I have been interested in supervision for some time and was involved in doing a small qualitative study that looked at supervision of occupational therapists in New Zealand. There were two parts to the study firstly participants in the study were asked what supervision is.
In defining supervision participants spoke of the activities of supervision, the nature of the supervisory relationship and identified three key concepts that described the purpose of supervision. The activities of supervision were raising issues and talking through problems: generating solutions. Raising issues gave a starting point from which supervision could begin. The issues raised were seen as emerging from a wide variety of contexts; those that relate to one’s professional and personal self, those that highlight one’s interactions and interventions with clients, and lastly those that relate to the wider context in which the person worked, for example the team or the organisation. Supervisees were clear that the activity of talking through problems: generating solutions was not about being given answers but rather enabling supervisees to work through their own solutions with guidance and support from a supervisor.
The quality and nature of the supervisory relationship was seen as critical to the effectiveness of these activities. In defining supervision participants described the nature of the supervisory relationship as one of mentoring which suggests as important the notion of nurturing within the relationship. All of the participants saw that the supervisory relationship must be supportive and trusting. These concepts provided a picture of a relationship that should be non-judgemental, respectful, encouraging, and that felt caring. It excluded the elements of oversight, checking and evaluation indicated in much of the literature. Interestingly mentoring was a term that was less frequently used as the interviews progressed and the characteristics of a supervisor became clearer.
For participants the purpose of supervision related to three key concepts; keeping safe, the opportunity for reflecting on practice and the provision of knowledge by the supervisor. Participants were concerned that their role and practice as an occupational therapist put them at risk. They felt at risk firstly by, being in situations where they might find their competence questioned. Secondly, due to the nature of working with people who were under stress or thirdly where they themselves felt physically or psychologically unsafe. Having a means to explore ways of keeping safe was therefore essential. Supporting this by looking at what they were doing in practice and how they were doing it, through reflection on practice and the feedback they received when involved in reflection were important purposes of supervision. Not all therapists have sufficient experience or resources for the variety of challenges that arise within their work place, particularly those new to occupational therapy or those settling into a new role. For these people the provision of knowledge is important. More skilled therapists likewise acknowledged that the knowledge supervisors impart as a part of offering different perspectives or suggesting resources is beneficial.
What really struck me about how the participants defined supervision is that they were showing that they saw that this was a process that could work for them. They clearly wanted to be able to lead in the supervision by having a system that enabled them to work through their own challenges, and at the end to feel that they had come to their own solutions. I think the other thing that strikes you is the committment the therapists were wanting to make to ensure that they were continuing to grow as therapists. In looking at the ability technology now gives us we clearly need to ask if there is a role for web 2 and the internet in this process.