Social Work Supervision

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“The Survey says that years ago in a mid-western orphanage was a ten-year-old girl, a hunchback, sickly, ill-tempered, ugly to look at, called Mercy Goodfaith. One day a woman came to the orphanage asking to adopt a girl whom no one else would take, and seeing Mercy Goodfaith, exclaimed, “That’s the child I’m looking for.” Thirty-five years afterward an official investigator of institutions in another state, after inspecting a county orphan’s home prepared a report of which the following is a resume. The house was exquisitely clean and the children seemed unusually happy. After supper they all went into the living room where one of the girls played the organ while the rest sang. Two small girls sat on one arm of the matron’s lap, and two of the larger boys leaned on the back of her chair. One of the boys who sat on the floor took the hem of her dress in his hand and stroked it. It was evident that the children adored her. She was a hunchback, ugly in feature, but with eyes that almost made her beautiful. Her name was Mercy Goodfaith” (Fosdick, 1943:72).

“To put it less dramatically, the modern supervisor has a responsibility, a heritage, a philosophy, a set of values, and knowledge to pass along to the next generation, represented by their supervisees” (Munson, 1993:78).

Introduction

The profession of social work has evolved since the 1880s from a myriad of philosophies, disciplines, theories and groups. Social work supervision has mirrored this complex development, and often the changes in orientation to direct practice have been reflected in supervision (Kadushin, 1985). In the beginning of the 1880s, supervision was provided by paid agents who oversaw the work of visitor volunteers. At the turn of the century and into the 1920s there was an increase in the professionalism of social work practice with expansion into the mental hygiene and child guidance areas. During the 1930s social work supervisors took on certain attributes of therapists as their job began to include helping workers become aware of resolve their own intrapsychic conflicts. Over time, as a body of knowledge grew from the firsthand experiences of the visitor volunteers and the supervisors, the role of supervisor expanded to include that of teacher of methods to the volunteers and later to students participating in field experience. (Brashears, 1995). During the 1950s and 1960s changes within the profession resulted in practice becoming more eclectic, covering a broad spectrum of theories of intervention, populations served, and administrative structures (Brashears, 1995). This broadening perspective resulted in a decrease in the strength of psychoanalytic influence, but the supervisor roles of teacher and facilitator continue to develop today. In order for a social worker to learn job-related tasks and procedures and to develop as a skilled professional, he or she must make effective use of supervision. The term supervision is rooted in a Latin word that means to “look over.” However, modern supervisory practice places less emphasis on viewing the supervisor as an overseer and more emphasis on the supervisor as being a leader or a teacher. This paper attempts to look at the current theories and perspectives in social work supervision and compare these with the supervisory process at my field practicum, Ellis Mental Health Clinic.

Review of the Literature and Application to Field Placement

Skidmore (1995) cites the teaching functions and materials learned through supervision as: social work philosophy and the history and policy of the agency, social work knowledge, techniques and skills, self-awareness, available resources in agency and community, and priorities of case service and management of time. All these are directly linked to communication, accountability, evaluation, assignment and distribution of work, emotional support of the worker and utilization of the worker’s expertise by...
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