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Multiple Responsibilities-Functions & Multiple Roles in Supervisory Relationships in Psychotherapy and Counseling


This resource page is part of our Online Courses on
Supervision in Psychotherapy and Counseling

This page provides background and resources regarding multiple loyalties and multiple roles that are an inherent part of supervisor-supervisee relationships.

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The relationship between clinical supervisor and supervisee is more complex than many clinicians and supervisors often realize. Supervisory Relationships inherently involve multi responsibilities or multi functions, or what one may call mandated multiple roles. Tensions may exist between the supervisor's ethical, legal and gatekeeping roles, which include:

  1. Enhancing supervisees' growth and professional development: Supervisors have a responsibility to facilitate the supervisee's professional growth and development, as well as acting in an evaluative role to determine whether the supervisee is adequately progressing and acquiring the skills and knowledge toward becoming an independent practitioner.
  2. Protecting the clients: Supervisors have direct responsibility to the welfare of the supervisees' current clients. In fact, in many states the supervisee's clients are considered the supervisor's clients for whose welfare he/she is responsible.
  3. Protecting future clients who may be treated by the supervisees: The supervisor's training of the supervisee and the final approval that the supervisee is ready to practice independently (after they also fulfill all the state's pre-licensure requirements of exams, education, etc.) also means that he/she is somewhat responsible for future clients of the supervisees.
  4. Protecting the public: Like other psychotherapists, counselors and mental health practitioners, supervisors have the duty to protect the public in cases, such as child/elder abuse/neglect, danger to members of the public (i.e., Tarasoff) as these duties apply to the supervisees' clients.

Supervisors inevitably must negotiate between their above mentioned and other various responsibilities and approach each role thoughtfully and consciously. When different roles or responsibilities are in conflict with each other, supervisors must seek ways to resolve the conflict, while keeping the welfare of clients as a priority.

Besides the inherent multiple roles and responsibilities outlined above, supervisors, especially in universities, colleges and other educational settings, may engage in professional or social multiple relationships with their supervisees due to the fact that they often have a variety of professional roles with supervisees besides that of a supervisor. Additional supervisors’ roles or functions may include serving on a dissertation committee, hiring the supervisee as a research assistant, teaching an academic course where the supervisee is a student, serving as an instructor on supervision or practicum groups where the supervisee is part of the group, being involved in general evaluations of the supervisee’s academic progress, and/or socializing with the supervisee in institutional holiday parties or other communal or institutional social events. A few researchers have acknowledged that social multiple relationships between supervisors and supervisees generally can be beneficial to supervisees as they can a healthy part of the mentoring aspect of supervision. Sequential professional or social multiple relationships are not uncommon between supervisors and supervisees as, in many circumstances, the supervisees, upon completing the supervisory and licensure requirements become colleagues of the supervisors.

As noted above and in our review of Multiple Relationships in Educational Settings, supervisors may face potentially unavoidable professional and social multiple role situations in educational and training settings. Our summary of the Codes of Ethics on Supervision in Psychotherapy and Counseling provides details of how different codes view the ethics of supervision and the supervisor-supervisee roles.


Online Resources

Additional Resources

  • Abela, A & Scerri C. S. (2010). Managing multiple relationships in supervision: Dealing with the complexity. Chapter 14. In C. Burck, G. Daniel (Eds) Mirrors and Reflections: Processes of Systemic Supervision.
  • Barnett, J. E. (2008). Mentoring, boundaries, and multiple relationships: Opportunities and challenges. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 16, 3-16.
  • Burian, B. K., & Slimp, A. O. (2000). Social dual-relationships during internship: A decision-making model. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 31, 332-338.
  • Cornell, W. F. (1994) Dual Relationships in Transactional Analysis: Training, Supervision, and Therapy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 24, 21-20.
  • Falender, C. A., (In Press). Multiple Relationships and Clinical Supervision. In Zur, O. (Ed.) Multiple Relationships in Psychotherapy and Counseling: Unavoidable, Common and Mandatory Dual Relations in Therapy. New York: Routledge.
  • Falender, C. A., & Shafranske, E. P. (2004). Clinical supervision: A competency-based approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Falender, C. A., & Shafranske, E. P. (2008). Casebook for clinical supervision: A competency-based approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Forester-miller, H. & Jack A. Duncan, J. A. (1990). The ethics of dual relationships in the training of group counselors. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 15/2, 88-93.
  • Gottlieb, M. C., Robinson, K., & Younggren, J. N. (2007). Multiple relations in supervision: Guidance for administrators, supervisors, and students. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38, 241-247.
  • Heru, A.; Strong, D.; Price, M & Recupero, P. (2004) Boundaries in psychotherapy supervision. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 58/1: 76-89.
  • Kurpius. D., Gibson. G., Lewis, J. & Corbet, M. (1991). Ethical issues in supervising counseling practitioners. Counselor Education and Supervision, 31,48-57.
  • Nelson, M.L., & Friedlander, M.L. (2001). A close look at conflictual supervisory relationships: The trainee's perspective. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48, 384-395.
  • Slimp, P. A. O., & Burian, B. K. (1994). Multiple role relationships during internship: Consequences and recommendations. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 25, 39-45.
  • Sullivan, L. E. & Ogloff, J. R. P. (1998). Appropriate supervisor - graduate student relationships. Ethics & Behavior, 8, 229-248.
  • Tromski-Klingshirn, D. M., & Davis, T. E. (2007). Supervisees' perceptions of their clinical supervision: A study of the dual role of clinical and administrative supervisor. Counselor Education & Supervision, 46, 294-304.
  • Whiston, S. C., & Emerson, S. (1989). Ethical implications for supervisors in counseling of trainees. Counselor Education and Supervision, 28, 319-325.

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