Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

In Search of a National Approach to Professional Supervision for Mental Health and Addiction Nurses: The New Zealand Experience

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

In Search of a National Approach to Professional Supervision for Mental Health and Addiction Nurses: The New Zealand Experience

Article excerpt


Professional supervision can be described as:

'a formal process that provides professional support to enable practitioners to develop their knowledge and competence, be responsible for their own practice and promote service users' health outcomes and safety. (Hamer, Finlayson, Thom, Hughes, & Tomkins, 2006, p. 22)

The term 'professional supervision' however, is often used interchangeably with clinical supervision, which has lead to confusion in the literature. Clinical supervision focuses on clinical practice, yet nurses may be involved in academic, management, and leadership roles. Thus, we favour 'professional supervision' to project the value of supervision beyond clinically specific roles (Hamer et al., 2006).

Although the aims of professional supervision are complex, Kadushan (1992, cited in Herkt, 2005) usefully provides a three category simplification. This includes the 'administrative function' of professional supervision, which assists the supervisee to align him/herself with the institutional framework in which care takes place. The goal of this function is to assist the nurse to relate their practice to managerial requirements, including policy and professional standards of practice (Severinsson, 2001). Secondly, the 'educative function' aims to develop and refine the supervisee's knowledge, skills and professional understanding. Lastly, the 'supportive function' relates to the development of the 'attitudes and feelings that will enable [the supervisee] to work effectively' (Herkt, 2005, p. 21).

Professional supervision commenced in New Zealand in the 1980's with the prevalence of an administrative model involving a didactic directive process, primarily undertaken by managers as supervisors. The focus was largely on determining performance and was criticised for its lack of regard for the supervisee's professional growth. In the late 1980s a psychotherapeutic model providing primarily supportive supervision was embraced (Consedine, 2000). More recently a range of models have been used that are reflective of an international trend to balance administrative, educative and supportive supervisory functions (McKenna, Thom, Howard, & Williams, 2008).

In New Zealand, where Maori (the Indigenous people) feature highly in mental health and addictions morbidity statistics (Oakley Browne, Wells, & Scott, 2006), there is recognition of the need to address the ability to work with Maori in mainstream supervision processes. Further, there is recognition of the importance of addressing cultural supervision specifically for health professionals who are Maori. The purpose of this latter supervision, by Maori for Maori, is to build knowledge of Maori cultural values, attitudes, and behaviours; provide a supportive context to manage complex cultural issues; and to ensure safe practice and culturally appropriate behaviour (Howard, Burns, & Waitoki, 2007; Walsh-Tapiata & Webster, 2004).

Similarly, where practitioners of other nondominant ethnic groups are working in mainstream organisations, cultural supervision is recommended where there is a matching of the supervisee and the supervisor's ethnic group. For example, models of cultural supervision for Pacific Island mental health professionals in New Zealand are in place (Mafile'o & Su'a-Hawkins, 2005).

Although New Zealand's mental health and addiction services have a commitment to delivering recovery focused care in partnership with service users, there appears to be no reference to service user involvement in any of the models currently utilised in New Zealand or mention in existing literature. This is in despite the Mental Health Commission's vision of future service delivery in New Zealand in which 'the expertise, experience and insights of service users will be valued throughout the mental health and addictions service' (Mental Health Commission, 2007, p. 18).

Regardless of the burgeoning number of models of professional supervision currently used in New Zealand, there is little research that comprehensively evaluates their effectiveness. …

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