Community Healthcare / Social Policy

Enabling effective supervision-training for community sector workers

E Riley

Dr Elizabeth Riley, Counsellor & Clinical Supervisor at PeopleSmart Consulting

One of the key challenges for supervisors and senior practitioners in the welfare and community sectors is to ensure that supervisees are offered individualised and non-directive supervision development training.

In the lead up to the Australian Community Workers Conference and Exhibition 2014, we had the chance to speak to Dr Elizabeth Riley, Counsellor & Clinical Supervisor at PeopleSmart Consulting, who will be presenting at the event on the National Privacy Principles and Client Notes.  Dr Riley shared with us her thoughts on how supervision can best be led.

Could you give us an overview of your particular areas of expertise and your current projects?

Elizabeth: My focus is the LGBTI community and inclusion of diversity. I specialise in supervision and working with gender variant adolescents and adults. My PhD was the research “The Needs of Gender Variant Children and Their Parents” and I’m currently supporting research of people with intersex conditions. For years I have been writing and teaching supervision curriculum as well as providing supervision for supervisors. Recently I began a new initiative called the Supervision Hub with a colleague. I currently have seven publications, with another three in press, as well as a book chapter I have been asked write for a US editor and publisher. My areas of scholarship also include ethics as I have been writing and teaching curriculum in Ethics for counsellors and psychotherapists and was a counsellor and trainer for the St James Ethics Centre for many years. I have held positions as the Chair of Ethics for CAPA and I am currently the Ethics Chair for PACFA. My latest research focuses on an assessment tool for Gender Variant Adolescents.

One of your focuses is on supervision (and supervision of supervision) – What do you think are the key issues that need to be addressed when training supervisors  to do this role in the most optimal manner?

Elizabeth: Firstly, I think the history of supervision has created a model of supervision that is directive – as the more senior practitioner ‘tells’ their supervisee what ought to be done. I don’t think this way of supervision helps supervisees to learn, as they end up either implementing someone else’s idea, which doesn’t always feel congruent or they end up ‘telling’ the client what to do (which is the model they are receiving). Supervision I believe needs to be supervisee focused – Meaning looking at the supervisee’s experience with the client, their counter-transference, their strengths and providing challenges and resources to help the supervisee work out and explore strategies with their supervisor. Supervisors also need to be ‘collaborative’ and supporting the supervisee to ‘try things out’ and consciously evaluate the outcome to the intervention.

Do you feel there is enough collaboration about ‘how things can be done better’ between the diverse sectors that fall under the community worker umbrella?

Elizabeth: Broadly speaking, I think each sector is probably going to develop their own style. Unfortunately, working in welfare usually provides little opportunity for the kind of supervision I’ve referred to above. Lack of funding and quick group supervision seems to be the order of the day. If individual supervision is offered it is often by a line manager which makes openness about client work a risk for the supervisee. I think within the sectors there are also cultures that develop within specific workplaces often where supervision becomes a ‘task’ that needs to be ‘ticked off’ rather that an important professional development opportunity for the supervisee. Overall, I think it is most useful for those who make decisions around funding for supervision to know and understand the importance and role of supervision, including the benefits of good supervision provision for their service delivery and staff satisfaction.

You will be touching on the National Privacy Principles as part of your presentation at the Australian Community Workers Conference and Exhibition in Melbourne, in September. Do you think there is enough awareness in the community worker sector of all the main ethical issues they should be considering in their day to day work?

Elizabeth: The NPP doesn’t really touch on the ethical issues. It provides a framework in order to keep clients personal details private and confidential. I think there is broad misunderstanding about what ethics means and how it applies. There is still a general feeling that if one follows ‘a code’ then that means their behaviour is ethical. In reality, ethical behaviour is about taking many factors into account. For example knowing and understanding one’s own values, beliefs, evaluating consequences, being fully informed, noticing who may be affected by any actions and considering alternative options. An ethical action may at times even be in conflict with ‘a code’.

What do you think are the main challenges that the Australian community workers face today?

Elizabeth: I think the approach towards governance and the level of willingness to meet the needs of service users and how that can be achieved is one of the greatest challenges especially when a collaborative approach highlights the differing needs of the various subgroups. I remember reading an article years ago that described providing welfare services as ‘accelerating with the brakes on’. I think the number of levels of compliance create a nightmare for both the observation of governance requirements as well as practical application of programs.

Elizabeth Riley will deliver a presentation at the Australian Community Workers Conference and Exhibition 2014, to be held on 10th and 11th September in Melbourne.

For more information about the details event program and to register, please visit  the Australian Community Workers Conference and Exhibition website.

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