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Ode to Supervision

There are four main benefits of supervision: confirmation, oversight, instruction, and experience.

Apr 25, 2017

I am currently in the twilight hours of the third and final phase in the ACBC certification process: supervision. I’ve grown convinced of the profitability (I’m tempted to say “necessity”) of supervision while being equipped to counsel.

There are four main benefits of supervision that have been especially important for me: confirmation, oversight, instruction, and experience. No doubt, there is significant overlap amongst this quartet of benefits. Nevertheless, they’re each worth examining in turn.


Aren’t you glad that more than a written exam was required before you (and everyone else) received a driver’s license? It’s almost certain the simple requirement of supervised driving hours—together with a hands-on-the-wheel “driving test”—has literally saved people’s lives. We all see the need for a supervisor’s formal confirmation that one is “fit” to drive. Why? People’s lives are on the line. Albeit in a different sense, the task of counseling has similarly high stakes.

I have felt this great weight of responsibility inherent in formal counseling. Consequently, this benefit of ACBC’s certification process has been incredibly freeing for me: the supervision phase put the pressure on someone else (someone qualified) to decide if and when I am ready to be released into the world as a “safe” driver in the counseling room. More than that: your supervisor helps you get to that point.


Think about learning CPR as part of a first aid program. You must be equipped through various means like reading, lectures, exams, and even practicing the technique on a manikin. But after this foundation is laid, nothing could better equip you to perform CPR in the future than being forced to actually perform CPR on a real person who is really dying. Few of us would feel “competent to resuscitate” until we’ve actually resuscitated someone. Even fewer of us would want our first pass at CPR to occur without the oversight of one more experienced.

I still remember my first formal counseling session, when a man who was spiritually and emotionally “choking” came to me crying out for help. It made a big difference to know a supervisor was looking over my shoulder, ready for me to cry out for someone to help the helper.


How do you minister to a 60-year-old man who has had a decades-long battle with pornography, and his marriage is teetering on the edge of a cliff because of it? Writing an essay about what you would do and say to him is one thing (indeed, a very valuable thing). What you do and say to him while he is literally sitting in front of you is a different ballgame. Ink and paper abstractions can never quite replicate real-life, flesh and blood problems.

I needed the instruction I gained from Phases 1 and 2 of the ACBC certification process. Reading books, observing counseling sessions, listening to lectures, studying for exam questions, actually answering them (and being made to re-answer some of them): all of these things provided an invaluable foundationa. But applying these truths requires still another kind of instruction.

For example, as my supervisor has watched over my counseling ministry, he has helped me identify several areas of counseling that I’m not particularly good at “naturally.” Not only do I now know that I need to make a concerted effort in these areas to compensate, he’s also given me some practical steps to help ensure I do.

To add another example, I possess on my computer a 10-page (and growing!) document titled “Lessons Learned During Supervision.” As it stands now, it is a 58-point outline. Most points have numerous sub-points. Consider just the first three topics addressed: 1) How to deal with a counselee’s unclear testimony/articulation of the Gospel 2) What about people who cancel a lot? 3) How to maintain control of a data-gathering session with couples.


It’s time to state the obvious. Supervision is the phase of certification where you accrue actual counseling experience. That’s good news all by itself. But it gets better; the supervision process actually multiplies the amount of experience you gain from those 50 hours of counseling.

Jesus taught, “Everyone, when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). The one taught becomes conformed to the image of the one teaching. In some measure, the supervised will become like the supervisor. Discipleship always happens this way. Not through instruction only, but also through example and experience.

Consequently, supervision increases the rate at which you move from “one who counsels like he’s been doing it for weeks and months” toward “one who counsels like he’s been doing it for years and decades.” Your trajectory toward being an “experienced” counselor greatly accelerates, as the experiences of a truly experienced counselor vicariously become yours.

I’m deeply thankful to God for my supervisor’s investment in me and my ministry. There is no doubt I am a better minister of God’s Word and servant of God’s people because of it. And that means more than merely being better off as a counselor; I’m a better pastor, husband, parent, friend, and disciple because of it too.