May 12

Models of supervision in social work


What are the models of supervision in social work? As a supervisor, you might be confused about the type of supervision you should have with your supervisee. In this article, I list out 2 models of supervision. Before that, I also list out points you should note before adopting any model of supervision.

1. Understand your supervisee.

Before deciding on any model to use, you need to understand your supervisee, or protégé. Do not commit the error of forcing a square peg into a round hole. During my placements, I had two different types of supervisors.

My first one was highly adaptive. She rarely brought in any notes with her, and simply focused on trying to listen to my concerns about the placement. My second supervisor was more theoretical. She would give me additional materials to read and work on, telling me about the homework I needed to complete before our next session.

I preferred my first supervisor. I felt that my theoretical supervisor hadn’t taken the time to understand me, and always seemed to be trying to fit a theory to the needs that I had expressed.

Take the time to understand your supervisee, before trying to use any theories with them. It will build a better relationship whereby they are more receptive to your feedback.

An excellent talk on better leadership

2. Build a holding space for your supervisee.

Regardless of whatever model you use, your supervisee needs to feel safe in the space you create for him/her. Your supervisee needs to be confident that you will not reveal what she has said in such a confidential setting. She needs to be able to trust you with her most difficult emotions, knowing that you can deal with them.

Defend your supervisee.

In my current role, I have appreciated my supervisor defending me in front of my bosses. My supervisor has taken the time to understand conflicts that arise, and to give her understanding of the situation based on what she knows about me. This is not a license for your supervisee to do whatever they want. But it shows that you are willing to put your head on the block in defence of your supervisee. For any supervisee, that is something to respect.

Let us now go onto the models of supervision. There are two main models in supervision, described in Maclean’s (2019) workbook.

4x4x4 model

Tony Morrison integrated the 4 objectives of supervision with the 4 functions of supervision to form a model of supervision. In this model, you can see that there is a focus on the holistic functions of supervision, ranging from managerial, to supportive.

On the other hand, it also covers the stages of learning such as experience and reflection. For example, supervisors will often ask if you had any difficult clients to handle over the week. They will then review the difficulties with you, asking you what was difficult about the client. This involves reflection.

The model also does not neglect the other systems that the social worker interacts with, such as the colleagues within the organisation, the partners delivering services, and the service users.

What are some good models for supervision?

5×5 model

The 5×5 model was developed by the Northern Ireland Social Care Council. It was developed with 5 domains and dimensions in mind.

In this model, the authors note that the 5 domains are not to be covered in a single session. Rather, supervisors are encouraged to pick a few relevant domains.

Secondly, the authors recommend a reflexive approach to using this model. In other words, the supervisor should encourage the supervisee to look at how his experiences might have shaped his current perspective of the problem.

Here is an explanation of the key domains.


This is an examination of the life course. It looks at how significant events have shaped a person’s life psychologically. It looks at issues such as loss, identity crises, transitions, and opportunities for growth.


This covers issues related to attachment, family and the recognition within human relationships.


These cover social norms and issues related to inequality.


‘Ugh! Not more paperwork!’ We all have days when we throw up our hands and feel like tearing the papers in front of us. We feel like we have stayed at our desks all day, dealing with the administrative aspects of social work (like case notes), rather than going out to visit clients. How can we even be productive?

Organisational issues discuss management and bureaucracy, and look at how possible improvements might be made.

Politics and economy

Social work does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, it occurs in a political and economical context. Looking at the wider systems of the society we leave in, we learn to pick our battles. For example, austerity might not be something we can fight unless we are the Prime Minister.

I hope this article gives supervisors a clearer picture of the models of supervision that can be used. Most importantly, think about what the supervisee needs, rather than attempting to force-fit a model into the supervision session.


Maclean, S. (2019) Working Towards Accreditation: Putting the Pieces Together. Lichfield: Kirwin Maclean Associates.

Houston, S. (2015) Reflective Practice: A Model for Supervision and Practice in Social Work (Full Version). Belfast: Northern Ireland Social Care Council


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  • Hi I am social worker with more than 30 years in the field of community development and more than five years qualified as social worker. My question what course I need to take if I want to be trained as social work supdrvisor

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