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Group supervision and the supervision of teams in residential care: the Slovene experience

Alenka Kobolt

Before starting to describe group and team supervision, it is important to clarify the different meanings of the word "supervision". In the minds of the public the prefix "super" gives the idea of overview or control. But I would prefer another meaning for this prefix: "a view from outside", or the process in which professionals reflect on their own work experiences. In this context I understand the supervision process as the process of "professional reflection" or even a longer definition: "the reflective process about how a service occupation (i.e. a profession that deals with people) is carried out".

The goal of such reflection is to become aware of one's thinking and behavioural strategies, professional themes and patterns, and the ways of resolving them in practice. The standard ways of professional work are being questioned, as well as the effectiveness and ethics of one's work. The expert reflects on the limits he reaches, those he steps over and those he respects; he reflects about how, where and when his interventions prove useful to his client; how they can support and motivate, or hinder and inhibit him.

Models of supervision and their theoretical base
An indispensable theoretical base for supervision is, in my opinion, the non-directive Rogerian model, which focuses on professional growth and the development of the supervisee's competence. This model also serves as a framework for creating stages in the process of supervision and for establishing the basic non-directive approach which enables the supervisee to search for answers by himself through his own learning process, instead of simply getting answers to his questions.

The Balint group model is considered as the standard for group supervision, to which the group dynamics model can be added. The latter serves as the base for understanding group structures and processes. An important theoretical base for group supervision is also the 'theme-centred' interaction (TCI) of Ruth Cohn, emphasising the importance of balance between, as in an equilateral triangle

  1. the needs of the individual on the first side,

  2. the group as a unit and a new entity in group supervision on the second side, and

  3. the discussed topics supervision questions on the third side.

Correct leadership in the supervision process requires the integration of basic knowledge of communication, the monitoring of group discussion, knowledge of the characteristics of reflective learning on individuals' cognitive learning styles, and the recognition of communication sources.

Group supervision and supervision of team
Raguse defines group supervision (1991, p. 249) as a process of professional reflection, whereby next to the leader or supervisor, more people are invdved in the learning process, interchangeably taking the role of the supervisee. Team members are interdependent in their work. In team supervision group members are at the same time also closely connected in their work, and in the supervision learning process they try to solve questions arising from work. They search for answers to the question about the structuring of interrelationships and about the possible hindrances or logjams they experience in carrying out their tasks. The advantage of individual supervision is that at each meeting attention can be focused on one supervisee who can devote all his time to his own reflection.

The advantage of small group supervision is that it includes the characteristics of group dynamics, which enable the participants to learn from one another. There are also openings for richer communication, additional alternative interpretations, and different viewpoints regarding one and the same thing. Thus a wide net of social learning and support among members of the supervision group can be observed.

The basic disadvantage of group supervision might be that the supervisee receives less attention for his or her "material" (i.e., analysis of the case, situation, problem or question). In an individual process or in a small supervision group, participants can in this respect be more active. Group supervision can also be hindered by a competitive spirit in the group or by complex dynamics, which do not leave room for balanced communication. There might be problems that should be handled by the head of the institution, such as organisational questions and other conflicts arising from the use of inappropriate management methods in the work.

About the process of group supervision
The group supervision process is distinguished by its characteristic stages, which represent the particularities of the situation and its advantages. Thus Raguse (ibid., p. 250) reports how important it is for the individual in the first stage of group supervision to have enough room and time available to present his material, problems and questions without being interrupted. The supervisor cannot interrupt, nor can the group members. The supervisor should not be directed nor asked questions. We could say that he needs time to form his "Gestalt" (or whole view). In the second stage, communication in the group is established, which does not have as its goal the interpretation of the "presented Gestalt", but rather the mirroring of the heard material. This is cognitive and connotative mirroring of what the supervisee has presented and what the other members, including the supervisor, have heard. In this stage the advantage of group supervision becomes apparent.

The individual member of the supervision group not only gets the supervisor's "reflection"; he experiences the feedback and the echo of the rest of the group. Of course the learning process, which is the basic aim of supervision, is by no means finished. The reflection of the group members enables the supervisee to reconstruct his original question. He can now see the question from a new angle and can decide by himself whether his original perspective or understanding was appropriate and reasonable. He has probably raised issues in supervision because of the dilemmas, ambiguity and vagueness he felt in carrying out a work task in a concrete situation. Now the new perspectives offered by the group members and the supervisor enable him to see his situation in a new light; they offer him new information and possible new solutions. In this way the supervisee develops the so-called "expanded understanding" of his professional situation. In the stage following expanded reflection, a discussion about what actions and behaviour should result from the different understanding of the situation takes place.

This leads to some diversity in the examination of concrete professional actions and interventions. To the level of different ways of seeing, the level of different ways of action is added, which means a good learning situation for one seeking new and alternative ways to work.

Engagement of the group members
The process described above necessitates the engagement of group supervision members in the process, and not only the supervisor's personal reflection of how one does one's work. Group members also get insight into the questions their colleagues are faced with in their work. The group offers a wide learning context, much wider than the one offered by individual supervision. At the same time this situation requires something that should not be forgotten or avoided: the need of the members to check continuously where they stand in the group, and how safe they feel, in order to open up and tackle the real questions. It might sound simple, yet in this process it is not easy to achieve quickly the level of safety needed for all members.

Team supervision in residential care
A team of colleagues who work together and are interdependent is a special supervision group. Here we need to differentiate as to whether the professionals work in different institutions, or whether the team belongs to only one institution, with the team members relating closely. Within each institution there exist unwritten rules, standard patterns of practice, norms, the hierarchy, the history of the institution and the team itself. Therefore one of the essential characteristics of team supervision is that these questions are faced properly. If we really want team supervision to be effective, the process has to be directed equally to the following three levels:

  1. The level of individual team members;

  2. The level of group processes;

  3. The level of purpose or tasks of the team.

At the individual level, questions have to be answered such as:

The group process level can be evaluated if enough attention is paid to the questions and reflection about how the team works together and whether the set goals have been reached.

There are also organisational and contextual problems which require a certain approach. The team tasks level can be evaluated if the team is able to face questions such as:

Before starting the supervision process, the following conditions should be made clear:

The Slovene experience with supervision in residential care teams
In Slovenia supervision was first tried out and experience was gathered in the field of clinical psychology. Supervision had already been introduced in certain special education institutions in the 1970's. Today it has gained a strong foothold there and it is also available in most new projects in the area of social and educational work. Those who have experienced supervision state that it enables the following:

Considering the answers of those who have been involved in the process of professional reflection, we can safely say that in the future supervision will develop still more in order to be of service to the children and young people and indeed all the people professionals in social and the child care field work with or the purpose of helping, leading and directing them or compensating for their handicaps. Supervision also brings greater satisfaction to the professional with regard to his own work, and it decreases burn-out for individuals in this strenuous and personally demanding job.


Fatzer G. Supervision und Beratung, Ein Handbuch, Edition Humanistische Psychologie, 1991, p. 9-16

Fengler J. Wege zur Supervision, Pallasch, Mutzek, Reimers ed., Beratung, Training und Supervision, Padagogisches Training, Juventa, 1992, p. 173-187

Hawkins P., and Shohet R. Supervision in the helping professions: An individual, group and organisational approach, Open University Press, 1990, str. 41-117

Kobolt A. Supervision - possibility and need in the residential care working field, Iskanja, Nr. 12, 1992, p. 36-45

Raguse H. Gruppensupervision, Fatzer (ed.), Supervision und Beratung, Ein Handbuch, Edition Humanistische Psychologie, 1991, 247-256

This feature: Kobolt, A. FICE Bulletin