When you hear the term “supervision,” what comes to mind? If it’s someone watching you and directing your work, you’re not alone—this is what many people think of! Or maybe you think back to your days in “supervised practice” during your dietetic internship when you were working alongside an RD who signed off on all of your chart notes.
Clinical supervision is something different. It’s when you meet with someone who can help you through clinical cases—like a mentorship relationship, but a bit more involved.
Clinical supervision is common in the psychotherapy world, as well as among dietitians who specialize in eating disorders. But outside of the eating disorders field, many dietitians have never heard of supervision. Which is a shame, because supervision is imperative for effective training and growth as a nutrition counselor.
What Is Clinical Supervision?
Despite it being common practice, there isn’t a single standard definition of clinical supervision. In the dietetics field, clinical supervision consists of regular meetings to discuss clinical cases, including how the dietitian is handling the case, challenges in the case, the relationship between the dietitian and client, cultural considerations, professional boundaries, and much more.
Elyssa Toomey, RDN, a clinical supervisor and eating disorders specialist, says clinical supervision is an opportunity to connect with another clinician for three main purposes: to ensure the best interests of the client are protected, to improve the ability of the clinician to provide value to their clients, and to allow monitoring of the self-care and work-life balance of the clinician.
The goal of clinical supervision is to provide the dietitian with a safe space for reflection, emotional support, and professional development. It’s also important to ensure that the dietitian’s clients are receiving ethical and competent care that adheres to the scope and standards of practice.
There are a few ways to participate in clinical supervision. The traditional method is one on one with an expert in the dietitian’s area of practice who’s trained in supervision, such as a clinician in a group practice the dietitian works for, an independent clinician, or a practitioner who works for another clinic or organization. Another method is group supervision, in which the supervisor works with a small group of supervisees at the same time. A third method is peer supervision, when a group of clinicians discuss cases among themselves without a lead supervisor. Each method has its benefits, and engaging in a variety of supervision methods can be especially beneficial.
What Are the Benefits?
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of supervision is having someone to turn to when you’re not quite sure what to do with a case or want some reassurance you’re headed in the right direction. It’s so supportive to be able to talk through tough cases, challenging interactions, and personal conflicts with work.
Courtney Bellino, MS, RD, LDN, a dietitian in private practice, says supervision allows her the opportunity to discuss client cases in depth and receive feedback from someone who’s been working in the field much longer than her. “I find the wisdom of my supervisor so invaluable,” Bellino says. “I’ve been able to take a deep dive into reflecting upon my feelings and perceptions regarding various cases, so I’ve learned a lot about myself as a clinician. I’ve also strengthened my counseling skills and have been provided resources regarding clinical recommendations for working with clients.”
Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CEDRD-S, a clinical supervisor and dietitian who specializes in eating disorders, says, “I would not be where I’m at without supervision—it has not only helped me keep clients coming back and become a stronger clinician but [also] has taught me […] how to handle lots of sticky situations with my clients and my own boundaries.”
Who Should Participate?
Clinical supervision isn’t just for new dietitians—it’s a career-long tool.
Toomey says, “Supervision is a gift to yourself that allows you to continue loving your work.” She describes it as “an investment in your professional and personal growth, an opportunity for new perspectives, and a chance to question and hone your unique path.”
You might be wondering whether supervision is just for dietitians specializing in eating disorders. The answer is no! All dietitians can benefit from supervision, especially those in counseling roles.
“The general topics of supervision include boundaries, transference, countertransference, confidence, and counseling skills, which are applicable to many different RD settings,” McGurk says. “Supervision will only strengthen our profession and does so by improving both skills and our ability to grow and learn as humans.”
How to Find a Clinical Supervisor
There are a variety of ways to find a supervisor. If you work in a group practice or facility, your workplace likely offers supervision; but if it doesn’t, it’s a great idea to seek supervision on your own.
One way to do this is to meet colleagues in your personal network within your area of practice. You might also ask your colleagues whether there are any clinical supervisors they can recommend. Another is through special interest groups such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Dietetic Practice Groups.
You also can find supervisors through dietitian Facebook groups, as well as searching the internet for RDs in your specialty and checking their websites to see whether they offer supervision. Luckily, supervision seems to be becoming more popular in the dietetics field, with more and more RDs offering and using this valuable service.
Some dietitians stick with the same supervisor for years, while others prefer to bounce around and work with different supervisors with varying specialties depending on their needs. Supervision is highly customizable and is all about getting dietitians the support they need to do their best work.
— Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, is a private practice dietitian, health writer, and consultant based in Chicago. Her specialties include intuitive eating, vegan nutrition, research, and communications.