Boundaries in psychotherapy supervision

Am J Psychother. 2004;58(1):76-89. doi: 10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.2004.58.1.76.


Objective: This study examines the perceptions of trainees and supervisors on the boundaries of the supervisory relationship.

Method: A 19-item questionnaire about the appropriateness of the actions of a psychotherapy supervisor was completed by 43 supervisors and 52 trainees. It was distributed at Grand Rounds and mailed out to psychotherapy supervisors in the community.

Results: Generally, trainees and supervisors agreed about the boundaries of supervision. Only one item indicated a significant difference between trainees and supervisors. Trainees considered the discussion of sexual fantasies as less appropriate than did supervisors. Using factor analysis, two scales accounted for 66% of the common variance. Supervisors scored higher than trainees on scale 1 (F = 5.14, df = 1.92, p = .03) and women scored lower than men on scale 2 (F = 9.88, df = 1.92, p = .002).

Conclusion: Scale 1, a set of items related to sexual topics, revealed a significant difference in supervisor/trainee response with supervisors considering discussion of sexual items as appropriate compared to trainees. Scale 2, a set of items related to self-disclosure, revealed a significant difference with male respondents favoring looser boundaries and more self-disclosure than female respondents. The boundaries of the supervisory relationship are important concerns for our profession. This is the first study to provide an empirical evaluation of perceptions of trainees and supervisors on aspects of boundaries in the supervisory relationship. If the findings are replicated, they could contribute to future analysis of trainee/supervisor relationships. The maintenance of good boundaries between trainees and supervisors is crucial to the integrity of the supervisory relationship.

MeSH terms

  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Organization and Administration / standards*
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching / methods*