7 Tips for Supervisors Confronting Challenging Discussions in Play Therapy

As a play therapy supervisor, it’s important to approach hard conversations with your play therapy supervisee in a compassionate and supportive manner. By fostering an open and safe environment, you can encourage effective communication and growth.

Here are some tips on how to introduce those difficult conversations:

1. Create a Safe Space


Before diving into the challenging topic, ensure that your supervisee feels safe and comfortable. Emphasize that your intention is to support their professional development and enhance their therapeutic skills.

To create a safe space, it may be helpful to have an initial conversation with your supervisee about their personal and professional boundaries. This can include discussing what they feel comfortable sharing and what they would like to keep private.

You can also establish ground rules for the supervisory relationship, such as confidentiality and respect.

Another way to create a safe space is to provide your supervisee with resources and support. This can include information about self-care and stress management techniques, as well as referrals to other professionals if necessary.

You can also offer to check in with your supervisee regularly to see how they are doing and if they need any additional support.

It is important to remember that creating a safe space is an ongoing process. You may need to revisit this topic periodically to ensure that your supervisee continues to feel comfortable and supported.

By taking the time to create a safe space, you can help your supervisee feel more confident and prepared to tackle challenging topics in their professional development.


2. Set the Stage


Begin the conversation by expressing your genuine care and concern. Let them know that this discussion is an opportunity for growth and learning, rather than a criticism of their abilities or character.

You can also mention that you understand that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and that this is a chance to find out what areas they can improve on. Additionally, it could be helpful to mention that you are open to feedback as well, and that this can be a two-way conversation where both parties can learn and grow.

Finally, you could also talk about the importance of communication and how this conversation can strengthen your relationship moving forward.


3. Be Specific & Objective


When addressing the issue, provide clear examples and specific observations. This will help the supervisee understand exactly what they need to improve upon and how.

For example, instead of saying “you’re not doing a good job with your clients,” you could say, “I noticed that during your session with Mrs. Smith, you interrupted her several times and didn’t allow her to finish her thoughts. This made her feel unheard and frustrated.”

By focusing on the supervisee’s behavior or actions and their impact on the therapeutic process, you can help them make concrete changes that will benefit their clients.


4. Encourage Self-Reflection


Allow your supervisee space to reflect on the situation and their contributing factors. Help them explore their emotions, thoughts, and reactions. Assist in identifying areas for improvement without placing blame.

One way to encourage self-reflection is to ask open-ended questions, such as “How do you feel about what happened?” or “What thoughts went through your mind during the situation?”

These questions can help the supervisee gain insight into their own thoughts and feelings, which can in turn lead to a deeper understanding of the situation.

In addition, it can be helpful to explore the supervisee’s reactions to the situation, as this can provide insights into their underlying beliefs and values. By helping the supervisee to identify these underlying factors, you can assist them in developing strategies to improve their future performance.

Overall, the goal of encouraging self-reflection is to help the supervisee learn from their experiences and grow as a professional. By providing guidance and support in this process, you can help them to become more self-aware and effective in their role.


5. Collaborate on Solutions


Collaborating on solutions is an essential aspect of any healthy professional relationship. To achieve this, it’s important to shift the conversation towards problem-solving.

One way to do this is by asking open-ended questions that encourage your supervisee to come up with their own resolutions. This will not only help them build their skills and confidence, but it will also foster a sense of ownership over their own growth.

Of course, it’s important to provide guidance and suggestions when necessary. As a supervisor, you have a wealth of knowledge and experience that you can draw upon to help your supervisee.

However, it’s equally important to empower them to take ownership of the process. By doing so, they will feel more invested in their own success and be more likely to remain committed to the work.


6. Provide Constructive Feedback


As a supervisor, it is important to provide constructive feedback to your supervisee. This feedback should be delivered in a manner that is both insightful and constructive.

It is important to take a balanced approach, highlighting your supervisee’s strengths as well as areas for development. When offering feedback, be sure to provide actionable strategies for improvement.

This will not only help your supervisee grow and develop, but it will also lead to a more productive and positive working relationship between the two of you.


7. Reaffirm Support & Growth


Concluding the conversation by expressing your continued belief in the supervisee’s abilities and commitment to their growth is crucial. You can remind them that everyone has areas where they can improve and that these difficult conversations are opportunities for professional advancement.

The supervisee can use the feedback to become a stronger therapist, which will lead to better outcomes for their clients. Furthermore, you can offer to provide additional resources or support to help the supervisee reach their goals.

By doing this, you are not only showing your support for them but also demonstrating your commitment to their professional development. This will create a positive and supportive environment that will encourage the supervisee to continue to grow and improve.


Remember, as a play therapy supervisor, your role is to guide and mentor. Approach hard conversations with empathy and understanding, keeping the best interests of your supervisee and their clients at heart.

Together, you can foster a nurturing environment that promotes growth and excellence in play therapy.