Supporting and developing resilience in social work
Supporting and developing resilience in social work

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Supporting and developing resilience in social work

4.1 Reflective supervision

All social workers need the opportunity to reflect on their work in supervision. This is not only needed in times of distress and trauma, but on a regular basis as part of ongoing support and learning. The importance of reflective supervision was highlighted by the Social Work Reform Board in 2010. Subsequently the LGA has published a supervision framework for employers of social workers [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] which you might find useful.

By this stage of your social work development, you are almost certainly experienced in using supervision, although you may need to be proactive in ensuring that you get regular professional supervision. Building on this, in Activity 6 you now think about how you currently use supervision as a means of developing emotional resilience. You will also be creating your own checklist of key points that will help you prepare for and be more active in your supervision sessions.

Activity 6 How to make the best use of supervision for emotional resilience

Timing: Allow about 1 hour 15 minutes

Read Achieving effective supervision (Kettle, 2015).

Kettle reviews the key functions of supervision and explores research findings, different models and approaches. He also explores some dynamics of the supervision process which you may find interesting. Thinking about your own experience of supervision to date, focus on points that strike you as important with regard to developing emotional resilience.

Now use the text box provided to create a checklist of actions that will help you prepare for, and be more active in, your current and future supervision sessions. You may wish to share this with your supervisor. In addition, add your checklist to your emotional resilience toolkit.

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Your checklist should be personalised to your own needs, but perhaps you came up with something similar to the following:

Questions to ask in preparation for supervision

  • What has gone really well this week that I am pleased about? Where and how have I excelled?
  • What does this tell me about my strengths?
  • What is the impact of my practice on service users?
  • What have I found difficult in my practice? Where do these difficulties tend to recur? What areas do I feel stuck in?
  • What am I learning about myself?
  • What are my feelings and emotional reactions to cases that I am currently working with? Am I anxious, fearful, or over-confident, or am I proud and satisfied?
  • If I only had to tell my supervisor three things about my practice, what would they be?
(Source: Grant and Brewer, 2014, p. 60)

Your preparation checklist might have been influenced by what is currently happening in your practice, and aspects of your personal life that might impact on practice. You may also have included points to help you address difficult areas in the supervisory relationship or process. It is seen as good practice to draw up a supervision agreement, setting out mutual expectations. Such agreements often include the commitment to be open about power relations between the practitioner and their supervisor, and set out some principles for how difficulties would be addressed.

Phillipson suggests putting ‘emancipatory practice’ on the supervision agenda, to debate issues of social inequality for service users, and to consider how to address and record service users’ unmet needs. Is this something you want to add to your checklist?

Supervision provides support with immediate situations, helping social workers to find solutions to problems that initially seem insurmountable. Good supervision is also a developmental process that enables the supervisee to gain insight their own emotional reactions, doubts, assumptions and beliefs: this, in turn, improves their future practice. Reflective supervision can also provide the opportunity to explore wider issues of social justice.

Critical reflection and reflective supervision (sometimes known as professional or clinical supervision) act as important protective mechanisms for social workers, enabling them to develop the competencies needed for resilience. Reflective ability is essential for developing emotional literacy: the ability to reflect on thoughts, feelings and beliefs and consider those of others. Supervision has important case management and accountability functions, but these should not overshadow the need for reflective supervision.


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