 I completed postgraduate studies in Management and at McMaster University and in shortly afterwards started a Doctorate Program in Counselling Psychology at the Ontario Studies for University of Toronto.

In 2014 to 2015 I defended a qualitative doctoral research proposal in the area of Interprofessional Collaborative Mental Health Care, starting to interview mental health counsellors and clinical social workers about their work in the field. In 2016, also 3 months postpartum, I successfully defended my dissertation and gained a Doctorate degree of Education in Counselling Psychology. It was after gaining a Doctorate degree in the field that I decided to pursue further training in perinatal mood disorders and in particular post partum depression and anxiety.

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