Supervision definitions

This information was co-created with the sector and is available for the family violence, sexual assault and child wellbeing workforces to enhance consistency of language and enhance an agreed understanding of the terms used


This Information provides the family violence, sexual assault and child wellbeing sector (the sector) with key definitions of supervision.


Defining supervision within the sector is complex. It is difficult to capture the intricate balance required to develop and maintain trusting professional relationships.

Ideally, supervision offers supervisees authenticity by talking openly about emotional responses to processing stories of family violence and sexual harm.
Supervision is an essential support for practitioners who:

  • invite engagement and directly work with adults and young people using family and sexual violence, while responding safely to invitations to collude from individuals and systems
  • often work with unpredictable and serious levels of risk related to adults, children and young people experiencing violence
  • may feel responsible to stop violence or abuse, and to get justice for clients, especially for practitioners with lived experience of family or sexual violence.

Supervisors have a complex role. They must balance supporting practitioners, clients’ needs and ethical practice. Supervision creates opportunities to discuss these tensions, and to support and sustain practitioners in their challenging, complex work.


Supervision is an interactive, collaborative, ongoing, caring and respectful professional relationship and reflective process. It focuses on the supervisee’s practice and wellbeing. The objectives are to improve, develop, support and provide safety for practitioners and their practice.1 It is ideally strengths-based and supervisee-led, where the supervisor adapts to supervisees’ preferences.

The sector expects supervision to incorporate an intersectional feminist lens. This allows discussion about power differences within the supervisory relationship, practice with clients and the broader system. It helps promote justice-doing, advocacy and community activism on behalf of clients and workforces.

Supervision enables monitoring of supervisee wellbeing and providing tailored support. Using a trauma and violence-informed approach allows supervisors to normalise practitioner reactions to working within an imperfect system and working with people experiencing trauma and significant life events. The emotional toll of the work and vicarious trauma can be acknowledged during supervision in an empathic, understanding way, rather than blaming or pathologising.

Supervision supports a collaborative approach with clients, especially when setting goals, developing care plans and reviewing therapeutic objectives. It also provides a forum to:

  • consider the unique professional development needs and preferences of each supervisee
  • adopt a variety of supervisory styles (teaching, mentoring, coaching)
  • reflect on interpersonal boundaries,2 essential in family violence and sexual violence work.

'Supervision is vital to recognising and valuing the skills and capacity of practitioners.' —Jess Cadwallader, Principal Strategic Advisor, Central Highlands

The sector often refers to managerial or line management and clinical supervision. The above definition aligns to both, and they are defined in more detail below.

Managerial or line management supervision

This supports organisational requirements and processes for practitioners to do their jobs and achieve positive outcomes for victim survivors.

Usually supervisor-led, this type of supervision is more task-focused and less reflective. When it includes reflection, it’s usually for technical and practical aspects rather than deeper critical or process levels.3 Managerial supervision helps align practices with organisation policies and relevant legislation. It includes discussing future career pathways and learning opportunities, both formal and informal.

Clinical supervision

Clinical supervision aims to develop a supervisee’s clinical awareness and skills to recognise and manage:

  • personal responses
  • value clashes
  • power imbalances
  • ethical dilemmas.4

Usually supervisee-led, this type of supervision allows deeper insight to the work using process reflection.5 This is where conscious and unconscious aspects of practice and supervisory relationships are explored.

A clinical supervisor can be from outside of the organisation or be an internal line management supervisor or a supervisor who does not have line management responsibilities.

Having distinct roles for clinical and managerial supervision can help ensure critical and process reflection occurs.

'Supervision is their time, it’s not my time.' —Ivy Yarram, Yoowinna Wurnalung Aboriginal Healing Service

Collaborative supervision

Supervision has traditionally been viewed as a relationship and process between one supervisor and one supervisee. This can put the supervisor in an unrealistic ‘expert’ role and one leader is unlikely to have the required skills and knowledge to meet all the needs of each supervisee.

There has been a shift to embracing a more collaborative model of supervision. There can be benefits from using multiple supervisors, as well as peer supervision. For example, The Orange Door networks developed a matrix model of supervision that incorporates home agency supervisors and practice leaders. This offers more expertise and consultation. Supervision agreements can assist in clarifying confidentiality, roles and communication channels in collaborative supervision.

Cultural empowerment

Cultural empowerment6 is a reflective, holistic, validating, non-judgemental, two-way learning process provided by a supervisor who is skilled, experienced, caring, respectful and knowledgeable about their local First Nations community.7 The relationship should empower supervisees by reducing barriers for First Nations supervisees to perform their duties in a culturally safe environment.

Culturally appropriate empowerment is needed by Aboriginal workforces in Victoria.8 It provides cultural context when reflecting on practice. It incorporates a strength-based approach which acknowledges a supervisee’s sense of pride and purpose in being able to impart cultural knowledge to others. It is recommended for First Nations supervisees and non-Aboriginal supervisees who work with First Nations people and communities.

To be effective, supervisors and colleagues need to understand why culturally safe empowerment is important. This requires awareness and understanding of the history and subsequent issues and challenges for First Nations supervisees. Such challenges include working closely with their own community and carrying the ‘cultural load’.

Supervisors and colleagues should have appropriate cultural awareness training to be aware of their roles and responsibilities when working alongside First Nations supervisees. Non-Aboriginal services need to also recognise that some aspects of cultural empowerment and connection can only be gained and shared between First Nations people. Cultural meaning and practices will be different from non-Aboriginal norms and belief systems.9

The Yarn Up Time and the CASE model10 offer guidance on how to provide culturally responsive supervision for First Nations practitioners and non-Aboriginal practitioners working with First Nations communities.

Intersectional feminist supervision

This recognises how different aspects of a person’s identity might affect how they experience the world and the related barriers.11 An intersectional feminist lens encourages supervisees to question their own experiences and how they might create assumptions about another’s experience. It assists supervisees to:

  • better understand how different forms of marginalisation impact others
  • consider the system more broadly
  • be more targeted in their advocacy for improving gender and broader equality.

It also helps practitioners appreciate the need for personalised and tailored solutions.

The message that ‘personal is political’12 is critical, as is the role of the supervisor to create this awareness for the supervisee. Supervisors can use supervision to examine the effect of hierarchies and the power differential between the supervisor and supervisee. The aim is to create a more empowering and egalitarian relationship.13 The notion that the ‘personal is professional’ and bringing your whole self to work can also be considered a feminist act.14

Although they overlap, supervision is different to formal debriefing, critical incident management, day-to-day management interactions and performance management. These need their own policies and procedures. Performance management is also separate to supervision but through early recognition and support, supervision can prevent performance concerns growing.

Supervisors need to use empathy and counselling skills during supervision. How much will depend on the situation and supervisee. The line between supervision and counselling is fluid. It reflects supervisees bringing their ‘whole selves’ to the work. Personal experiences can support the work. This deep reflection provides opportunities to:

  • unpack personal experiences that affect practice and vice versa
  • allow supervisees to feel supported and maybe seek ongoing external help if required, through Employment Assistance Program (EAP) or therapy
  • monitor the safety and wellbeing of supervisees, their levels of vicarious trauma and possible burn out.15

Develop a supervision agreement early in the relationship. This provides an opportunity to discuss the fluid nature of supervision and normalise the potential need for EAP or therapy.

'One of our practitioners wasn’t sure why a particular client triggered her. We were able to talk it through in the moment and when we unpacked it, it went right back to her early years. Providing space for in-the-moment supervision meant that she was able to make that link. I then referred her to the EAP, so she had the opportunity to explore it further through ongoing therapeutic work with someone else.' —Kelly Gannon, Team Leader, Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation


1 W O’Donoghue, cited in CE Newman and DA Kaplan, Supervision essentials for cognitive-behavioural therapy, American Psychological Association, 2016, doi:org/10.1037/14950-002.

2 National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence, Standards of practice manual for services against sexual violence, 3rd edn, 2021, accessed 27 February 2023.

3 G Ruch, ‘Relationship-based practice and reflective practice: holistic approaches to contemporary child-care social work’, Child and Family Social Work, 2005, 10 (2): 111-123, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2005.00359.x.

4 State of Victoria, 2019-20 Census of workforces that intersect with family violence, Victorian Government website, 2021, accessed 27 February 2023.

5 Ruch, ‘Relationship-based practice and reflective practice: holistic approaches to contemporary child-care social work’.

6 Note that the word supervision can have negative connotations of control and regulation for the First Nations workforce.

7 Victorian Dual Diagnosis Education and Training Unit, Our Healing Ways: A Culturally Appropriate Supervision Model for Aboriginal Workers, Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, 2012, accessed 27 February 2023.

8 Victorian Dual Diagnosis Education and Training Unit, Our Healing Ways: A Culturally Appropriate Supervision Model for Aboriginal Workers.

9 Western Sydney Aboriginal Women’s Leadership Program, Understanding the Importance of Cultural Supervision and Support for Aboriginal Workers, 2013, accessed 27 February 2023.

10 T Harris and K O’Donoghue, ‘Developing Culturally Responsive Supervision Through Yarn Up Time and the CASE Supervision Model’, Australian Social Work, 2019, 73(5):1-13, doi: 10.1080/0312407X.2019.1658796.

11 International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), What does intersectional feminism actually mean?, IWDA website, 2018, accessed 27 February 2023.

12 C Hanisch, ‘The personal is political’, in S Firestone and A Koedt (eds), Notes from the second year: women’s liberation, Radical feminism, New York, 1970.

13 CA Falender and EP Shafranske, ‘Psycho-therapy based supervision models in an emerging competency-based era: A commentary’, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 2010, 47(1): 45-50, doi: 10.1037/a0018873.

14 A Morrison, The Personal is the professional, Hook & Eye website, 2010, accessed 27 February 2023.

15 D Hewson and M Carroll, Reflective practice in supervision, MoshPit Publishing, Hazelbrook, NSW, 2016.