Supervision in social work is an essential part of effective practice, support, and preventing burnout. A supervisor can make or break your experience at an organization, and is essential for licensure and growth. I’ve had mixed experiences with supervisors, and through this, have gained insight on what really makes a good social work supervisor.
- They make time for you. I’ve had supervisors that were so burned out and overwhelmed themselves, we would not meet regularly, or they would forget we had a supervision meeting. As a novice social worker, it was essential for my practice and skills growth, but also for my licensure requirements, that I maintain weekly supervision. A supervisor that’s organized and is intentional about carving out time for you is vital. Not only is making the time important, but being present during this time. Supervision is meaningless if it’s not met with attentive support.
- They care about your wellbeing in work and out of work. My current supervisor begins our individual and group supervision with a check in about our work week, but also about our personal lives. We of course have boundaries, but there is a genuine interest in our lives and wellbeing, and shows an understanding that we are more than our job. We are complex, and can have stressors that impact our work elsewhere. This can also promote a compassionate relationship with your supervisor and coworkers, and improves organizational cohesion.
- They offer helpful feedback and not criticism. This is a HUGE factor for me. It is draining to constantly be receiving criticism, even if it’s the truth. There is way to offer supportive feedback that allows for growth, rather that criticism that can reduce motivation and increase resentment towards the work and the workplace. When we feel punished, we’re less likely to create positive change in a lasting way.
- They lead with empathy. Empathy is the blanket that covers each of these signs. As it is in social work, one of our biggest foundational pieces is empathetic care. We see the impact of this on the therapeutic relationship, and it’s not a far jump to see how this can be helpful for the supervisor-social worker relationship. Empathy allows for supervisees to be humanized and seen within full context of their life, and maintains a growth & strengths oriented perspective.
- They are both therapist-centered and client-centered. Agencies can be both therapist and client-centered, and it ultimately comes down to policy practices and expectations. This can be time off, pay, overtime, working evenings/weekends, holiday schedules, and all of the vital administrative pieces that influence a therapist’s ability to be present and practice well. Policies that don’t promote the social worker’s wellbeing, ultimately are not client-centered.
- They don’t just talk about self care, but actively promote it. Self care doesn’t just mean time off and taking a bubble bath. Promoting self care means supervisors are making sure you take time off, checking in with your mental health and stress levels, providing good insurance coverage and benefits, and having appropriate pay for the level of education and work that you do. All of these things ultimately impact retention, turnover, burnout, and the care that the communities we support are receiving.
These are just a few factors that are essential to have in a supervisor, that I’ve noticed in my time as a social worker. Share some of your non-negotiables in the comments!