What Is the Meaning of Supervision for Mental Health Support Workers? A Critical Hermeneutic Inquiry

Sutcliffe, Robin
Solomon, Margot
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

Supervision is a process employed by health professions with the general aim of resourcing and educating workers and protecting clients. The purpose of this study was to uncover the meaning of supervision for mental health support workers (MHSW) in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Mental health support work is a non-clinical role, the aim of which is to support people who are or have been experiencing mental illness or disability. It is based on a philosophy of 'recovery' which aims to empower mental health service users and enhance their sense of personal agency. Four people employed as MHSW were interviewed both individually and in groups about their experiences of receiving supervision. Transcripts of the interviews were interpreted using a critical hermeneutic methodology.Critical hermeneutics is informed by critical social theory and is concerned with uncovering the implicit and explicit power dynamics embedded within social relationships and structures. Critical social theory proposes that reality is socially constructed and that this construction occurs through dialogue. That notion is incorporated into this study by considering the impact of the inquiry on the participants and the researcher and the contribution to the evolving traditions of MHSW and supervision of MHSW.The participants of this study all value effective supervision as a process that supports them while they support their clients. A relationship based on trust, reciprocity and mutual respect and which is held within clear and overt boundaries is experienced as supportive and enhances the quality of engagement. A supportive supervisory relationship impacted favourably on other supervisory functions such as skill development. Effective supervision was also found to contribute to personal, cultural and professional identity and to be empowering for MHSW.The study concludes that supervision is a dynamic process that all of those who participate in whether as service user, support worker, supervisor, manager or other stakeholder, are contributing to. It proposes that as MHSW occurs within a new paradigm the supervision of support workers must also be located in this paradigm. A definition of supervision in this paradigm is alluded to in the words of one of the participants of this study, "supervision is far more than supervision."

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