It was delightful to be back in London last week for BACP’s Supervision conference focusing on the joys as well as challenges of supervision. My first In Person conference since before Covid!

Dr Michelle Seabrook on the role of supervision in supervisee wellbeing

Because my whole practice is based around the importance of self care and I’m very clear that I see supervision as self care (a safe space to reflect on your whole practice), I think this was my favourite session.

Dr Michelle Seabrook (@drmish) recently completed her doctorate where she focused on self care in supervision.

Painful as the last few years have been for so many people, it was comforting to be in a room of supervisors discussing self care in supervision, burnout, vicarious trauma, the impact of all sorts of life events, how we had to adapt our approach to self disclosure (all going through the same global events) and, of course, the need and importance of intersectionality.

Steffi Bednarek on the Manifestation of Climate Anxiety in Supervision

While it may sound odd to say that a session on the horrors of the climate emergency was also soothing, being in a room with others who are doing their best to manage it themselves while supporting supervisees and clients felt pretty incredible.

It’s WEIRD to think we spend so much time going on about our daily business without talking incessantly about climate justice, social justice and other essential changes we need to help cocreate if we humans are to have a chance to continue to live on this life support system we call Planet Earth.

Let’s face it, the earth will be perfectly fine without us but we still have a window to make the changes that could not only save humanity but also create a more just, peaceful, equal way forward for everyone.

So yup. I find any kind of conversation about the actual challenges we face heartening (as well as painful. It is utterly horrifying).

In this session, Steffi Bedarek talked about the ways in which climate anxiety and trauma are related. She prefers the term ‘Climate Distress’ as anxiety gives the impression that it’s just one or two worried people rather than millions facing up to a very uncertain future.

Anxiety, she pointed out, evokes a sense of helplessness, hopelessness. Distress is more about fear. Fear is in response to the reality.

Everyone in the room was conscious of the potential of being arrested for Climate Action and being struck off. Especially with the increasingly draconian protest laws in the UK

‘Anxiety suggests it’s individually owned. It’s MY anxiety. We say it’s OUR anxiety. With climate distress, community is essential,’ said Steffi.

And it was again heartening to hear that younger people, while experiencing understandable issues with their likely longer future dealing with it all have that sense of community.

As a trauma therapist, I work with adults who’ve survived childhood. With climate distress, it’s not as simple as that because, as Steffi points out, we – as therapists and supervisors – want to help our clients and supervisees, ‘Manage their distress but not go so far within their “window of tolerance” that they stop taking action. Our role is to help, support and increase the capacity to stay with what feels unbearable.

‘Meditation etc may be PART of that there’s an area of self help that’s about eradicating unpleasant feelings. We don’t want that. Connection and intimacy are essential. We’re all in this together. Our profession really needs to work this out.’

As with so many trauma survivors, Steffi talked about how the losses she’s experienced (friends, relationships and work) have ultimately been blessings.

Comparing it to grief, she said it’s about:

1) accepting the reality if the process
2) working through painful emotions, mourning what is lost
3) adjusting to the new environment
4) choosing a path if action, reinvesting emotional energy

When she said, ‘I think more and more people are going to take their own lives’ I was struck again about the increasing focus on suicidal ideation, especially in young men and how rarely people talk about it within the wider context of what’s going on globally.

One participant talked about the anger young people feel towards governments and to older people in general. The ANGER young people will feel towards all of us for leaving them in this mess.

Oh how I wished Stephen King was on hand to turn it into a book and film.

As with trauma, we need to resource ourselves and others. Steffi says, ‘In order to bridge there needs to be support. My first question is, “What kind of support is needed here?” What coping mechanisms help? Young people feel most supported as they have groups where they can deal with their communal grief. None of that focuses on fixing but expression: “You’re not alone with this I’ll cry with you.”

‘Where is our knowledge and everything we’ve trained for? How can that be useful? Defences can be present in either supervisor or supervisee. In our research, we found that sometimes the therapist thought they were being open to it but the client knew how much they’d held back. How much they hadn’t said.

‘Climate anxiety can be shared or stronger in supervisor. Client or supervisee knowledge can affect supervisor’s life

Brigid Proctor on the task, craft and art of supervision

Brigid, who had turned 90 a month earlier, talked about fifty years earlier when Carl Rogers and co were beginning to be known. Listening to her reminisce about the early days of BACP (then BAC) and how supervision was integrated made me feel hopeful that coaching competencies will become available sometime soon.

I served on BACP’s Coaching Executive from 2013-2019 and as Coaching Chair from January 2017 to November 2018 and while Coaching has long been included in the Ethical Framework, hearing Brigid talk about such a long stretch of time helped me feel more hopeful that we’ll look back and know all the hard work was worth it.

Brigid described the range of ‘bad supervision’ practices they heard of before standards were brought in.: ‘The worst was that people fell asleep the worst barking dogs greeted them at the door.’

Echoing the supervision as self care theme, Brigid talked about the restorative function of supervision: ‘They’re complex things that you’re carrying. There need to be ways in which you can carry them with dignity and courage. There were different factions [within BAC] but all agreed on need for supervision.’

Were you there? What were your highlights?

Feel free to email to let me know.

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With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor