Best Practice Guidelines for Reflective Supervision/Consultation
Purpose of Guidelines
(1) To emphasize the importance of reflective supervision and consultation for best practice,
(2) To describe the knowledge, skills, and practices that are critical to reflective supervision/consultation
(3) To better ensure that those providing reflective supervision and consultation are appropriately trained and qualified
(4) To define the type of reflective supervision/consultation that is required for Endorsement®
Those who earn Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-Focused Practice Promoting Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health® (Endorsement®) have demonstrated completion of specialized education, work, in-service training, and reflective supervision/consultation (RS/C) experiences that lead to competency in the promotion and/or practice of infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH). The intention of Endorsement® is to:
- Transform the ways in which professionals view, wonder about, consider, understand, and respond to the pregnant women, infants, young children, and families whom they serve.
- Support professionals who offer knowledgeable and skilled support to pregnant women, infants, young children, and families.
- Enhance professionals’ ability to identify risks to the physical, emotional, and relational health of infants and young children and to respond appropriately.
- Help professionals develop the capacity to shift perspective, address personal biases, set boundaries, and slow down, observe, and listen1.
- Invite professionals to experience feeling heard, validated, and affirmed, within the context of a RS/C relationship, for the work that they are doing with or on behalf of pregnant women, infants, young children, and families.
These Best Practice Guidelines are the standards for providers of RS/C and are critical to ensuring that the above intentions are achieved.
For the purposes of this document, RS/C refers specifically to work done in the infant and early childhood family field on behalf of the infant and young child’s primary caregiving relationships. Throughout this document, reflective supervisor typically will refer to a provider who also may be the individual’s program supervisor and/or is employed by the same organization as the individual. Reflective consultant will refer to a provider who is hired contractually from outside the organization to work with an individual and/or a group.
Reflective Supervision/Consultation as Best Practice
Within the RS/C process, practitioners are able to examine with a trusting supervisor/consultant the thoughts, feelings, and reactions evoked in the course of working closely with pregnant women, infants, young children, and their families. Over time and with a reliable reflective supervisor/consultant, the experience of RS/C offers practitioners the opportunity to engage in a safe, reliable, and consistent learning relationship. Through this relationship, strengths are supported, and vulnerabilities are partnered (Fenichel, 1992; Shamoon-Shanok, 2009).
A hallmark of RS/C is the shared exploration of the parallel process. In other words, in RS/C, attention is given to all relationships, including that between supervisor and practitioner, between practitioner and parent, and between parent, and infant/young child. It is critical to understand how each of these relationships affects the others. Thus, RS/C incorporates a process of consciously connecting the lived experience of individuals and their relationships with the lived experience and relationships of others.
But RS/C is not only about understanding how these relationships affect each other. It is also about intentionally affecting relationships. In other words, if we want parents/caregivers to see, hold, respond to, and nurture their infants, they must have experienced these caregiving behaviors themselves. For parents who have not been provided such caregiving themselves in the context of a secure, steadying relationship, practitioners may provide a holding environment for these parents (to a degree). In order for practitioners to be able to provide parents with such safety and security, the practitioners must have someone to provide a safe place for them as well. Reflective supervisors/consultants are able to play this role for practitioners. Simply put, reflective supervisors/consultants become a place and a person with whom practitioners can feel seen, held, and supported.
The Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work with Infants, Children and Families state, “Self-awareness leads to better services for families: Working with infants, children, and families requires all individuals, organizations, and systems of care to reflect on our own culture, values and beliefs, and on the impact that racism, classism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other systems of oppression have had on our lives in order to provide diversity-informed, culturally attuned services.2” RS/C attends to the emotional responses to work with pregnant women, infants, young children, and families and how reactions to the content shared by families affect this work within one’s discipline. In this way, RS/C offers opportunities for professionals to increase self-awareness by identifying and addressing personal biases in the context of a safe “relationship for learning.” This increased self-awareness is critical to the provision of culturally responsive services.
Finally, there is often greater emphasis on the reflective supervisor/consultant’s ability to listen and wait, inviting the supervisee to express thoughts and feeling. This emphasis allows the supervisee to discover solutions, concepts, and perceptions on his/her own without interruption from the supervisor/consultant. Supervisees who are newer to the field may need more direction, guidance, and encouragement in this process. For supervisees in every stage of professional development, however, the reflective supervisor/consultant’s emphasis on listening and waiting to promote the discovery of solutions is aligned with another Diversity-Informed Tenet. This particular tenet emphasizes “non-dominant ways of knowing, bodies of knowledge, sources of strength, and routes to healing within all families and communities.3”
1Harrison, M. (2016). Release, Reframe, Refocus, and Respond: A practitioner transformation process in a reflective consultation Program. Infant Mental Health Journal, 37(6), 670-683.
2Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work with Infants, Children, and Families https://imhdivtenets.org
3Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work with Infants, Children, and Families https://imhdivtenets.org
Building Capacity for Reflective Practice
CT-AIMH recognizes that in many regions there are few supervisors/consultants who meet the qualifications specified above. If an Endorsement® applicant is having difficulty finding supervision/consultation to promote or support the practice of infant mental health or if a program has difficulty finding someone to provide reflective supervision/consultation to guide and support staff who are applicants for Endorsement®, CT-AIMH can be a resource.
CT-AIMH invites Endorsement® applicants and supervisors/consultants to contact CT- AIMH to assist in finding supervisors/consultants who are endorsed and available to work with them or to discuss the standards for best practice presented in this guide. Rapidly changing technology makes it possible to connect through the Internet, by telephone conference, or face to face.
Please note: Peer supervision (defined as colleagues meeting together without an identified supervisor/consultant to guide the reflective process), while valuable for many experienced practitioners, does not meet the reflective supervision/consultation criteria for endorsement as specified in this guide.
For the complete Best Practice Guidelines, please click here.
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