Professional Supervision - A Personal Journey

Mariella Reina  September 2018

It has been a good number of years since I qualified as a BSL/English interpreter and yet I never cease to be amazed about the ongoing breadth of capacity for development and growth that is an enduring feature of this job. Of course the practical elements of working effectively between languages is a vast area of exploration in itself, but the less tangible inter/intra-personal dynamics can have a huge bearing on how successful or otherwise any assignment might be and yet can easily be overlooked.

I distinctly remember how very curious and interested I was when I read the advert for the 360 Supervision Diploma in Supervision. Here was a course offering something quite new for interpreters a practice that is usually thought of in terms of professions like therapy or social work, etc. The idea of placing real focus on the subtleties within our work and the effects the dynamics can have on us seemed both fascinating and important to me.When the opportunity arose to be a guinea-pigsupervisee for one of the trainee supervisors, to say I was keen is something of an understatement! I wanted to know more about what this practice entailed. 

My only experience of being supervised was through line management when I was an employed interpreter. This would take the form of addressing procedural matters, with any time left used to discuss my work concerns and being offered advice and support more in a mentoring style. It was useful, although limited in enabling me to develop my own resources. I found being professionally supervised enabled me to think differently, to ask myself more useful questions, to find alternate perspectives. In a profession where we often feel hampered by a lack of agency, one of the notable benefits is that I have felt more in control as a professional within my work. 

Of course I have always reflected on my work, both alone and with my peers. This has sustained me to a degree, but I now recognise that this tends to be surface level exploration. The suggestions and corroboration from colleagues when talking supportively with each other, whilst being reassuring and helpful in the moment has limitations in terms of ones development and growth. In a professional supervision session, I find myself encouraged and guided to delve more deeply into my own reactions to consider both what impact my presence could be having on the dynamics of work situations, and what effect the dynamics are having on me.

Having experienced the benefits first hand, as soon as the 360 training came up again, I felt that tug. The time and financial commitment made me undecided, so I spoke to a couple of colleagues who had been trained as part of the first cohort to find out their views on the course - hearing consistently glowing praise about all aspects of the course convinced me that it was absolutely the right thing for me. It was a priority and so I made some changes to other commitments in my life to ensure I had the space to fully accommodate and commit to the course. The investment was considerable, but the reward was far greater.

Being truly self-aware takes courage and honesty. The subjective nature of knowing thyselfcan trip us up and cause us to be slightly deluded in truly recognising how we come across to others. Training to become a supervisor pushed me to hold a mirror up and get to know me, Mariella: the interpreter, the woman, the daughter, the partner, and all the other facets of who I am more intimately warts and all! The journey was revelatory as we were immersed in experiential learning, and inevitably at some points it was uncomfortable, as acknowledging certain aspects of who you are can stir unexpected emotions. Any discomfort was offset by the huge reward of new insight gained. Ultimately this depth of understanding of oneself provides you with a strong foundation upon which you can build the skills and techniques necessary to be an effective supervisor.

The journey is ongoing as I continue to experience the benefits of being supervised, and equally as a supervisor I have the pleasure of seeing growth occurring in others that I work with. Professional supervision is a powerful resource which has the potential to raise and maintain standards within the BSL/English Interpreting profession. With meaningful reflection embedded in our practice we become more accountable to ourselves about our work, and we are enabled to become resourceful and resilient with better decision-making skills at our fingertips.

Professional Supervisor
Diploma in Supervision 2018



How Supervision chose me.

Andy Gregory. August 2018 

With the majority of sign language interpreters being freelance practitioners, working mostly in isolation, we rarely have opportunities to offload or explore issues arising from our work in any meaningful way. In my experience, when we do offload, it tends to be either to people close to us personally, who have no understanding of what we do or why we are not leaving work issues at work, or trusted colleagues who may feel obliged to offer support by validating our thinking and actions because they may not want, or know how, to challenge us and encourage further exploration of the issue.   

With professional supervision not being mandatory in our profession, many interpreters’ experience of it relates to line management supervision, if they happen to have been part of an employed, in-house interpreting team. Supervision in this context often prioritises the day-to-day business of the team, with opportunities for support and development only incorporated into sessions if time allows and, even then, will usually be led by suggestions from the line manager, rather than involving any kind of guided reflection.   

Finding myself as a freelance interpreter and a member of a peer group with other interpreters where the focus was very much on socialising and support, rather than professionalism and challenge, I took responsibility for my own development, which included attending workshops run by 360 Supervision. On seeing a Diploma in Supervision advertised by the same provider, although I did not understand fully what professional supervision would entail, my interest was piqued as I knew that I wanted to engage in it in some way. When the suggestion to my peer group that we might benefit from facilitation and more structure to our sessions was met with a lukewarm reception, that was the incentive I needed to apply for the Diploma course – still not really knowing what it would mean. Read on...

It had not occurred to me to find my own supervisor but, thankfully, this was a pre-requisite of joining the course and a random encounter resulted in me making contact with one of the graduates from the first cohort of the Diploma in Supervision course who was happy to take me on.

When considering what my image of successful supervision might be, I was aware of a desire for support, challenge and space to reflect on and explore my practice further, but had assumed that my supervisor would simply give me the benefit of her experience as an interpreter and offer solutions, or a range of options for me to consider, regarding any issues I was struggling with. As it turned out, supervision was going to require me to give a lot more of myself than I had anticipated…and the Diploma course even more so!

As far as supervision goes, I had thought about the ‘what’, but not considered the ‘how’, so the process of supervision was very different from my expectations. I arrived for my first session with plenty of content: two direct questions that I just wanted the ‘right’ answers for; a skills issue (an occasional mental block with understanding fingerspellings, that I had previously taken to a mentor); and a couple of scenarios for discussion.

What actually happened was that both questions were directed straight back to me and I explored options and came up with solutions I felt comfortable with. Rather than focusing on the actual fingerspelling skill - my mentor had suggested getting hold of skills development DVDs, watching online clips and getting myself booked onto a one-day course covering this issue – my supervisor, picking up on the word “occasional” in my description of the issue, identified it was not a skills issue and, instead, focused on me, asked me to monitor the occasions when the mental block happens and do a ‘body check’ – ask myself, “How am I today? Am I tired or stressed?” etc. That, right there, for me was the difference between mentoring and supervision.

Regarding the scenarios, I was challenged every time I stated, as fact, what somebody present was thinking about me or feeling at the time, as well as experiencing a ‘funnelling technique’, where my supervisor picked up on key words and phrases I was unconsciously repeating, followed by probing questions to open me up and get to the real heart of the matter. It was so strange hearing my own words come back at me in the form of a challenge, but crucial in encouraging me to identify how I wanted to address the situation. Even though there were some strong challenges, it was done in a non-judgemental way with a balance of support and challenge from a person who held authority in the session but was not authoritarian. Supervision appeared to be about support, accountability and also have an educative function.

All of the above in my first hour of professional supervision, which was followed by some serious reflection on how I had managed to do without this for two years as a freelancer!

Some further reading.

Supervision and the Interpreting Profession:

Support and Accountability Through Reflective Practice
by Ali Hetherington

A Magical Profession?

Causes and Management of Occupational Stress in the Signed Language Interpreting Profession
by Ali Hetherington

Working as a Team:

The importance of training and clinical supervision of interpreters and practitioners for best practice in gender violence contexts.
by Beverley Costa

Supporting information and guidance:

Supporting effective clinical supervision
CQC 2012