by Lucy Lewis, Ed.S, MS, NCC
School counselors face unique challenges related to the provision of individual and group counseling within the school setting. School counselors are charged with the diverse tasks of helping students navigate routine developmental challenges, facilitating responses to crisis situations when they occur, and generating solutions to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. Unlike counselors working in community mental health settings, school counselors are often the only individual in the building providing counseling services. With the absence of professional colleagues available within the same setting, principals and superintendents with no background in school counseling often serve as supervisors (Page, Pietrzak, & Sutton, 2001).
Given that peers in school settings possess similar experiences with student issues and familiarity with the responsibilities incurred by school counselors, peer supervision may provide a forum for school counselors to provide social support along with skill enhancement (Agnew, Vaught, Getz, & Fortune, 2000; Crutchfield & Borders, 1997; Thomas, 2005). Peer supervision is defined as “a structured, supportive process in which counselor colleagues (or trainees) in pairs or in groups, use their professional knowledge and relationship expertise to monitor practice and effectiveness on a regular basis for the purpose of improving specific counseling, conceptualization, and theoretical skills” (Wilkerson, 2006, p. 62).
Selection of Peer Supervisors
Autonomy and flexibility exists in determining the size of the supervision group, frequency of meetings, and communication modalities; thus, peer supervision can be adapted to the specific needs of the dyad or group and places the impetus for supervision on the school counselors. School counselors engaged in peer supervision report receiving support and skill enhancement and view peer supervision as an asset to their professional development (Agnew et al., 2000; Benshoff & Paisley, 1996; Butler & Constantine, 2006; Crutchfield & Borers, 1997; Page et al., 2001). Few specific recommendations exist for the selection of peer supervisors, allowing the counselor autonomy in selecting characteristics of the peer supervisor that best fit individual needs. Considerations that may be helpful include years of experience counseling, theoretical orientation, or grade levels served.
Connecting with Potential Peer Supervisors
School counselors could utilize the networks provided by alumni counselor education programs to connect with other school counselor graduates (Thomas, 2005). With the increased use of online social networking capabilities, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, school counselors are not limited by geographical location in the selection of peer supervisors. Technologies such as Skype or FaceTime make it possible for school counselors to provide peer supervision online instead of face-to-face.
Focus of Peer Supervision
School counselors report that structured sessions including the use of tape review and case presentation are beneficial. Tape review allows the supervisees to focus on providing specific feedback on skills and interventions used in the session. Secure services such as YouSendIt or Digital Dropbox make the sending of tape recordings and confidential case notes among peer supervisors easier and more efficient. Ideas for structuring the sessions include:
v Dividing the supervision between discussing relevant research articles on effective interventions and sharing the content of sessions through case presentation (Benshoff & Paisley, 1996; Thomas , 2005)
v Giving equal emphasis to providing support and enhancing skill development through case presentations (Crutchfield & Borders, 1997)
v Providing a structured format that allows for goal setting, evaluation of progress towards goals, and an opportunity to provide feedback to one another on the peer supervision process (Wilkerson, 2006)
Peer supervision may provide school counselors with a necessary roadmap to successfully navigate the challenges faced in the school counseling profession. Resourcefulness is a hallmark of the school counseling profession and school counselors can draw upon rich experiences in the field to provide one another with needed supervision experiences. The following recommended readings provide school counselors interested in peer supervision with additional information on peer supervision techniques and models.
Agnew, T., Vaught, C. C., Getz, H. G., & Fortune, J. (2000). Peer group clinical supervision
program fosters confidence and professionalism. Professional School Counseling, 4,
Benshoff, J. M., & Paisley, P. O. (1996). The structured peer consultation model for school
counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 74, 314-318.
Butler, S. K., & Constantine, M. G. (2006). Web-based peer supervision, collective self-esteem
and case conceptualization ability in school counselor trainees. Professional School
Counseling, 10, 146-152.
Crutchfield, L. B., & Borders, L. D. (1997). Impact of two clinical peer supervision models on
practicing school counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 75, 219-230.
Page, B. J., Pietrzak, D. R., & Sutton, J. M., Jr. (2001). National survey of school counselor
supervision. Counselor Education & Supervision, 41, 142-150.
Thomas, S. R. (2005). The school counselor alumni peer consultation group. Counselor
Education & Supervision, 45, 16-29.
Wilkerson, K. (2006). Peer supervision for the professional development of school counselors:
Toward an understanding of terms and findings. Counselor Education & Supervision, 46,