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What is support and supervision about?

The interplay of at least 3 actual people in which only 2 people address themselves to a third party who is not present … the third party being the client! It is concerned with providing the best service to the client. The literature is fairly consistent on the function, role and format of supervision as can be seen from the following extracts.

Functions of support and supervision

“Hawkins and Shohet (1989) have identified three main functions of supervision in counselling. The first is educational, with the aim of giving the counsellor regular opportunity to receive feedback, develop new understanding and receive information. The second aspect is the supportive role of supervision, through which the counsellor can share dilemmas, be validated in his or her work performance and deal with any personal distress or counter-transference evoked by clients. Finally, there is the management dimension to supervision, in ensuring quality of work and helping the counsellor to plan work and utilise resources."

Format of support and supervision

“There are a number of different formats for providing supervision (Hawkins and Shohet, 1989). Probably the most common arrangement is to make a contract for individual sessions over a period of time with the same person … Another possibility is group supervision, where a group of supervisees meet with a supervisor. The case discussion group is a type of group supervision that gives particular attention to understanding the personality or family dynamics of the client. Peer supervision groups involve a group of counsellors meeting to engage in supervision of each other, without there being a designated leader or consultant. Finally supervision networks (Houston, 1990) consist of a set of colleagues who are available for mutual or peer supervision, on either one-to-one or small group basis.” (McLeod, J., 1998, p370)

Supervision as a ‘working alliance’

“Supervision is a working alliance between a supervisor and/or workers in which the worker can reflect on him/herself in his/her working situation by giving an account of his/her work and receiving feedback and where appropriate be given guidance and approval. The object of the alliance is to maximise the competence of the worker in providing a helping service. (Proctor, B., 1988)

The role of supervision…

The literature describes 3 main roles:

  1. Educative or Formative - To help the practitioner towards a deeper understanding of their situation, their work, their professionalism, their practice and to develop other ways of working. The practitioner is able to talk about what they are doing and identify his/her development needs.
  2. Supportive or Restorative - To help the practitioner deal with the demands and challenges of the job, share the burden and dilemmas, deal with feelings of insecurity or stress evoked by working with clients and seek validation for their performance. Here it is an opportunity to offload the stress caused by work which may interfere with the practitioner’s work performance.
  3. Managerial or Normative - Here the focus is on ensuring the maintenance of quality and professionalism, as well as having an opportunity to plan and resource their work. This can include checking adherence to standards, ethics and organisational commitments. (Hawkins, P. & Shohet, R., 1989)


Hawkins, P. & Shohet, R. (1989) Supervision in the Helping Professions. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Proctor, B. (1988) Supervision: A Working Alliance (videotape training manual). St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Susswx: Alexia Publications.

McLeod, J. (1998) An Introduction to Counselling (2nd edition). Buckingham: Open University Press (p370)