Social Work Supervision: Contexts and Concepts

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Ming-sum Tsui

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  • Sage Sourcebooks for the Human Services Series

    Series Editors: Armand Lauffer and Charles Garvin

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    Series Editor's Foreword

    Professor Tsui in this book makes a substantial contribution to the contemporary literature on social work supervision. This literature, if it is to meet the reader's legitimate expectations, must have several aspects and all of these are addressed by this author. The first is that an understanding of supervision should be grounded in sound theoretical models. As is true of all of social work today, however, there are competing models such as those drawn from structural and organizational approaches and from practice theories themselves such as those based in one-on-one, group, and team dynamics. It is a sign of the strength of this book that the author can draw upon these various threads and create a sense of the complexity and yet wholeness of the supervisory process.

    A second aspect of the social work scene today is a strong appreciation that any form of practice, including supervision, should draw from and contribute to empirical findings. Professor Tsui carefully examines research studies on supervision and relates these studies to theory building and to the practice of supervision. He identifies deficits in the empirical literature and proposes a future research agenda on supervision.

    A third aspect is that there are many groups that have a stake in the outcomes of supervision such as the professional community, the agency, the practitioners, and the consumers of services. Tsui recognizes the legitimacy of all of these groups and indicates how the practice of supervision should relate to the needs of each of these groups, even when this may create dilemmas for the supervisor based on the demands placed by these diverse groups.

    A fourth aspect is that a useful text on supervision must provide sufficient detail about practice to guide the activities of the supervisor. This book provides this amply through a discussion of the stages of supervision, the various functions a supervisor must fulfill, and the nature of the supervisory relationship.

    All of the material in this book relates to several issues that must be strongly emphasized by all social workers. One is the inescapable fact that supervision, as well as all other social work activities, takes place in a world that is highly diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, social class, and the intersection of these with gender dynamics. These forces are as influential in supervisory practice as in any other practice modality. Tsui, with the perspective that comes from his location in Asia as well as his education in the United States, offers unique insights into the role played by diversity in supervisory activities. Another issue, well understood by this author, is the importance of an understanding of power, especially when this is related to the similarities and differences between supervisors and supervisees.

    I trust that you, the reader, will come away from this book with the sense that Professor Tsui's understanding of these topics has substantially enriched you in the ways that you will practice, either as supervisor or as supervisee and enable you, in turn, to make your own input into the field of social work supervision.

    CharlesGarvin

    Preface

    Social work supervision has been identified as one of the most important factors in determining the job satisfaction levels of social workers and the quality of service to clients. As an indirect, but vital, enabling social work process, it is surprising that supervision has not received as much attention as other components of social work practice, for example, social work research or social work administration. There is a noticeable lack of critical and in-depth discussion on the state of the art and evidence-based practice of social work supervision in the existing empirical research literature (Harkness, 1995; Tsui, 1997b, 2004). A review of the literature found that there is little theory or model building, and very few attempts to place supervisory practice within an organizational setting in a greater cultural context (Tsui & Ho, 1997).

    It is clear, therefore, that a book on social work supervision is needed to bridge the gap between the demands of the field and the absence of literature. It should contain a description of the theoretical basis of supervision, a discussion of practice issues, and a consideration of the research implications. This is why Social Work Supervision: Contexts and Concepts was written. It is not only about what social work supervision should be but also about what it, in fact, is, and what it will be. It provides social work students with a basic knowledge of the theory and practice of supervision for social workers. It also facilitates class teaching by providing a general picture of the current state of the art of supervision for social work students. Teachers can then spend more time discussing specific supervisory issues and skills with their students. As one of the Sage Sourcebooks for the Human Services, this book is also intended to be a useful sourcebook for supervisors and frontline practitioners in the social work field.

    This is a book on supervision for social workers. Its focus is not the fieldwork supervision of social work students in their practicum, although some of the major principles can be applied in this area. Still, staff supervision differs greatly from student supervision as it involves complicated organizational dynamics, hierarchies of administrative authority, and multiple accountabilities to various parties inside and outside a human service organization.

    In this book, I present social work supervision as a rational, affective, and interactive process focusing on the whole person of the social worker. The focus should be generic and cover the values, knowledge, skills, and emotions of the staff. I perceive and, therefore, present supervision as a dynamic, multiparty, and interactional relationship within a specific organizational setting in a greater cultural context. These unique features differentiate social work supervision from “supervision” in the business sector, which focuses on human resource development and job monitoring, and from clinical supervision or psychotherapy supervision, which focuses on teaching clinical skills to therapists. Of course, knowledge and skills from business and psychotherapy contribute to a greater understanding of social work supervision—especially its educational functions.

    The appearance of books on social work supervision has lagged far behind that of books on social work practice. The first reference on social work supervision, Virginia Robinson's (1936) Supervision in Social Case Work, was published nearly two decades after Mary Richmond's (1917) Social Diagnosis. In the first edition of his famous work, Supervision in Social Work, Kadushin (1976) outlined the three functions of social work supervision. In the third edition, Kadushin (1992a) also identified 15 major reference books published on social work supervision in North America since 1975 (Abels, 1977; Austin, 1981; Bunker & Wijnberg, 1988; Holloway & Brager, 1989; Kadushin, 1976, 1985; Kaslow, 1972; Kaslow et al., 1977; Middleman & Rhodes, 1985; Munson, 1979d, 1983; Pettes, 1979; Powell, 1980; Shulman, 1982; Westheimer, 1977). In the early 1990s, three popular books on social work supervision were published: Supervision in Social Work by Kadushin (1992a), Clinical Social Work Supervision by Munson (1993), and Interactional Supervision by Shulman (1993). In the new century, Munson published the Handbook of Clinical Social Work Supervision (2002), the third edition of his 1993 work. At the same time, Kadushin published the fourth edition of Supervision in Social Work with Daniel Harkness (Kadushin & Harkness, 2002). There are a few new references to specific areas of supervision, including supervision in a residential setting (Brown & Bourne, 1996), supervision in turbulent times (Hughes & Pengelly, 1997), and the supervisory relationship (Kaiser, 1997). This suggests that the social work profession still depends on well-established scholars to revise and refine the state of the art of social work supervision. Obviously, there is significant need for us to revisit the subject.

    If we take a look at the content of the literature on social work supervision, we find that, after more than a century of supervisory practice, a number of controversial issues still dominate the field (Tsui, 1997a). High on the list of unresolved debates is the issue of interminable supervision versus autonomous practice (Epstein, 1973; Kadushin & Harkness, 2002; Munson, 2002; Rock, 1990; Tsui, 1997a, 1997b; Veeder, 1990): one group of scholars advocates lifelong supervision for social workers while another group insists that autonomous professional practice should be encouraged after several years of direct practice in the same service setting.

    Another much-debated and as yet unresolved issue concerns the balance of administrative, educational, and supportive functions (Abroms, 1977; Erera & Lazar, 1994b; Harkness & Poertner, 1989; Kadushin & Harkness, 2002; Munson, 2002; Payne, 1994; Shulman, 1993; Tsui, 1997a, 1997b). Some scholars assert that the educational function should be separated from the administrative functions because it is so difficult for frontline social workers to tell their own practice errors to supervisors who are monitoring their job performance. They proposed the introduction of external experts as consultants to enhance the professional knowledge and skills of frontline social workers. Then administrative supervisors can focus their attention and efforts on job performance monitoring and quality assurance. However, another group of scholars argue that if administrative supervisors do not take up the educational function, there is a gap between the administrative demands of the managers and staff development activities. For the same reason, staff may seek support from external sources (for example, a counselor in an employee assistance program), but this may not resolve the stress coming from the intra-organizational dynamics. The most valuable emotional support comes from immediate supervisors because it includes the recognition of job achievement.

    Empirical studies of social work supervision are particularly scarce. An examination of the research literature published from 1950 to 2002 reveals the existence of only 34 such studies (see the Appendix). Furthermore, as Harkness and Poertner (1989) have pointed out, none of the empirical literature on social work supervision published in this period relates to client outcomes, even though efficient and effective service is ranked as the ultimate objective of social work supervision (Kadushin & Harkness, 2002; Munson, 2002; Shulman, 1993).

    The practice of supervision not only influences the quality of service received by the client but also plays a significant role in the professional development of social workers. It is clearly, therefore, a very important aspect of social work practice. The dearth of up-to-date and critical literature based on empirical work exposes a gap between practice and research into that practice. Social work supervision, then, is an important area for us to investigate and invest to improve professional knowledge and practice.

    There are 10 chapters in this book. Chapter 1 discusses the history, definition, and objectives of social work supervision. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the theoretical models of social work supervision. In Chapter 4, different contexts for supervision are interpreted and discussed. In Chapters 5 and 6, the major functions of social work supervision—administrative, educational, and supportive—are discussed. Chapter 7 explores the power issues between supervisors and supervisees, which include the use of authority and the games played by supervisors and supervisees. The stages, strategies, and skills of supervision are discussed in Chapter 8. Chapter 9 is related to direct practice in supervision—the specific format and structure of supervision sessions. Chapter 10 provides a summary of the existing state of research studies on supervision and a vision of its future.

    This book addresses the needs of four groups of potential readers, namely, social work students, social work educators, frontline practitioners, and social work supervisors. Of course, others who are interested in these topics may find it useful as well. The book can be used as a text for courses on social work supervision in schools of social work, as it contains a literature review of historical developments, theories and models, and empirical research studies. I hope that students and teachers, as well as supervisees and supervisors, find the book enjoyable and helpful.

    Finally, and most important, this is a book that arose from practice experience in supervision and a book intended to enhance supervisory practice. I hope that the “vision” in this book, though it may not be “super,” will eventually help us to realize and revitalize our mission in social work, that is, to benefit our clients. After all, that is the ultimate goal of social work supervision and also the objective of this book.

    Acknowledgments

    Iam indebted to many people, including my teachers, supervisors, colleagues, and friends, who helped me to shape and sharpen my understanding of social work supervision. In addition, I wish to thank the graduate students in my classes on social work supervision, my fieldwork students over the past 20 years, and the participants in focus groups and in-depth interviews.

    I give my warmest thanks to my teacher, Dr. Lynn McDonald, who insisted that I should focus my mind and my eyes on social work supervision. My sincere appreciation is also due to Dean Wes Shera, Dean Marion Bogo, Dr. Bernard H. K. Luk, and Dr. Gayla Rogers, who provided invaluable advice on my research.

    Many thanks go to a number of widely published scholars: Dr. Pauline Erera, Dr. Bruce Thyer, Dr. Brij Mohan, Dr. Mike Austin, Dr. Alfred Kadushin, Dr. Daniel Harkness, Dr. Amnon Lazar, Mr. Kieran O'Donoghue, Dr. Carlton Munson, Dr. Lawrence Shulman, and Dr. Tamara Kaiser. I was lucky to have their encouragement and professional advice during the process of exploring the art of social work supervision. All I am trying to do is follow their path in the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. Special thanks to Dr. Pauline Erera for her continuing encouragement; without her persistent support, this book would still be some rough ideas.

    I cannot forget the unfailing support from my partners in conducting focus groups with supervisors and supervisees, Dr. Wui-shing Ho and Dr. Ching-man Lam, and my colleagues, Dr. Fernando C. H. Cheung and Dr. Charles Chan. All of them make me feel that I was not alone in the process of research, teaching, and writing.

    Without the warm support and understanding of my wife, Doris, and my son, Lincoln, I could not have completed this book. In addition, my friends, Dr. C. Ruth Miller, Dr. Miu-chung Yan, Ms. Florence Lee, Dr. Matthew Peacock, and Miss Polly Chung, provided timely help and encouragement.

    Finally, I must thank the Chief Editor of the Human Service Series, Dr. Charles Garvin, for his professional guidance during the writing process. In addition, Dr. Arthur Pomponio, Sanford Robinson, Paul Reis, Veronica Novak, Geri Mattson, Frances Andersen, Margaret Seawell, and Nancy Hale offered their professional support in an effective and efficient manner. I am happy to have had the opportunity to work with them. Their efforts made my dream come true and turned my ideas into a Sage book. In fact, this book is not so much a book of “mine,” but a book of my “mind,” nurtured by my dear family and friends.

  • Appendix: A List of Empirical Research on Staff Supervision in Social Work (1950–2002)

    Dendinger, D. C., & Kohn, E.(1989). Assessing supervisory skills. The Clinical Supervisor, 7(1), 41–55. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v07n01_04
    Eisikovitz, Z., Meier, R., Guttman, E., Shurka, E., & Levinstein, A.(1985). Supervision in ecological context: The relationship between the quality of supervision and the work and treatment environment. Journal of Social Service Research, 8(4), 37–58. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J079v08n04_03
    Erera, I. P., & Lazar, A.(1993). Training needs of social work supervisors. The Clinical Supervisor, 11(1), 83–93. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v11n01_06
    Erera, I. P., & Lazar, A.(1994a). The administrative and educational functions in supervision: Indications of incompatibility. The Clinical Supervisor, 12(2), 39–56. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v12n02_04
    Erera, I. P., & Lazar, A.(1994b). Operating Kadushin's model of social work supervision. Journal of Social Service Research, 18(3/4), 109–122. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J079v18n03_05
    Gibelman, M., & Schervish, P. H.(1997). Supervision in social work: Characteristics and trends in a changing environment. The Clinical Supervisor, 16(2), 1–15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v16n02_01
    Granvold, D. K.(1977). Supervisory style and educational preparation of public welfare supervisors. Administration in Social Work, 1(1), 79–88. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J147v01n01_09
    Granvold, D. K.(1978). Training social work supervisors to meet organizational and worker objectives. Journal of Education for Social Work, 14(2), 38–45.
    Gray, S. W.(1990). The interplay of social work and supervision: An exploratory study. The Clinical Supervisor, 8(1), 53–65. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v08n01_05
    Greenspan, R., Hanfling, S., Parker, E., Primm, S., & Waldfogel, D.(1991). Supervision of experienced agency workers: A descriptive study. The Clinical Supervisor, 9(2), 31–42. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v09n02_04
    Harkness, D.(1995). The art of helping in supervised practice: Skills, relationships, and outcomes. The Clinical Supervisor, 13(1), 63–76. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v13n01_05
    Harkness, D.(1997). Testing interactional social work theory: A panel analysis of supervised practice and outcomes. The Clinical Supervisor, 15(1), 33–50. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v15n01_03
    Harkness, D., & Hensley, H.(1991). Changing the focus of social work supervision: Effects on client satisfaction and generalized contentment. Social Work, 37, 506–512.
    Himle, D. P., Jayaratne, S., & Thyness, P. A.(1989). The buffering effects of four types of supervisory support on work stress. Administration in Social Work, 13(1), 19–34. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J147v13n01_02
    Kadushin, A.(1974). Supervisor-supervisee: A survey. Social Work, 19(3), 288–298.
    Kadushin, A.(1992b). Social work supervision: An updated survey. The Clinical Supervisor, 10(2), 9–27. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v10n02_02
    Kadushin, A.(1992c). What's wrong, what's right with social work supervision? The Clinical Supervisor, 10(1), 3–19. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v10n01_02
    Ko, G. P.(1987). Casework supervision in voluntary family service agencies in Hong Kong. International Social Work, 30, 171–184. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/002087288703000208
    Melichercik, J.(1984). Social work supervision in transition: An exploration of current supervisory practice. The Social Worker, 52(3), 108–112.
    Munson, C. E.(1979c). Evaluation of male and female supervisors. Social Work, 24, 104–110.
    Munson, C. E.(1981). Style and structure in supervision. Journal of Education for Social Work, 17(1), 65–72.
    Newsome, M., Jr., & Pillari, V.(1991). Job satisfaction and the worker-supervisor relationship. The Clinical Supervisor, 9(2), 119–129. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v09n02_11
    Pilcher, A. J.(1984). The state of social work supervision in Victoria according to the practitioners. Australian Social Work, 37(3/4), 33–43. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03124078408549809
    Poertner, J., & Rapp, C.(1983). What is social work supervision? The Clinical Supervisor, 1(2), 53–67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v01n02_07
    Rauktis, M. E., & Koeske, G. F.(1994). Maintaining social worker morale: When supportive supervision is not enough. Administration in Social Work, 18(1), 39–60. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J147v18n01_03
    Russell, P. A., Lankford, M. W., & Grinnell, R. M.(1983). Attitudes toward supervisors in a human service agency. The Clinical Supervisor, 1(3), 57–71. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v01n03_07
    Scott, D., & Farrow, J.(1993). Evaluating standards of social work supervision in child welfare and hospital social work. Australian Social Work, 46(2), 33–41. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03124079308410664
    Scott, W. R.(1965). Reactions to supervision in a heteronomous professional organization. Administrative Science Quarterly, 10, 65–81. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2391650
    Shulman, L.(1993). Interactional supervision. Washington, DC: NASW Press.
    Shulman, L., Robinson, E., & Luckj, A.(1981). A study of the content, context and skills of supervision. Vancouver: University of British Columbia.
    Vinokur-Kaplan, D.(1987). A national survey of in-service training experiences of child welfare supervisors and workers. Social Service Review, 61(2), 291–304. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/644441
    Western New York Chapter, NASW Committee on Social Work. (1958). A chapter survey. Social Work, 3, 18–25.
    York, R. O., & Denton, R. T.(1990). Leadership behavior and supervisory performance: The view from below. The Clinical Supervisor, 8(1), 93–108. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J001v08n01_08
    York, R. O., & Hastings, T.(1985). Worker maturity and supervisory leadership behavior. Administration in Social Work, 9(4), 37–46. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J147v09n04_04

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    About the Author

    Ming-sum Tsui is Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where he teaches social work supervision and human service management. Ming-sum has more than 20 years of experience in practicing and teaching social work supervision. Before joining the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, he was service supervisor of development and health services at the second largest voluntary social welfare agency in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Christian Service. More than two decades ago, Ming-sum started his social work career in a community-based children and youth center. In his 10 years of service in the Hong Kong Christian Service, he set up the first community-based family service center and the first counseling center for psychotropic substance abusers in Hong Kong. He also supervised a polyclinic and was responsible for program development, fund raising, research, program evaluation, and staff development of the Hong Kong Christian Service.

    Ming-sum received his undergraduate social work education at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and later received an MSW from McGill University and a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) and was the first international member of Certified Social Work Managers (CSWM). He is also a member of the American Management Association (AMA), Chartered Management Institute (CMI), and a Certified ISO Auditor. Ming-sum earned his Ph.D. in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. His thesis research is on the construction of a culturally sensitive model of social work supervision.

    The research interests of Ming-sum are related to social work supervision, human service management, the theory and practice of social work, and substance abuse. He has been the managing editor of the Hong Kong Journal of Social Work, consulting editor of New GlobalDevelopment, Families-in-Society, and member of the editorial board of Research on Social Work Practice, Employee Assistance Quarterly, and Professional Development: International Journal of Continuing Social Work Education. He also serves as an expert reviewer for 15 journals. Ming-sum has published 10 books and more than 70 articles and research papers. His work has been widely published in academic and professional journals all over the world, including Journal of Social Service Research, The Clinical Supervisor, Social Work, Families in Society, International Social Work, International Journal of Management, New Global Development: International Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, The British Journal of Social Work, Social Development Issues, Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work, Hong Kong Journal of Social Work, Asian Journal of Counseling, Australian Social Work, China Social Work, Indian Journal of Social Work, Assessment & Research in Higher Education, Employee Assistance Quarterly, and Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal.


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