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Our understanding is that you, as supervisees, come to supervision with a history of supervision: if not an actual experience, then with some ideas or assumption about. You will have, already, an understanding or concept of what supervision should be or should not be – either from direct experience or from hearing others talk about it, or from the assumptions you make from hearing and using the term ‘supervision’. It is important that you come to an agreed understanding with your supervisor about what supervision means.

Here are five definitions of supervision:

1. “Supervision is a regular, protected time for facilitated, in-depth reflection or clinical practice.” (Bond and Holland, 1998)
2. “Supervision is a working alliance between to professionals where supervisees offer an account of their work, reflect on it, receive feedback, and receive guidance if appropriate. The object of this alliance is to enable the worker to gain in ethical competency, confidence and creativity to as to give the best possible service to clients.” (Inskipp and Proctor, 2001)
3. “Supervision is the construction of individualised learning plans for supervisees working with clients.” (McNulty, 2003)
4. “Supervision is a place of trust where a healthy relationship gives me a safe place to acknowledge and work with my clinical concerns, stresses, fears and joys.” (Johnson, 2003)
5. “When a person consults with a more ‘seasoned’ and experienced practitioner in the field in order to draw on their wisdom and expertise to enhance his/her practise, then we would call this process supervision.” (Gilbert and Evans, 2000)

When we take elements of these definitions together supervision emerges with a number of features:
1. To ensure the welfare and best-quality-service for clients
2. To enhance the personal and professional development of supervisees through ongoing reflexivity that results in advanced learning.
3. To gate-keep and monitor those who wish to enter and remain within their professions
4. To benefit from the input of others as this applies to our work
5. To draw on the wisdom and experience of another
6. To build in accountability for the quality of the supervisee’s work at all levels and to offer assurances to those who need to monitor that accountability

A number of elements go to make up supervision which include:
A) A Forum For Reflection
Supervision is the forum where workers reflect on their work and learn from that reflection through their interaction with another who takes on the role of the supervisor. We will look in some detail later on what reflection is and how supervisors facilitate reflection.
B) A Forum For Accountability
Supervision is a process where client’s cases are presented and the supervisee’s work with them is monitored, considered, reviewed, dissected with learning being brought forth. It is also a process of accountability where ethical and professional issues are considered and stakeholders in the supervision process (clients, organisations, professional associations and those who pay for the work) are assured that quality is being maintained.
C) The Focus Is On Experimental Learning
Experimental Learning is the type of learning most appropriate to supervision. Not the only type but the one most often used. Supervision is built on the reflection/action model where practise of counselling/psychotherapy becomes the vehicle for learning. The Experimental Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1984) comprises of four stages (see diagram):
a) Activity

1. Supervisees DO their work – ‘How are you doing your work?’ is the question asked by supervisors
2. Supervisees STOP doing their work and start REFLECTING on it. ‘Are you able to reflect openly and honestly on your work?’ is the relevant question here.
3. Supervisees draw out their LEARNING from their reflection. ‘What are you learning?’
4. Supervisees then APPLY their learning. ‘Do you implement your learning? Do you integrate this learning into your work activities?’

Supervisees can get stuck at any stage of this process, i.e., they find themselves not able to engage in the activity, not able to reflect, not able to learn, not able to apply learning. The following are examples of individuals stuck at various points of the Experimental Cycle.

Jane is so stressed and over-worked that she is unable to DO her work as she would like to. She is stuck at the Activity Stage.

Jack is so worried about getting it right and being seen to get it right that he cannot allow himself to consider areas of his work where he is not doing well. He is stuck at the Reflective Stage.

Jill gets stuck in the Learning Stage by not allowing herself to be vulnerable (and in a place of not knowing) so she cannot ask for what she needs in her learning.

Jim comes up with great ideas but they never seem to get applied because he moves too fast and tries to do too much too quickly. He is stuck at the Application Stage.

information contained above is an extract from publication “On being a Supervisee – Creating Learning Partnerships” by Michael Carroll & Maria C. Gilbert

Published 2005 by Vukani Publishing