107 – Group Supervision for Counsellors

107 – Group Supervision for Counsellors

Working with Intrusive Thoughts – Dealing with Emergency Phone Calls from Clients

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In episode 107 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Ken Kelly and Rory Lees-Oakes talk about intrusive thoughts and how best to deal with these. In ‘Practice Matters’, Rory then looks at how to deal with emergency phone calls from clients. Last, the presenters discuss group supervision for counsellors and how this is different from one-to-one supervision.

Working with Intrusive Thoughts (starts at 1.48 mins)

What are intrusive thoughts? They are horrible, shocking thoughts that might suddenly enter our mind (for example, about something dangerous or illegal we could theoretically do at a particular moment in time), and that we can recognise as unwanted and often antisocial or otherwise inappropriate.

It’s common to fear that having such thoughts means we are somehow bad or unwell. They can feel shameful to become aware of, so that many people don’t ever tell others about them, feeling that their thoughts need to remain secret.

When Rory talked about these in class, as a college lecturer, he used to see a look of relief on many a student’s face as they realised they were not the only one to experience these.

Indeed, having intrusive thoughts is a very natural part of being human, and everyone experiences them to some degree. Just because we think something horrifying doesn’t mean that we have any genuine wish or intention to follow through and to act on it.

In the therapeutic context, Rory and Ken have the following guidance for counsellors and psychotherapists:

  • It can be very helpful to normalise intrusive thoughts, so that the client understands that they are not alone in thinking such things.
  • However, it’s important to check out that any such thought described by a client is not instead a developing thought – i.e. a persistent negative thought that remains in the client’s mind and is being gradually built upon (e.g. persistent suicidal ideation or planning to commit a crime).

Intrusive thoughts can feel almost like a dream or daydream in quality – not relating to reality and just popping up uninvited in the person’s head as they go about their everyday life. In the UK, the TV drama ‘Pure’ is full of intrusive thoughts.

Emergency Phone Calls (starts at 15.51 mins)

Rory looks at the nature of counselling as not a blue-light (i.e. emergency or urgent) service. He explores what to do as a counsellor if you receive a desperate call from a client between sessions.

Rory asserts that many such problems can be avoided by careful contracting and by prudent consideration of your phone-contact arrangements as a counsellor.

Group Supervision for Counsellors (starts at 20.01 mins)

One-to-one clinical supervision – typically attended monthly (or perhaps more often for counselling students) – is not the only form of supervision.

Group supervision for counsellors may take place in various contexts, principally as a trainee counsellor in your learning institution (led by a tutor) and/or in your placement environment (led by a member of staff from the agency).

Most awarding bodies allow students to count group supervision as part of their supervision hours, but it’s important to read the regulations carefully, as you can’t usually claim 100% of the time – instead having to divide this between the number of group members in some way.

Ken and Rory discuss some pros and cons of group supervision for counsellors:


  • Participating in group supervision is like accessing the ‘hive mind’ – in other words, a really rich resource of many different experiences and ideas from potentially wide-ranging frames of reference.
  • If your agency runs its own group supervision sessions, you will be accessing support based on your specific work context, with access to expertise on the specialist area (if any) covered by the organisation.


  • Because it involves a group, this type of supervision is naturally subject to the potential difficulties of group dynamics – with members potentially finding each other difficult in some way. This can be challenging, albeit potentially developmental.
  • Confidentiality becomes more complex when talking about clients to more than one person. For example, in a local area, there is a much higher risk that a group member will know one of the clients that another member brings to the group supervision.

It’s vital to cover all your supervision arrangements in your contract with the client, so that they are aware where and with whom their material may be discussed.