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Supervision encompasses several interrelated functions and responsibilities between a supervisor and supervisee.

According to the NASW, supervision is defined as:

[T]he relationship between supervisor and supervisee in which the responsibility and accountability for the development of competence, demeanor, and ethical practice take place. The supervisor is responsible for providing direction to the supervisee, who applies social work theory, standardized knowledge, skills, competency, and applicable ethical content in the practice setting. The supervisor and the supervisee both share responsibility for carrying out their role in this collaborative process. (Best Practice Standards in Social Work Supervision, n.d.)

National Association of Social Workers and the Association of Social Work Boards Best Practice Standards in Social Work Supervision are outlined as follows:


Standard 1. Context in Supervision

Standard 2. Conduct of Supervision

Standard 3. Legal and Regulatory Issues

Standard 4. Ethical Issues

Standard 5. Technology

Click here to review supervision standards.

Parallel Process in Supervision


Parallel Process makes clear that the role of the supervisor and the purpose of supervision are quite different from counseling and therapy. However, there are striking parallels in the dynamics and skills. The core dynamics and skills of the supervisor-practitioner working relationship which include rapport, trust, and caring are similar to those skills used to develop a working alliance in psychotherapy. 


There are also four phases in the supervisory relationship which include the preliminary, beginning, middle and ending/transition phase, which shape the supervisory relationship over time. The use of certain communication, relationship and problem-solving skills by the supervisor can influence the development of a positive working relationship with the supervisee, and that this working relationship is the medium through which the supervisor influences the practitioner. 


Dr. Shulman puts emphasis on the word “influence” because a central assumption of this approach is that both supervision and direct practice are interactional in nature and that the supervisor and the supervisee each play a part in the process. The outcome of supervision is the result of how well each contributes to the process. 


Dr. Shulman’s suggests that “more is caught than taught” and that our supervisees watch their supervisors very closely. Whether we like it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, our supervisees learn more about practice from the way we work with them than from what we say about their actual practice. 


Supervision is not therapy, and, in fact, Dr. Shulman believes that supervisors who are seduced into a therapeutic relationship with their supervisees actually model poor practice, since they lose sight of the true purpose of clinical supervision and their role in the process. 

Dr. Lawrence Shulman Interview

Dr. Lawrence Shulman is Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work.  As a social work practitioner-educator for more than 40 years, Dr. Shulman has done extensive research on the core helping skills that are used in social work practice, child welfare, school violence and supervision best practices. Dr. Shulman is the co-founder and co-chair of the International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Clinical Supervision sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Haworth Press. Recognized for his dedication to excellence in scholarship and research, pedagogy and curriculum development, and organizational leadership, Dr. Shulman is a recipient of the 2014 Significant Lifetime Achievement in Social Work Education Award, conferred on him by the Council on Social Work Education. Dr. Shulman has published numerous journal articles on the topic of direct practice and is the author of many books including the Enhanced Eighth Edition of the Empowerment Series: The Skills of Helping Individuals, Families, Groups, and Communities, the Dynamics and Skills of Group Counseling and the fourth edition of the seminal book Interactional Supervision.


Click the links below to find out more about Supervision Best Practices

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