The short answer to this question is of course, yes. So why are there so many social workers and others out in there in helping professions not having regular supervision?
There seems often to be a lack of understanding of what supervision actually is.
Supervision is a professional relationship between an experienced and qualified supervisor, and their supervisee that offers support, mentorship, professional development, guidance and critical reflection. All of which are important at all stages of your career. Even if you are a very experienced social worker who is supervising others, you should still be having your own supervision. You will never have learned everything and you will absolutely need continuing support.
The other concern I sometimes hear about is that “there isn’t time” to attend supervision. Supervision is a part of your job. Just like your case notes, your visits, your internal and external meetings and so on. Building an hour a month into your calendar for supervision is no different than building in an hour a month to attend at a meeting or a training course.
So what does supervision look like?
This depends on the supervisor you have chosen. But most supervision should contain the following components:
- Education/professional development
- Support, especially with regard to work place stress and managing potential burn out
- Critical Reflection and the opportunity to debrief
- Administration, in the case of internal supervision inside your place of employment
Whilst some employers provide on the job supervision, many do not and it is worth discussing with your employer whether they will fund an external supervisor for you. Some social workers engage an external supervisor as well as using the supervision they have on the job. There are many reasons for doing so, such as:
- Ability to discuss workplace concerns freely
- Time away from the stress of the role
- A fresh perspective from someone outside of their place of employment
- Less administration and more time to engage with other aspects of supervision including professional development
The other important element of supervision is that it makes up part of your regular self care. Anyone who works in a helping profession can be at risk of burnout. This can manifest in small ways at first – becoming irritable with colleagues, reduced interest in the role – and can build up to the point of taking large amounts of leave in order to avoid the work place.
Supervision gives helpers the opportunity to share the burden of what they do and to engage in a reflective process that encourages personal and professional development.
It is not unusual to have different supervisors over the course of your career, as you begin to find your place and make decisions about the areas in which you wish to specialise. For example, if you decide to become an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, you will need to engage in an application and exam process that can at times be stressful and overwhelming. Working with a supervisor who specialises in supporting social workers to obtain accreditation (especially when that supervisor is an AMHSW) gives you the chance to have the support of someone who has experience not only in the accreditation process but from a clinical perspective, meaning that you get all of the components of external supervision with the added bonus of being supported through your accreditation application.
How often should you be having supervision?
New graduates and social workers with up to 2 years post qualifying experience should have supervision fortnightly.
Social workers with more than 2 years experience and very experienced social worker should still have supervision at least once a month.
Social workers who have obtained accreditation need to have a minimum of 10 hours supervision a year in order to maintain their accreditation.
Supervision will keep you safe throughout your career. Whether you work on the front line with very high risk clients, community development, non-client facing roles or any of the other myriad jobs that social workers do, you will need support. Taking an hour out of your work month to speak with someone who is experienced and understanding will help you navigate difficult client situations, talk through any work place issues you are having and reflect on your professional development as well as help you career plan. It is a critical part of your practice and is a necessary part of your self care.