Can You See For Miles? Supervision In Absentia

Supervision can be thought of as “a relationship where one or more person’s skills in conducting … [psychological] services are intentionally and potentially enhanced by the interaction with another person” (Hess, 1980, p. 526). Typically, supervision is a service and intervention provided by an experienced, senior professional to a less experienced junior member of a profession (Bernard & Goodyear, 1998). Curiously, supervision of student trainee, new professional or re-training professional’s practice is a relatively new topic of attention in applied sport psychology (Andersen & Van Raalte, 2000). It appears that many professionals are involved in supervisory activities, and that those numbers will necessarily and appropriately increase as the field expands. In both academic environments and other settings, oversight of supervisee professional service provision (e.g., monitoring cases, record review, teaching) is an essential ethical responsibility assumed by anyone who agrees to provide training (Sachs, Burke, & Schrader, 2001).

Supervision may be seen as a “right of passage” whereby an inexperienced practitioner or practitioner in training receives individualized guidance and support while learning the “tricks of the trade”. Although the actual nature and duration of one’s specialized apprenticeship have yet to be clearly delineated, most practitioners would likely agree that supervision of the skills, interventions and often unique situations associated with our work is an influential, critical experience at the onset of one’s career. Ongoing post-supervision consultation with experienced colleagues about our work challenges, which differs from supervision, is also a necessary professional behavior that helps us insure that high quality professional service is provided to clients.

More Supervisors?

Within the past several months, there has been a call to make supervision more readily available to the growing number of aspiring sport psychology professionals, young and old, who are interested in developing and/or furthering their competencies and credentials in sport and exercise psychology (Duda, 2000). In an effort to advance the field and increase the number of AASP Certified Consultants (CC’s), several professionals have offered to provide supervision to those seeking CC status and have listed their names on the organization’s web site. Certainly, this is a generous, well-intended gesture on the part of those who have who choose to mentor others.

Because supervision from a CC is a requirement for certification, there is a need for supervising CC’s and other qualified professionals to be regularly and readily available to others. At the time of this article’s writing, there are approximately 145 CC’s and 54 AASP professionals listing themselves as willing to provide supervision. This suggests that in many areas of the US, Canada, and elsewhere, it is probably quite difficult, if not impossible, to obtain supervision from a qualified supervisor. The traditional arrangement setting that supervision is provided is one in which supervisor and supervisee have regular, face-to-face contact over an extended period of time. However, given the limited availability of sport psychology supervisors, trainees and others other modes of interaction will be required (e.g., telephone, fax, Internet).

Distance Supervision Modalities

Although our crystal balls don’t always work, it is probably safe to assume that telephone will likely continue to be a heavily used modality of communication by which involved parties discuss cases and concerns. Historically, fax machines have been used to transmit documents, (e.g., notes, test data, reports) and will perhaps be used less with the advent of other more sophisticated electronic technologies (e.g., internet).  Supervisors and supervisees often mail tapes and videos. While these are rich, useful samples of behavior, time and security issues come into play and make them somewhat impractical and risky. It is also important to note that e-mail and “chat” functions (i.e., communication of information in the form of text) are certainly extremely common in this day in age, but are not free from security and confidentiality concerns.

Although efficient in many ways, these communication forms make it difficult to transmit certain information as quickly as can be done by face-to-face communication and slows down the transmission of ideas that depend on the typing speed and accuracy of those interacting. Furthermore, this process makes it difficult to sense affect and impossible to read critical nonverbal behaviors. As is the case with other modalities, there is also the possibility of forming misconceptions about work quality, the supervisee, and the settings in which the latter practices when only using Internet functions.

Selected Ethical and Legal Issues

Can supervision “in absentia” (i.e., without regular face-to-face contact) be done in a legal and ethical manner? Is it possible for supervisors to provide a sufficient experience to trainees and other supervision recipients if both parties are not in the same room for a set amount of time on a regular basis? Professional ethical principles and standards and practice laws provide some significant challenges to providers of supervision at a distance.

Responsibility. From a liability standpoint, supervisors must first recognize that they assume ultimate responsibility for the professional behavior of their supervisees. Responsibility always “rolls up hill” to supervisors--not in the other direction in such relationships. This means that if a supervisee somehow harms a client or clients or fails to take appropriate action in a situation and causes harm, the supervisor is accountable for the errors of commission or omission of her or his supervisee in another place. In legal terms, this is referred to as “vicarious liability” or “imputed negligence” (Slovenko, 1980). Given this fact, supervisors and would be supervisors must take the decision to oversee the work of others very seriously.

Practice laws. A little discussed issue involves professional practice laws and distance supervision. Many state and provincial practice laws include the provision of supervision as part of the practice of psychology or counseling. There are often limited windows of practice that allow a professional to practice in a state for a limited period of time (e.g., 30 days) without being licensed in that state. Therefore, it may be that if one provides supervision in absentia over an extended period of time, a violation of state practice law may occur. 

Confidentiality. An overarching issue associated with the sharing sensitive information between the distant supervisor to the practicing sport psychology supervisee is maintaining the confidentiality of information about clients. Confidentiality is the foundation of all helping relationships. This is certainly true in the applied sport psychology settings (e.g., athletics, professional sports) where, in contrast, confidentiality is usually not the “coin of the realm” (Ferrante, Etzel, & Pinkney, 1996). Clearly, a certain amount of risk is assumed when discussing or disseminating information in any way outside of face-to-face behind closed doors.

A related matter is consent to release information to supervisors. Koocher and Keith-Speigel (1998) indicate that before releasing any information to a third party (i.e., a supervisor), clients must provide written consent to release such information specifically identifying who, what, why, how long the information can be provided, and the supervisee’s relationship with the supervisor. It would also be wise to indicate the method by which the information will be released, and any potential threats to confidentiality associated with this methods (Watson & Etzel, 2000)


In a relatively new and rapidly developing field such as sport psychology, the need for quality supervision is evident. The availability of supervision from a distance can serve as a critical link to insure that practitioners in training have access to quality supervision. Such supervision is essential to the provision of quality care and the protection of client welfare. However, it should be noted that the many potential benefits associated with this form of oversight are not risk free. Can you really see for miles?



Bernard, J.M. & Goodyear, R.K. (1998). Fundamentals of clinical

supervision (2nd Ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Duda, J. (Fall, 2000). Let’s keep on humming! AAASP Newsletter, 1, 4-5.

Ferrante, A., Etzel, E., & Pinkney, J. (eds.) (1996). Counseling college student-athletes: Issues and interventions, (2nd .ed.) Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Inc.

Hess, A. (ed.). (1980). Psychotherapy supervision. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Koocher, G., Keith-Speigel, P. (1998). Ethics in psychology: Professional standards and cases. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sachs, M., Burke, K., & Schrader, D. (2001). Ethical principles and standards of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology. In Directory of graduate programs in applied sport psychology (6th ed.) (pp.247-256). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Slovenko, R. (1980). Legal issues in psychotherapy supervision. In Hess, A. Psychotherapy supervision: Theory research and practice, pp. 453-473. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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