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Supervisor-Counselor-Client Triangle: Definition & Ethical Issues

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Counselors, clients, and supervisors are participating in triangular relationships. What does this mean? What are the effects of the supervisor-counselor-client triangle? In this lesson, we'll answer these questions.

Counseling Supervisors

Lorenzo is a supervisor at a counseling center. Chloe is one of the new counselors who Lorenzo is in charge of overseeing, and Ed is Chloe's client. As a supervisor, Lorenzo wonders about the three-way relationship between himself, Chloe, and Ed.

As a counseling supervisor, Lorenzo's job is to oversee new counselors and offer guidance and mentorship as they work with clients. But how do the relationships between counselor, supervisor, and client impact the therapeutic process? What are some strengths and challenges of this type of three-way relationship?

To answer these questions, let's look at the supervisor-counselor-client triangle, including what it is, how it works, and what the strengths, challenges, and ethical implications of it are.

Sides of the Triangle

To understand the triangle and its strengths and challenges, it's important first to understand what it is. The supervisor-counselor-client triangle is simply the three-way relationship between the supervisor, counselor, and client.

In the context of this relationship, the client is the person who is seeking counseling. In our example, this is Ed. He's the person who is in counseling.

The counselor is the person directly providing the client with counseling. Here, that's Chloe because she's providing counseling to Ed. The counselor in this triangle is also sometimes called the supervisee, because s/he is being supervised.

Finally, the third side of the triangle is the supervisor, who is the person overseeing the counselor and supporting his or her efforts to counsel the client. In our example, the supervisor is Lorenzo.

Supervisor-Counselor-Client Triangle
triangular relationship

The triangle is a natural product of the fact that these three people are in a relationship with each other, but it also plays an important role in the therapeutic process. The purpose of the triangle is to provide balance between the three people, but that balance is constantly shifting. This is a good thing: as the therapeutic relationship progresses, the balance will, too! For example, Chloe may need more input and more direct supervision from Lorenzo at one time but not another. Likewise, the relationship between Chloe and Ed may shift and change as they progress.

Strengths and Challenges

As with all relationships, the supervisor-counselor-client triangle can be good or it can be problematic. Each triad comes with certain strengths and challenges, and how functional the relationship is can largely be determined by how those strengths and challenges are addressed.

One area that can be both positive and problematic is the direct contact between different sides of the triangle. For example, Lorenzo might talk directly to Ed even though Chloe is Ed's counselor. The type and frequency of Lorenzo and Ed's contact, though, can have a major impact on both of them. The same is true with interactions between Lorenzo and Chloe and between Chloe and Ed. Thus, any contact between people in the triangle should be carefully thought through.

One of the strengths of the triangular relationship is that it can offer an outlet for clients and counselors. Both Ed and Chloe can go to Lorenzo separately with problems they are facing in the therapeutic relationship, and Lorenzo can help them sort it out.

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