Supervision: Am I doing it right?

By Laura Halton

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

At the end of my first year on the initial training course for educational psychologists there were a year’s worth of university discussions, literature and placement practice circulating like a Ferris-wheel of reflection in my mind. Surprisingly – for me – none more so than my understanding and participation in supervision. The BPS accreditation standards for educational psychology courses (2019) state that supervision is a ‘critical component of safe, effective, reflective, ethical psychological practice’. An established practice amongst other professions, including clinical psychology and counselling, supervision has seen a rise in importance in educational psychology practice since the turn of the century. On placement, trainee educational psychologists should receive 30 minutes per day of protected supervision. Good supervision is now considered vital professional practice for educational psychologists (EPs).

Hawkins and Shohet (2007) suggest that there are three functions to supervision: Supportive, Managerial and Educative. At the beginning of the year, I quickly identified that I prefer a managerial approach to supervision. Naturally, I feel most comfortable sharing a weekly update of completed practice with my supervisor. I want validation that I have formulated logically, approached tasks systematically and have reflected effectively. Because of this, I used supervision as a regular opportunity to check that I was ‘doing it right’ and, in my eyes, my needs were being met.

An epiphany

At least, that was my opinion until the second university seminar on the topic, where we were asked to reflect on how valuable supervision had been so far. Valuable? Supervision was reassuring for me, my supervisor knew what I had done and we could tick it off our to-do lists. But, valuable? How had I actually developed myself? Cue a light-bulb moment. From that one question, I realised that I had been wasting an amazing opportunity. In my strive to check that I was ‘doing it right’, everything about my approach to supervision was wrong. It dawned on me that it isn’t a tick-in-the-box exercise but an opportunity to learn from an experienced professional, challenge my understanding and develop my own practice.

A learning curve

It was then that I made a conscious decision. Supported by the university tutor, I was going to make an active change in my approach towards supervision. I braced myself and jumped in feet first. In collaboration with my placement supervisor, we scheduled a 20-minute problem-solving session into each supervision. I could not believe the change. From the first reformed session, we were sharing topics of interest, bouncing ideas off each other and working creatively. I felt that I had developed more in one session than the entirety of my previous supervision experience. I left the checklists at my desk, trusted in the support of my supervisor and embraced supervision as a valuable part of professional practice. In doing so, I was able to loosen my life-long obsession with checking that I was ‘doing it right’ and began to enjoy practicing a little flexibility of thought. It felt like a self-imposed weight had been lifted.

A safe space

On reflection, I realise that my need to produce a pre-written checklist of completed work each week was driven by my desire to appear competent. Having previously worked in a profession where you were expected to independently identify and solve problems before they came to the attention of your managers, I initially struggled to trust in the integrity of supervision as a practice for development. However, as my engagement in the educative function of supervision grew, so did the trust in myself and my relationship with my supervisors. I realised this during my second placement To my amazement, I – the girl who had previously just used it ‘to tick a box’ – sought supervision to discuss the emotional impact of a piece of casework. Never before had I allowed myself to discuss how a piece of work had affected me, never mind how it had upset me. In trusting its principles, I was able to experience all three functions of supervision within one session. I left it feeling reassured, informed and protected – my initial desire at the beginning of my engagement in supervision.

A final thought

One year on, I feel that it is only through the development of all three functions that I have seen the true value of supervision. As the academic year ends, perhaps now is the ideal opportunity to reflect on your views and approach towards supervision. Although your preference may lean towards one function of supervision, I wonder if it would be of surprising benefit to your practice to consciously tweak your existing approach. Moving forward, I am determined to continue to utilise the functions of supervision, practise flexibility in my own approach and make the most of the opportunity to develop in collaboration with my supervisor.

Laura is a trainee educational psychologist who is currently in Year 2 of the initial training course at the University of Birmingham

Thinking about trans-cultural supervision and working with difference

By Haley Fong, Tara Janda and Anita Soni

man wearing white top in front of woman wearing blue long sleeved top

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

 

 

In this blog post we explore the concept of trans-cultural supervision and how we have used this in our practice. The context of the supervision is between Anita who is an academic and professional tutor and two of her Year 1 trainees: Haley and Tara. Here they share their use of experiences of trans-cultural supervision.

Background

Anita: Tara, Haley and I have been exploring trans-cultural supervision in our sessions through undertaking an activity together from Hawkins and Shohet (2012) to help us become more aware of our own and each other’s cultural perspectives and to work in a culturally sensitive way. Hawkins and Shohet remind us to bear in mind the following;

  1. It is important to become conscious of our own culture.
  2. All cultures are equally valid, but as we operate within different cultures we may hold different values and assumptions. Habitual ways of thinking can arise from cultural assumptions.
  3. It is good to be sensitive and open to the differences that may arise, by both taking an interest in other cultures and areas of difference, whilst never assuming we understand the cultural world of another person. This means we start with an interest in finding out from the others whilst accepting our own not knowing.

The Activity

In order to explore our cultures we used the following activity:

Person A explain to Person B What I would like you to know about my cultural background is… (where cultural background is interpreted in the widest sense and so can include many aspects of a person’s life that they think is relevant).

Person B listen carefully to Person A and recounts what they have heard.

Person A listens to Person B and clarifies, corrects any misunderstandings, adds further information

Person B then reflects how this may relate to the supervisory relationship.

The roles are then reversed and Person B then explains to Person A about their cultural background, and the following steps are repeated.

The discussion ends with considering what might be the same about each other, and where there are overlaps.

Haley, Tara and I tried this activity towards the end of their first term in university and have reflected on how it felt. Initially we all felt unsure and apprehensive but decided to give it a go.

Reflections

Haley:

Once I heard Anita share freely about various aspects of her life, it made me feel comfortable and confident that it was a safe space for me to do likewise. This sets the tone so that we know we can share our thoughts and background without being judged. I think being able to share aspects of what makes me ‘me’ is so important to enable understanding my values and thinking. Also, it made me consciously aware of what was important to me in terms of culture. It is important for me to be aware of my assumptions so that I can be accepting and sensitive to others too.

After hearing both Anita and Tara sharing their culture, I felt that I was able to begin to understand their background and what brought them to where they are today and gained insight into their cultures although far from knowing it all! Although it was really useful to explore which areas of our cultures were similar, it was even more interesting to explore what areas were different. This is because during future supervision, it can help to highlight why we may have different interpretations of the same concept or situation. In that sense, we can learn from other points of views and engage in thought-provoking discussions based on these. Therefore, it elevates supervision to another level as we can be reflective of our own thoughts and reasons as well another person’s thoughts and reasons.

Tara:

I valued listening about both Haley’s and Anita’s culture and the aspects they considered to be important to them. It gave me insight into their unique journeys to their current positions. Additionally, I gained understanding into aspects of their life they deemed significant and through the discussion was able to compare and contrast this with my own experiences. Listening to both Haley’s and Anita’s accounts made me aware of how much I could learn from them as their experiences differed from my own.

The experience was a structured and safe method in which I could share aspects of my life, such as my school experience, previous jobs, and my family’s religious background of my life, I wanted to be known. The discussion made me aware of how my experiences and culture impacted my views and beliefs, and how these have changed over time.

I enjoyed the experience very much though discussion with friends and colleagues has suggested that some people may find it difficult to reflect on their culture. This is something that resonated with me as everyone has a culture, it just may be that some cultures are embedded in the norms of society which some may see as harder to recognise. I believe that trans-cultural supervision would help colleagues to recognise their culture and how they may impact on professional and academic practice.

We all valued trying out the transcultural supervision activity, helping us reflect on how aspects of our lives have impacted on our views and values which in turn influences on each of our practices, both professionally and academically. We agreed it was an activity we would engage in again!

Tara and Haley are in the first year of the initial training course at the University of Birmingham. Anita is one of the course tutors.

Reference

Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R. (2012) ‘Supervision in the helping professions’ (3rd ed) Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill

Developing Supervision Champions

By Anita Soni

Supervision plays a central role for the helping professions. For educational psychologists, this is demonstrated in the guidance from the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychologists and the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC). Despite this, it can be difficult to come to shared agreement as definitions of supervision vary between and within professional groups.

This was something we discussed during the supervision course for educational psychologists held at the University of Birmingham over 4 days from November 2018 to June 2019. The key word that continually cropped up was “reflection”. As educational psychologists we are all seeking to become reflective practitioners and supervision is a key mechanism that enables this. However reflection itself is not an easy concept and can be defined in differing ways.

Helpfully, in June 2019, the Chief Executives of the statutory regulators of the health and care professionals (including the HCPC) issued a joint statement of support that sets out a common expectation that health and care professionals should be reflective practitioners. The HCPC emphasises that registrants should engage in continuing professional development that enables learning and reflection. Within the joint statement, reflection is defined as ‘… the thought process where individuals consider their experiences to gain insight about their whole practice. Reflection supports individuals to continually improve the way they work or the quality of care they give people.’

The joint statement goes on to offer advice on how reflection can become more effective and identifies four components of good reflection including:

  • Reflection is something to engage in willingly, and should not be seen as a bureaucratic chore.
  • Systematic approaches to reflection that aim to draw out learning are more effective.
  • The value of reflecting on positive and negative experiences.
  • The focus of reflection should be on the service users, their families and carers.

These four components are helpful when considering supervision, as this too benefits from being undertaken as a willing endeavour, from the use of structured approaches, including successes and failures and being service user focused.

It is important to recognise that reflection can be difficult and challenging to undertake. Trainee educational psychologists and their supervisors spend a great deal of time in supervision and reflection and supervision take commitment, time, openness and honesty. Indeed it can be a challenge to talk about what has gone wrong, or what may be emotionally challenging and so there can be a temptation to stay on safe ground.

During our supervision course, we discuss how supervision can be a relatively hidden and private practice, as we generally we don’t see how others do it. As part of the course we encourage participants to bring videos of their supervisor to share. Initially, the thought of sharing videos of supervision was challenging, as it can be uncomfortable to see and hear yourself. Nonetheless, once we started sharing video and audio recording, it became easier and we learned from watching, listening and discussing how to enable good supervision, indeed we reflected on our supervisory practices, and became supervision champions!

If you are interested in reading the full joint statement issued in June 2019, it can be found here.

If you are an educational psychologist and are interested in thinking further about supervision, developing your skills and knowledge, and becoming a supervision champion, why not come to the four day BPS accredited course at the University of Birmingham? Let me know if you’re interested through email at a.soni@bham.ac.uk.

Anita is a tutor on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.

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