Client Supervisory Skills Development
During 2005, the horticultural therapists at the Thrive
Trunkwell Garden Project recognised that some of their
clients might be ready to take on supervisory responsibilities.
The potential supervisors were all clients who had attended
the garden project for several years, but there was no
information or advice available to guide the therapists as to
whom to encourage further and how best to support them
during the early stages.
The following notes summarise the therapists’ experience of
supporting the new supervisors. Together they make a step-
by-step ‘how to’ guide to help other therapists.
What do you look for in a new supervisor?
Important capabilities that must be present before someone
can try supervising are:
Waits until the other person has finished speaking, able to
listen to the other person’s objections, uses questions to
check alternatives and that other person has understood
what to do.
Gives calm, clear, precise instructions that are appropriate to
the other person’s ability to understand.
Is able to do task himself/herself. Gets/keeps the other
person’s attention focused on main activities. Tailors job to
other’s speed, knowledge and skills. Can ‘say it a different
way’. Asks other person to repeat back what to do.
For Health and Safety issues, for personal safety, for rate of
task completion, for task quality, for signs that other person Thrive Briefing
is losing interest or being distracted.
Uses praise and encouragement (verbal or non-verbal), gives
reasons for doing task, builds team feeling. 13
Willing to sit down next to other person and explain, several times if
necessary. Does not fidget, ignore, walk away, argue (verbally or non-
Sees what else needs to be – or could be – done. Able and willing to ask for
help when things go beyond their own abilities to cope, will escalate issues
Willing to take responsibility for the task, for safety of others, for quality of
work, for involvement/learning/sense of achievement of others.
How do you get started?
If someone has all the capabilities to become a supervisor:
· Confirm the interest of that person in supervising others
· Get them to shadow the therapist for a while
· Practice with short episodes of supervising (with therapist not far away)
· Sit down afterwards with the new supervisor and talk about what went
well or needs more practice next time
· Give more opportunities for supervisions.
What do you need the new supervisor to know/be reminded of
each time before they start?
· Non-obvious disabilities or important skills issues of others that might
affect how they work
· When to stop
· Where to put equipment or other materials at end of task
· Where to find the therapist in an emergency.
What do you need the new supervisor to say each time?
New supervisors should learn to check routinely that the people they will be
working with fully understand the task and how to use the tools:
· Say what work is going to be done
· Ask whether other person will help
· Explain/demonstrate task and show how it fits with what others are
· Check person has enough materials or knows where to get more
· Ask if other person is OK using these tools
· Tell them to ask if they need help.
Where can the new supervisor start?
Good tasks/sessions to learn supervisory skills are ones where:
· The new supervisor is only asked to supervise a maximum of two
· Everyone is doing the same task or closely related tasks (e.g. one
person potting up, another making labels)
· NO machinery, and NO sharp tools are involved
· The new supervisor and their team do NOT need to go out of sight or
earshot of the therapist.
What should you look for when reviewing a new supervisor’s
The new supervisor’s achievements and the session during which they
took on this role are recorded on the standard daily assessment form.
· Interaction with the clients and how this has affected the work
· The client’s task achievement
· Evidence from the new supervisor of his/her understanding about
what he/she is trying to achieve from supervising others
· How well he/she explains/demonstrates the tasks to others. Do
explanations suit the tasks being worked on at the time?
· Is the person showing enough awareness of materials and where
these are kept?
· Does the person know when to ask for help when he/she hits a snag
or becomes unsure of what to do?
· Did they show how to complete the task verbally and non-verbally?
· Did they know when to stop demonstrating and let others engage in
· Were they able to show patience even when trying to engage others
who are not very good at the task?
· Willingness to take some responsibility for the other person and for
the tasks being worked on.
On being asked to be a supervisor
People with a range of sensory, physical and learning disabilities were
invited to take on supervisory responsibilities and most responded well.
Often the term ‘supervisor’ seemed rather daunting to clients (and they
refused), whereas less formal ways of describing what they were being
asked to do resulted in a positive response. One client with dementia who
was willing to ‘keep an eye out’, was very helpful to other clients and
proved an effective supervisor, keeping track of the task in hand.
Another client worked well as a supervisor during the day,
but then became anxious later in the evening as she
reflected on what she had been able to do for the first time.
When clients were asked how they felt about acting as
supervisors, their comments included:
“I enjoyed doing supervision very much. I got a sense of
responsibility in the eyes of the staff and clients.”
This increased self-esteem and involvement was echoed by
several new supervisors. One talked about how she loves to
help others enjoy the open space and this role gives her the
chance to help others understand their problems and hers.
“It took the focus away from my own problems, and I think
it was good to give a role model: when I take on this role I
feel included one-to-one with everybody.” Another new
supervisor said that above all he just enjoyed “using his eyes
for the staff”, not just working whilst others work. “The
staff can then concentrate more on clients with high special
Increased confidence in communication can extend beyond
the garden. “I enjoyed doing this very much. I feel wiser and
stronger in conversation with people in the garden and with
carers and people who come to do work at my home. I also
find it easier to talk to people outside Thrive, like in shops,
bus drivers and so on.”
This research forms With careful planning, consultation and support, becoming a
part of Investigating supervisor has proved to be very successful in creating new
Gardens, a research opportunities for a wide range of disabled people. For clients
series undertaken by who have been attending a garden project for several years,
horticultural therapists being asked to ‘keep an eye out’ and supervise the work of
at Thrive Garden others can bring a great sense of involvement and