• by Siobhan Maclean
  • 07th Aug 2021

From supervision training to intervision learning?

A reflection on changing the way I deliver training on reflective supervision

I have been delivering training for many years now and have always been more confident around outcomes in terms of some topics than others. One topic I have often been asked to deliver on is reflective supervision. I have spent a great deal of time trying to ensure that my training in this area has been both practical and research informed, but I have never been fully confident about the actual impact of this training. To what extent were supervisors able to use their learning over the coming months?

Changed ways of training delivery with the pandemic have really helped me to develop my work in this area. I think that many trainers have taken what they used to deliver face to face and are simply delivering using the same methods online. I have sought to completely adapt my delivery for online working. I have found that asking myself “what can I do with this way of working?” rather than “how can I deliver X online” has helped. Over recent months when being asked about supervision training, I have been fortunate that a number of local authorities have been willing to experiment with me, and I have been so pleased with the results. I wanted to write a short reflection on what I have been doing, partly to help to explore the way that new ways of training delivery can be much more learner-centred and creative.

New ways of working have facilitated more regular, shorter sessions

Travelling (sometimes for many hours) to a local authority to deliver training meant that I always delivered for a full day (perhaps two days together or a number of single days over a period of time). New ways of working mean that I don’t need to factor in travel, so I can do a session for a couple of hours (and we can record the session for people who are not able to get there). Shorter sessions with space in between seem to help people to think more deeply about how they might be able to use their learning in practice.

With one local authority I delivered a specific introductory webinar, based around the ‘what? why? how?’ framework. (See https://youtu.be/1YD8rdKq0Uk for more information on this). We explored what good quality, emotionally supportive, reflective supervision looks like and why this is important. We then co-produced a plan for how we might be able to embed this more in practice, considering what help and support people would need. We have followed this up with a monthly practical session and some one-to-one personalised sessions where supervisors can reflect on the challenges they face and what they would find useful in addressing these to embed reflection more meaningfully. Each practical session starts with a reflection on how supervision has been going and then introduces a new method for reflection in supervision. We test out the method together and explore how it might be used in practice. In turn this means that supervisors who face similar challenges are learning from one another about how these might be best addressed.

The most significant influence on the supervision you provide is the supervision you receive

We are expecting supervisors to provide good quality reflective and emotionally supportive supervision when often the supervision they receive themselves is very managerially based with a focus on data gathering and administration. How can we be expected to embed reflection within our supervision (and even more widely into team practice generally) when we have few reflective spaces for ourselves? Reflecting on this and having more opportunities to be creative with my time and the input I can provide, I have been able to look at modelling the model. In a number of areas, I am now facilitating reflective supervision for managers / supervisors on either an individual or a group basis. I have found this process very interesting. Some of the most senior managers and the most experienced workers have struggled a great deal with reflection. We started with lots of ‘story telling’ but I have, over time, using a range of methods and providing feedback in the written notes seen a real growth in reflective skills within conversations. Where people at every level in an organisation are regularly reflecting and recognising the value of this for their own practice, it is much more likely that reflection will become an integral part of the organisation.

Moving towards intervision

I have been fortunate in my career to meet with social workers from all over the world. Hearing about intervision from social workers in other countries always fascinated me, I had never heard of it before working internationally, but intervision groups have a long history in continental Europe (van der Haar 2007). Those people who were involved in intervision always seemed more in touch with their own emotional wellbeing and more open to critically reflective conversations. I was therefore pleased to see Lyn Romeo’s (England Chief Social Worker for adults) blog focus on intervision Think you know supervision? It’s about to become a different animal… - Social work with adults (blog.gov.uk) in 2017 and I hoped that this might lead to an increased use of intervision in England’s statutory services. Hopeful that the blog title would create a different ‘animal’ I was disappointed that I didn’t see a huge amount of change. It is still not common practice for social workers in England to be involved in intervision, although group supervision is becoming more common.

I have been exploring the concept of moral injury in social work and social care since April 2020 and during that time I have thought a great deal about the potential value of intervision in addressing moral injury. Intervision also has the potential to address many of the issues about blended working creating more distance within teams. Fortunately, some local authorities have been courageous enough to work with me on developing intervision and I have started to see some great value in this. People who started off the intervision journey convinced that team members would not buy into it have been surprised by how well it has worked. Again, holding regular intervision sessions with those promoting intervision in their teams has worked well. I am now working on developing a resource pack for those facilitating intervision and recognising the value of what has happened so far, the local authority is really committed to taking this forward.

In the UK intervision still remains more popular in other professions such as medicine and therapy (Klimek and Atkinson 2016) but I am pleased that there is a growing recognition of the value of intervision in social work and I would urge local authorities who have a commitment to mitigating the impact of moral injury for practitioners to think about how intervision could form part of an overall strategy that sees the professional at the centre of a supervision support framework.

The ‘what? why? how?’ framework is always important to me as a basic reflective tool. In their research Wilkins, Lynch and Antonopoulou (2018) listened to audio recordings of supervision. They considered the questions:

  1. Do we know what the social worker is going to do in the next home visit or the next few home visits with the family?
  2. Do we understand why the social worker is going to do these things and how?
  3. Has this discussion helped the social worker think more carefully about what they are going to do, how and why?

This demonstrates the what? why? how? framework is also helpful in supervision. Try asking yourself the following questions: • What does supervision mean to me? • Why is supervision important to me? • How could I improve my use of supervision? Now try the same questions in relation to intervision rather than supervision. What happens?

Changed ways of delivering both training and facilitating supervision have led to a number of challenges but with creative thinking we can draw on the benefits of these changed ways to create an excellent supervision learning strategy.


Klimek, A. and Atkisson, A. (2016) Parachuting Cats into Borneo and other Lessons from the Change Café. A Toolkit of Proven Strategies and Practices for Building Capacity and Creating Transformation. (Vermont) Chelsea Green Publishing.

Van der Haar, M. (2007) Ma(r)king Differences in Dutch Social Work: Professional Discourse and ways of Relating to Clients in Context. (Amsterdam) Dutch University Press

Wilkins, D., Lynch, A. and Antonopoulou, V. (2018) A golden thread? The relationship between supervision, practice, and family engagement in child and family social work. Child and Family Social Work. doi. org/10.1111/cfs.12442.