How do you offer Clinical Supervision? Discussing a Constructionist Approach.

How do you offer Clinical Supervision? Discussing a Constructionist Approach.

When I think about clinical supervision and reflect on my understanding, I acknowledge there is ambiguity. What is supervision and how is supervision offered within a constructionist context? Let us grapple with the ambiguity and perhaps offer some ideas that have helped shape the practice of supervision with a constructionist approach. ‘Clinical supervision’ and ‘supervision’ are often used interchangeably and in this discussion, the term supervision will be used to cover both.

Many researchers have discussed the definition of supervision in the helping professions and agree there are ambiguities that exist across the disciplines. The word supervision itself is difficult. For many, it conjures up images of being watched or controlled and associates supervision with appraisal and performance review. Most agree that supervision is for supervisees and the focus is on learning. Supervisors support that learning and aim to create a collaborative relationship so that supervisees can learn from their work and improve their practice. (Carroll & Gilbert, 2011; Driscoll, 2007; McMahon & Patton, 2001).

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Driscoll (2007) wonders whether the struggle with definition offers an invitation to challenge the ‘one size fits all’ approach. What if individual clinicians and practitioners defined their own meaning? My definition of supervision would be that supervision provides a nurturing space that enables creativity. A space where you can be heard and solutions can be discovered. I wonder what others’ definitions would be.

What is a constructionist approach to supervision?. Many researchers agree on the important aspects of social constructionism which include; the meandering and collective nature of meaning-making, valuing of many voices (and truths), and the importance of language (Hair & Fine, 2012; MacKay & Brown, 2013). It could be said that social constructionism supports the idea that there is no single truth, and through language and interaction with others, we make meaning. What does this mean in terms of a constructionist approach to supervision? Three dictionary definitions of approach include; “to draw closer to, to come very near, and the taking of preliminary steps toward a particular purpose”. What does this look like in a practical sense?

Perhaps the question of ‘what is a constructionist approach to supervision is difficult to answer given the very nature of social constructionism. “There is not some innate truth to any potential meanings in people’s lives, if one sense of meaning can be constructed then meanings can be deconstructed and reconstructed” (Hair & Fine, 2012 p. 608). Does it become a question of how we practice? How do we have supervisory conversations that are guided by social constructionist ideas? Philp et al (2007) suggest that a constructionist approach invites practitioners to engage in a collaborative relationship that encourages an exchange of ideas and the co-construction of new meanings. It does not privilege any particular method (or map), however, instead, offers a way of working that positions supervision itself as a social construction. This can create an opportunity to deconstruct frameworks and ideas (including supervisor and client roles, models of change, and sociocultural context).

D’Arcy and Holmes (2021) outline some key principles and beliefs that shape the way we work with people and will support a constructionist supervision approach as outlined by Philip et al. The principles include; transparency, collaboration, power-with, not power-over, respect, self-agency, and social justice. The beliefs that underpin a constructionist approach as defined by D’Arcy and Holmes (2021) were gleaned from Narrative Therapy and Strengths-Based Practice beliefs and include the understanding that people are experts in their own lives, that they have meaning-making skills and the resources and capacity to change if they are clear on their preferred future. Transparency and collaboration are critical elements and the problem is viewed as the problem, the person is not the problem. This provides a framework from which we can be guided within the constructionist approach. I have an image of the supervisor and supervisee dancing artfully together as they navigate an uncertain and unique journey.


By Belinda Kippen

RN RM, Bachelor Nursing, Master of Counselling (in progress)



[1] Carroll, M., & Gilbert, M. (2011). On Being a Supervisee: Creating Learning Partnerships. Psychoz Publications, Sept.

[2]Driscoll, J. (2007). Practicing Clinical Supervision : a Reflective Approach for Healthcare Professionals (2nd ed.). Baillière Tindall Elsevier.

[3] D’Arcy, J. Holmes, A. (2020).  Tools for Hard Conversations in the helping professions.

[4] Hair, H. J., & Fine, M. (2012). Social constructionism and supervision: Experiences of AAMFT supervisors and supervised therapists. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(4), 604-620.

[5] Lowe, R., & Guy, G. (1996). A Reflecting Team Format for Solution-Oriented Supervision: Practical Guidelines and Theoretical Distinctions. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 15(4), 26-45.

[6] McCashen,W. (2017). The Strengths Approach.  Kangaroo Flat, Vic: St. Luke’s Innovative Resources.

[7] MacKay, L., & Brown, J. (2013). Collaborative approaches to family systems supervision: Differentiation of self. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 34(4), 325-337.

[8] Patton, W., & Mcmahon, M. (2001). Supervision in the helping professions : a practical approach. Pearson Education.

[9] Philp, K., Guy, G., & Lowe, R. (2007). Social constructionist supervision or supervision as social construction? Some dilemmas. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 26(1), 51-62.