Why Clinical Supervision in Education is Essential

January 7, 2024
Trauma informed clinical supervision in practice

Unlike other helping professions, clinical supervision as a professional practice is not something traditionally familiar to education professionals. (Alila et al. 2016, Roberts 2017). Unfortunately, the prevailing culture within education can often be one of performance management and accountability. There is increasing acknowledgment and awareness however, that staff working in education settings also require and would benefit from an opportunity to access good quality reflective supervision. (Roffey 2012). Within the context of trauma informed practices that are relational, understand the presence and impact of adversity and trauma and seek to mitigate harm, supervision is essential. Why? Because humans can't work with adversity and trauma in any meaningful way without having an impact on those humans.

But what is Clinical Supervision?

Supervision is neither coaching nor therapy. It sits between the two, allowing for a supervisory relationship that is both high in structure and boundaries (coaching) and high in nurture and support (therapy). Doing with, not doing to. Supervision is right for everybody but not every supervisor may be right for you.

“Supervision is a joint endeavour in which a practitioner, with the help of a supervisor, attends to their clients, [children] themselves as part of their client-practitioner [child-adult] relationships and the wider systemic and ecological contexts, and by so doing improves the quality of their work, transforms their client relationships, and continuously develops themselves, their practice and the wider profession”. (Hawkins and Shohet 2006 p3).

Hawkins and Shohet go on to share a powerful metaphor and one which education professionals can probably relate to. They refer to the battle hard-fought and won by British coal miners in the 1920’s to ‘wash off the dirt of their labours’ at the pit-head and in the employer’s time, rather than taking it home with them. Hawkins and Shohet state; “Supervision is the equivalent for those that work at the coal-face of personal distress, dis-ease and fragmentation” (Hawkins and Shohet 2006. p58).

Personal distress and fragmentation are certainly and sadly key features of the modern day education experience for many (Teacher Well-Being Index, 2023, Lawrence, 2020). It is also noteworthy that within the teaching profession, the task of teaching is often described as ‘working at the chalk-face’; perhaps an unconscious reflection of the inevitable emotional ‘dirt’ from their labours in sympathy with the mining communities of the past.

Why is trauma informed supervision essential?

Literature on multiple disadvantages, (current or previous experience of adverse childhood experiences), trauma and clinical supervision tells us:

  • Experiences of trauma are highly prevalent among people experiencing multiple disadvantage.
  • Trauma can affect people’s ability to engage with services, and services can unintentionally trigger trauma related responses from people.
  • Experiences of trauma are common among the general population. There is therefore a likelihood that some workers as well as those they are supporting, will have histories of trauma, and this is particularly the case for workers with personal experience of multiple disadvantage.
  • Issues that workers face include the risk of re-traumatisation, vicarious trauma, what has been termed of as 'compassion fatigue' (although that phrase locates the problem in the person rather than in a system that isn't psychologically safe) and burnout.
  • Effective Trauma Informed Clinical Supervision is central to psychologically safe working environments and roles. This could be group or 1:1 supervision depending on context.
  • The provision of clinical supervision to support workers with known or unknown, lived or living experience is crucial to avoid the known risks of vicarious trauma, system-created compassion fatigue and burnout.
  • Studies from multiple sectors show positive outcomes for workers receiving clinical supervision in terms of decreased negativity, burnout, absence and staff turnover

It is also important to note that the impact of Covid is still very much felt and experienced within education. Every education setting we work with tells us so. This will likely continue to be prevalent for some years to come. You can read some of our thoughts on this from an earlier post here.

Opportunities to develop personally and professionally through a trauma informed supervision model can transform schools, settings and communities, by providing safe, confidential spaces with skilled, experienced and accredited professionals.

At TICS we offer Trauma Informed Clinical Supervision to a range of sectors including Education, Health, Social Care and Therapeutic Services. Our model is one of exploration and reflection of trauma symptomology with professionals, focused on personal and professional development and wellbeing through a trauma informed lens. We work to address the risks associated with vicarious trauma, system-created compassion fatigue and burnout for those working frontline with some of the most traumatised individuals and within traumatised systems.

If you need any help and support in or just a general chat about ‘all things Trauma Informed’, please get in touch with Lyndsay, our Working Together Lead at lyndsay@ticservicesltd.com and our team will support you in your journey.

Further Reading:

Alila, S., Määttä, K. and Uusiautti, S., (2016). How Does Supervision Support Inclusive Teacherhood? International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 8(3), p.351-362.

Iosim, I. et al. (2021) The Role of Supervision in Preventing Burnout among Professionals Working with People in Difficulty. International journal of environmental research and public health.

Lawrence, N. (2020) Supervision in Education – Healthier Schools For All. Available at: https://www.barnardos.org.uk

Oates, F., (2022). Trauma Informed Support and Supervision for Child Protection Professionals: A Model for Those Working with Children who Have Experienced Trauma, Abuse and Neglect and Their Families. Taylor & Francis.

Ormiston, H. E. et al. (2022) A Systematic Review of Secondary Traumatic Stress and Compassion Fatigue in Teachers. School mental health. 14 (4), p.802–817

Roberts, D. (2017) The Importance of Professional Supervision for all staff in schools. In D. Colley and P. Cooper (eds), Attachment and Emotional Development in the Classroom: Theory and Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Roffey, S. (2012) Pupil wellbeing -Teacher wellbeing: Two sides of the same coin? Educational and child psychology. 29 (4), p.8–17.

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