Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Perspectives on Supervision in Human Services: Gazing through Critizal and Feminist Lenses

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Perspectives on Supervision in Human Services: Gazing through Critizal and Feminist Lenses

Article excerpt

Introductory Thoughts

For many years, supervision has been a central tenant of the human services professions (e.g. psychology, counseling, social work), and as professional licensure has become more prominent supervision has been hailed as the space for "gate keeping" with regard to who is or is not granted permission to be a human services professional. Indeed, most licensure boards (e.g., NASW, AAMFT) require supervision as part of the licensure process with the purpose of ensuring that the new licensee is monitored and supported to perform in the best interests of the public. Obviously, the relationship between supervisor and supervisee is one that is important and likely will have a career-long impact on the practice of the supervisee. The intent here is to raise questions about the dynamics that occur in supervisory relationships, with particular focus on the location of power and how that power is understood and addressed in supervision. In this discussion, critical and feminist lenses are used to consider how power in supervisory relationships may be re-visioned in a manner that deconstructs some of the traditional dynamics that may be present (e.g. hierarchical structures, dominant/subordinate relationships).

The critical lens employed here involves concepts found primarily in the work of Freire (1998), hooks (2009), and Greene (1988). As Greene (1988) asserts, the critical approach involves making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, calling for (re)examination of what we know and practice through a deconstructive process. Freire (1998) not only supports the notion of careful and meaningful deconstruction of concepts, ideas, and practices that reinforce oppression; he also calls for action to be taken to effect what is believed to be oppressive. Feminist approaches involve calling into question structures and practices that privilege dominant/subordinate binaries, which support hierarchal power relationships grounded in patriarchy. In traditional supervision models, the dynamic of supervisor as dominant and supervisee as subordinate is not only expected, it may be reinforced by practices that reiterate the superiority of knowledge supposedly held by the supervisor (Bogo & Dill, 2008). If the binary of dominance and subordination can be disrupted, possibilities for more egalitarian and reciprocal supervisory relationships may be imagined.

The meaning of the word supervision, derived from Latin, is grounded in the notion that one is to be overseen or watched (Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010). In its meaning, supervision implies a hierarchal power structure where one person is deemed to be "in charge" of another in a manner that places responsibility not only on the doer, but also the watcher. Trust is central in this traditional approach to supervision in that an assumption often is made that the doer cannot yet be trusted to do correctly Thus, the watcher is trusted to ensure that the task at hand is completed, usually to a standard set by some higher authority or entity, and/or by the demands of the public and through a means of collaboration with or directives to the supervisee (Kadushin & Harkness, 2002). Power in the supervisor/supervisee relationship has been addressed in models of curriculum for training supervisors. For example, in their work with child welfare supervisors, Bogo and Dill (2008) point out that there is a lack of knowledge about how power and authority is used in supervision.

It seems important to consider the origins of supervision in human services and as Smith (2005) indicates, early efforts to supervise human service workers may be found in the Charitable Organization Societies in Europe and America in the late 19th century. At the time, those "volunteers/caseworkers" who "visited" the needy often were charged covertly with determining who the deserving poor were. Thus, the need to oversee these decisions became important in terms of ensuring that resources were used efficiently and effectively. …

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