Why social work academics should care about supervision

Liz Beddoe

Because supervision is an intellectual activity. Supervision should be central to on-going professional development for social workers. Supervision can provide a major forum for facilitating reflective practice and learning in social work. Supervision is essentially an interactive dialogue between two or more people in the professional context. This dialogue “shapes a process of review, reflection, critique and replenishment for professional practitioners” (Davys and Beddoe, 2010, p. 21).
Supervision can easily be seen as mainly about ensuring accountability and be harnessed to the soulless and often intellectually bereft quality assurance machine. Way back in the 1990s Payne expressed concern that supervision had been reduced to an audit and compliance tool, in an increasingly performative culture in public service social work (Payne, 1994). Supervision has been restored to a stronger place in social work practice in recent times as it is frequently identified in major reviews of social work as contributing to good practice outcomes and ensuring on-going practitioner wellbeing and retention. But it can be captured as a sanctified form of surveillance. And in this it is not politically innocent (Adamson, 2011).
Supervision can significantly contribute to the strengthening of professional identity in social work, to “convey the mission and vision” of social work (Tsui, 2005, p.11). Supervision can also bring the examination of culture, gender and class politics, discrimination and institutional racism to the foreground. Excellent supervisors aren’t box-tickers but critical thinkers who have the ability to hold and explore anxiety and fear in practice while retaining a critical edge. Can external supervision hold some of the answers? Read my article in Australian Social Work to explore space, place and safety in social work supervision. http://tinyurl.com/l9q34gy
Let’s reclaim supervision as a thinking space not compliance.
Liz Beddoe


Adamson, C. (2011). Supervision is not politically innocent. Australian Social Work, 65(2), 185-196.
Beddoe, L. (2010). Surveillance or reflection: Professional supervision in ‘the risk society’. British Journal of Social Work, 40(4), 1279-1296.
Beddoe, L. (2011). External supervision in social work: Power, space, risk, and the search for safety. Australian Social Work, 65(2), 197-213. http://tinyurl.com/l9q34gy
Davys, A., & Beddoe, L. (2010). Best Practice in Supervision: A Guide for the Helping Professions. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Payne, M. (1994). Personal supervision in social work. In A. Connor & S. E. Black (Eds.), Performance review and quality in social care (pp. 43-58). London: Jessica Kingsley.
Tsui, M. S. (2005). Social Work Supervision: Contexts and Concepts. Thousand Oaks: Sage.


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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