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Interview with Allyson Davys & Liz Beddoe on why Supervision matters in the Helping Professions

Posted on August 20th, 2010 in Social work & social care

Allyson Davys is Head of the School of Social Development at the Waikato Institute of Technology, New Zealand.

Liz Beddoe is Head of the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Here, they answer some questions about their new book, Best Practice in Professional Supervision: A Guide for the Helping Professions.

How did this book come about? What makes you so passionate about supervision?

This book represents the development of our thinking about teaching and the practice of supervision over the past 20 years. When we started teaching supervision there was very little written about the topic. Our teaching and ideas have paralleled many of the approaches and models of supervision which have emerged in the last two decades. We have followed the debates and the research and attempted to include these in our teaching. This book is an expression of what we have come to value and celebrate about supervision. It is also a way of capturing what we have learned.

We are passionate about teaching supervision because we believe in supervision as a process and as a key to professional practice. Over the years we have been privileged to share with practitioners their supervision experiences. The work of practitioners in health and social services is often hard and not always valued by service users or by the community. Supervision is where practitioners can go for replenishment and a safe space where they can, with honesty, explore their practice. Our passion comes from the appreciation of the work that practitioners do and from our determination that supervision provides a forum where they can be both affirmed and supported to stand back and consider, their practice with a critical eye.

What is the key role of a supervisor in the helping professions?

We believe that there are two key roles of the supervisor. The first is to facilitate learning: to create the space and hold it open so that the practitioner can learn from his or her practice. This means that the supervisor needs to have the skills of engagement – he or she must be able to engender trust and safety and be able to challenge. The second key role of a supervisor is to ensure that the boundaries of supervision and practice are maintained and to manage the tensions. At their peril do supervisors forget their accountabilities to organisation, profession or service users.

Can anyone be a good supervisor?

Many but not all practitioners can be good supervisors. Being a supervisor is more than a skill set – it includes a number of personal attributes and values such as a fundamental respect for practitioners, for clients and an ability to work within the framework of others. Supervisors need to be reflective, compassionate and clear headed. Fundamentally a good supervisor needs to be capable of his or her own honest and critical reflection.

What are the tangible benefits of good supervision for social workers, who are under enormous pressure to ‘do something’?

The most significant benefit of supervision is that it promotes reflective practice which in turn enables practitioners to ‘think’ before they ‘do something’. Supervision also provides the opportunities to reflect after intervention and avoid reactive practice which tends to be crisis-driven, unreflective and often repeats old and unhelpful interventions. Good supervision can assist to prepare social workers for the difficult choices and imperatives of practice with vulnerable people and can provide them with the space to express the emotions collected during the daily interactions with service users, who are often themselves under considerable stress.

At a time of cost-cutting, what arguments are there for funding supervision training?

Supervision is a practice in its own right. Good supervision promotes effective practice and assists practitioners to work safely and to keep well. Poor supervision can create collusion, indifference or add to the stress in the workforce. Practitioners may leave or burn out and leave. A key chapter in our book explores the evidence for supervision as a practice that promotes and sustains professional resilience. A resilient and healthy workforce is well worth the investment in training supervisors.

Our book helps to support these arguments by providing clear frameworks which guide a supervisor to best practice. The book rests on practice experience and draws widely from current research and scholarship, including research we have conducted ourselves. It is a resource which is both theoretical and practical.

Who are your role models in supervision?

Our role models in supervision are the many practitioners and supervisors who have also committed their ideas to paper. Peter Hawkins and Robin Shohet were the first of the new wave of author/practitioners of supervision to inspire us. Their text was refreshing and very accessible – it remains a favourite. Michael Carroll’s work is always engaging, challenging and thought provoking. The late Tony Morrison has been an influence and his work leaves a wealth of practical ideas and easy structures. Then there are the supervisors from our past who have inspired and challenged us out of my comfort zones and into new and creative territory. Finally there are the students who are so ready to engage, take risks to expose their practice and to grow.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.

Watch a short video of Liz Beddoe introducing the new book, Best Practice in Professional Supervision!


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