Harmful supervision

“Supervision is an important component of professional learning, growth, and development in the helping professions. It is at the heart of professional practice on a career-long basis for some professions and a significant element in education and internship for others. Regardless of how long it continues in a professional’s career, it is a practice that is expected to model effective relationship building, the sensitive giving and receiving of feedback, and the careful management of power and difference” (Beddoe, 2017, 88).

With this significance of supervision in mind, it is thus alarming to note that harmful and inadequate supervision remains a persistent problem in the helping professions( see for example Ellis et al. 2014, and  Ellis, Creaner,  Hutman, & Timulak, 2015).

The important journal, the Clinical Supervisor has just published a special issue on harmful supervision: Narratives of harmful clinical supervision: An unacknowledged truthEleven anonymous narratives were provided by practitioners who had  experienced harmful supervision. In the introduction the guest editors, Ellis,  Taylor, Corp, Hutman, and Kangos (2017, p. 4) state:

Despite the ethical mandate “do no harm,” harmful clinical supervision seems to be occurring internationally among mental health disciplines at an alarming rate. Harmful supervision appears to be largely unacknowledged, unrecognized, and not understood, especially from the supervisees’ perspective.

In an analysis of the narratives of  harmful supervision problems of power, boundary transgressions, racism, sexism and systemic inadequacy were found.   Whatever the concerns powerful and unresponsive hierarchies silenced the voices of the supervisees. In the synthesis which completes the issue  McNamara, Kangos,  Corp,  Ellis,  and  Taylor (2017, p. 132) write:

Recurrent across the narratives was a theme of feeling afraid that seeking help and speaking up about a harmful supervisor would have negative ramifications for their personal and professional lives. This fear seemed to stem from the supervisees’ positions in the overall power structures, and the lack of a chain of command to create an environment of accountability and support that would allow the supervisee and/or other professionals at these agencies to feel empowered to speak out.

It is these institutional barriers that must be addressed, especially in an era where so much supervision has reverted to case management and checking timeframes fro action, rather than reflection and honest respectful feedback. I was lucky to be able to write a commentary on the harmful supervision narratives. In my new article in this issue, the expectations of what should constitute excellent supervision form a perspective through which a series of narratives of harmful supervision are reviewed.  Beddoe, L. (2017). Harmful supervision: A commentary. The Clinical Supervisor, 36(1), 88-101. doi:10.1080/07325223.2017.1295894    Read here

PS When free e-prints are gone, if you can’t access via your institution please contact me via ResearchGate 

or email me at e.beddoe@auckland.ac.nz


Beddoe, L. (2017). Harmful supervision: A commentary. The Clinical Supervisor, 36(1), 88-101. doi:10.1080/07325223.2017.1295894    Read free here

Borders, L. D. (2017). Do no harm[ Editorial] . The Clinical Supervisor, 36(1), 1-3. doi:10.1080/07325223.2017.1312833 Read free here.

Ellis, M. V., Berger, L., Hanus, A. E., Ayala, E. E., Swords, B. A., & Siembor, M. (2014). Inadequate and harmful clinical supervision: Testing a revised framework and assessing occurrence. The Counseling Psychologist, 42(4), 434-472. doi:10.1177/0011000013508656

Ellis, M. V., Creaner, M., Hutman, H., & Timulak, L. (2015). A comparative study of clinical supervision in the Republic of Ireland and the United States. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(4), 621-631. doi:10.1037/cou0000110

Ellis, M. V., Taylor, E. J., Corp, D. A., Hutman, H., & Kangos, K. A. (2017). Narratives of harmful clinical supervision: Introduction to the special issue. The Clinical Supervisor, 36(1), 4-19. doi:10.1080/07325223.2017.1297753

McNamara, M. L., Kangos, K. A., Corp, D. A., Ellis, M. V., & Taylor, E. J. (2017). Narratives of harmful clinical supervision: Synthesis and recommendations. The Clinical Supervisor, 36(1), 124-144. doi:10.1080/07325223.2017.1298488


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Harmful supervision

  1. socialworknz says:

    Reblogged this on Supervision in Social Work.

  2. Pingback: Learning at Work week - resources on supervision - The Scottish Organisation for Practice Teaching

  3. Thanks as always such good thinking.

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