You are visiting us from Virginia. You are located in HHS Region 3. Your Center is Central East ATTC.

Counselor's Corner: Parallel Processes in Clinical Supervision

February 25, 2022

How the counselor-client relationship mirrors the supervisor-counselor relationship

Supervisors play an essential role in helping counselors increase their skills, and counselor growth and development have a direct impact on treatment effectiveness and client retention. Often the phenomenon of parallel process operates in supervisor-counselor relationships: Counselors recreate what occurs in supervisor-counselor interactions in the therapeutic relationships with clients.

Or in other words, what happens in supervision is repeated in counseling. Supervisors motivated to help counselors work effectively with clients should be attuned to some of the following elements in supervisory relationships:

Frequency of supervision and punctuality

Punctuality in supervision can influence punctuality in the counselor-client relationship.

Many counselors meet with clients weekly. Frequent sessions send the message to clients that they are important. This is also true in the supervisory relationship. Conversely, irregular or infrequent supervision sessions convey the message to counselors that their professional development is not important.

This message can show up unconsciously in the counselor-client relationship. As a social work intern, I was told by my supervisor that being on time for sessions is vital to building the counselor-client relationship. She stated, "When counselors tell their clients I will meet with you in 10 minutes and then show up 25 minutes later for the session, they have negatively affected the alliance. Most clients seeking addiction treatment have histories of abandonment. Showing up late for sessions recreates the abandonment."

Empathy, warmth, and genuineness

Research indicates that empathetic, warm, and genuine counselors engage clients more effectively than other counselors (Duncan, Miller & Sparks, 2004). These qualities also help in building the supervisory relationship. Conversely, supervisors who approach their relationship with counselors in a cold, non-caring, and hostile manner should not be surprised if the counselors they supervise display these behaviors in their counseling.

Feedback Informed Treatment

Feedback Informed Treatment (FIT) is an evidence-based practice for improving treatment services. FIT proves that soliciting regular client feedback about counseling effectiveness goes a long way in developing the alliance, reducing dropout rates, and facilitating change (Prescott, 2017). Likewise, supervisors can achieve the same results by regularly asking for feedback in the supervisory relationship.


Clients experience a myriad of feelings during counseling sessions, including anger, rage, frustration, fear, joy, happiness, and grief. Counselors need to address those feelings immediately, as unaddressed feelings can trigger relapse. (Sanders, 2011). Supervision also presents opportunities for immediacy. Attending to the feelings in the air during supervision increases the likelihood that counselors will do the same with clients during counseling.

Cross-cultural relationship

The supervisory relationship can also be a model for building rapport in cross-cultural counseling. As in counseling, it is crucial to be aware of and address barriers in cross-cultural supervision. Addressing mistrust, microaggressions, and cultural boundary violations in cross-cultural supervision provides counselors with mirror strategies to apply in cross-cultural counseling.


Treatment planning often requires clients to follow through on tasks. This is also true in supervisionā€”supervisors who are accountable and follow-through mirror the importance of follow-through in counseling.

Attending to the termination phase

Counseling consists of three phases: engagement, counseling, and termination. Volumes of books have been written on how to engage clients in the counseling phase. However, little has been written on the termination phase of counseling, which is equally as important as the first two phases. When handled well, clients learn how to say goodbye in a healthy manner without returning to drug use to cope with loss.

When counselors resign or leave an agency, supervisors and counselors may feel uncomfortable and avoid discussing the subject. Yet when supervisors handle this phase well, counselors can learn how to attend to the termination phase of counseling with clients. As a supervisor, it might be helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • What gets stirred up in me when staff resign?
  • Do my abandonment issues get stirred up when a counselor leaves?
  • If staff resignation does trigger abandonment issues for you, how will you address staff resignation?

It can be also be helpful for counselors to address the counselor-client relationship with a simple question during the termination phase. What was it like working with me as your counselor? Supervisors can ask the same question can be helpful when the supervisor-counselor relationship ends.


This article offers strategies to help supervisors increase their awareness of how clinical supervision can influence counseling. Effective supervisor-counselor relationships teach valuable skills and mirror effective counselor-client relationships. 

Are you interested in learning more about clinical supervision?

Great Lakes ATTC offers monthly sessions on clinical supervision with the 2022 Clinical Supervision Learning Community. Each one-hour session includes a presentation by a subject matter expert and time for Q&A.  You can also earn one NAADAC CE for completing each session  Learn more about the 2022 Clinical Supervision Learning Community



Duncan, B., Miller S., & Sparks, J. The Heroic Client. (2004). John Wiley and Sons. San Francisco, CA.

Prescott, D. Feedback Informed Treatment in Clinical Practice. (2017). APA. Washington, DC

Sanders, M. Slipping Through the Cracks: Intervention Strategies for Clients with Multiple Addictions and Disorders. (2011). Health Communications, INC. Deerfield Beach, FL.

mirror vintage
Mark A. Sanders, LCSW, CADC; Illinois State Program Manager, Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC
Contributing Center(s):