Definition and Purpose

What is Clinical Supervision?

The CMMH and AOD workforces comprise workers from several different disciplines - social work, psychology, nursing, counselling and others - each with their own idea of what clinical supervision is. Though definitions of clinical supervision vary, the principal aims described in the literature are fairly consistent and can be summarised as follows:

  • to enhance supervisees' skills, competence and confidence
  • to provide a reflective space and emotional support
  • to provide assistance with professional development
  • to ensure that services to clients is safe, ethical and competent
  • to ensure compliance with professional and organisational treatment standards & practices

Click here to learn more about the necessity of effective clinical supervision.

For the purposes of these Guidelines, clinical supervision shall be defined as follows:

Clinical supervision is a formal and disciplined working alliance that is generally, but not necessarily, between a more experienced and a less experienced worker, in which the supervisee's clinical work is reviewed and reflected upon, with the aims of: improving the supervisee's work with clients; ensuring client welfare; supporting the supervisee in relation to their work, and supporting the supervisee's professional development.

But I don't do clinical work ...

We use the term 'clinical' supervision, as distinct from 'managerial' supervision, to describe a process intended to support workers in human service organisations to provide a better, more confident and creative service to clients. In this case, the primary focus is the actual doing of the work and how workers can extend themselves in relation to their practice. By contrast, 'managerial' supervision almost exclusively centres on whether certain performance standards have been attained and organisational protocols followed (organisational outcomes). Tasks which fall to administrative supervisors include such things as performance reviews, workload planning and management, and general problem solving and decision making. In reality, many supervisors hold line management responsibility for those whom they supervise clinically. (These guidelines examine how this dual role can be managed successfully.)

We recognise that the term 'clinical' is imbued with many meanings, including a strong association with the medical model of health. We wish to stress that the practice referred to in these guidelines is not based on any one approach to recovery, let alone one which defines health largely as the absence of disease. We have aimed to make the guidelines useful to various professional groups with different practice orientations and philosophies (e.g., social workers, counsellors, occupational therapists and psychologists) as well as workers in the field who have certificate or diploma level qualifications.

Supervision ... but we're all equals here

In its common usage, the word supervision implies a hierarchy of power, with one party favoured as the authority or master and the other typically a recipient of advice or direction. Clinical supervisors are often accomplished and/or experienced clinicians. At different times and with different supervisees they may act as a teacher, coach, mentor, role model and/or advisor. This will vary according to many different factors, not least, the level of the supervisee's field experience. Whilst supervisees may require guidance and direction at times, we view effective supervision as a collaborative process, wherein supervisees take an active role in:

  • choosing what aspect of their practice to focus on and explore
  • determining how the supervisor-supervisee dyad works together
  • offering feedback about the experience of the supervisory process and the relationship
  • developing and being accountable to their own professional standards

In this context, supervision is a process of guided reflection rather than simply a top-down exchange emphasising the organisation's expectations.

References for this section: Mental Health Coordinating Council (Bateman, Henderson & Hill, 2012); Amies & Weir (2001).