Social Work Now


A Few Facts on Social Work Supervision & Consultation

OASW has just published the following fact sheet on "Social Work Supervision and Consultation".

In response to members' questions about supervision and consultation, OASW has developed a fact sheet to help clarify the differences and explain the modalities.   

This fact sheet is provided for information purposes only.   

OASW carries no responsibility for the regulation of social work practice as the latter mandate belongs to the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW).   

Supervision encompasses a number of functions: 

  • administrative;
  • educational/clinical; and/or
  • supportive. 

These functions may be provided in an integrated manner to promote both effective client services and the social worker's professional development, or provided separately. 

Administrative supervision ensures the social worker's organization meets its mandate to provide effective client services. Major activities focus on how staff manage caseloads, keep records, adhere to organizational policies, practices, and priorities, etc. Within organizations, administrative supervision of social workers is provided by senior/qualified supervisors and/or managers from diverse backgrounds and training. 

Educational/clinical supervision develops the social worker's professional judgement, clinical knowledge and skills, including critical self-reflection, all of which are essential for social workers providing clinical services, especially those performing psychotherapy. Clinical supervision also helps broaden the social worker's understanding of and adherence to the profession's values and code of ethics and standards of practice. In addition, educational/clinical supervision provides the social worker with practical knowledge about the organization's and community's policies and resources; the establishment of priorities; etc.  

Clinical practice is predicated on the assumption that honing professional capacity is a continuous learning commitment. Clinical supervision of social work practice should be provided by a member of the profession with extensive specialized knowledge and skills, especially when related to the provision of psychotherapy services.    

Supportive supervision creates an environment that is conducive to the provision of effective services. It can: improve morale, alleviate work-related stress, provide encouragement and reassurance, and improve overall job satisfaction for social workers. Like administrative supervision, supportive supervision may be provided by non-social workers. 


Consultation is a problem-solving process in which advice and knowledge as well as reflection on the social worker's practice is offered by someone possessing specialized expertise. Consultants may be engaged to help social workers identify gaps in knowledge or blocks in understanding or explore other ways of seeing issues, etc. Typically, consultants do not carry organizational responsibility, although they may advise on many of the functions encompassed by supervision. The social worker and the consultant negotiate the terms of the consultation such as the frequency and duration of contact, nature of expertise sought, etc.

Social workers in private practice are encouraged to seek clinical consultation from a member of the social work profession wherever possible; however, they may also want to seek additional expertise from consultants with specialized knowledge and skills external to the profession. 


Providing supervision or consultation requires specialized skills developed through extensive clinical experience and/or additional formalized training, supervision and/or mentorship, all with a focus on developing the skills needed. 

OCSWSSW expects social workers to practice within their competence and their professional scope of practice, in compliance with its Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. As the regulatory body for the profession in Ontario, OCSWSSW does not have the authority to require employers to provide supervision to its staff who are registered with OCSWSSW, nor can it determine who should supervise social work staff.    


Both supervision and consultation geared to professional development can be delivered either one-on-one or in a group.  Whether this occurs as in-person meetings or using electronic means, issues related to security and confidentiality are paramount.

Individual Sessions or one-on-one sessions are typically one hour in length, regularly scheduled and tailored to meet the individual practitioner's specific learning objectives in relation to providing better client service. 

Group Sessions are led by a supervisor or a consultant to address the learning needs of a group of social workers. Group members learn from one another in addition to the group leader by sharing practice experiences and challenges. Talking to others about difficult practice and/or work-related issues reduces stress and a sense of isolation. Group sessions also have the advantage of being time-efficient and cost-effective.  

Peer Groups are useful in providing mutual support, sharing practice knowledge and resources, etc. Peer groups are usually composed of individuals with the same or similar levels of knowledge and expertise and do not have any administrative responsibility or accountability in relation to others in the group. This form of professional development is most appropriately referred to as peer consultation, although it is sometimes mischaracterized as peer supervision.   


In the preparation of this fact sheet, OASW has referred to the following sources: 

Barker, R.L. (2014) The Social Work Dictionary, 6th Edition. Washington, DC: NASW Press, Entry for Supervision, p.419 and Entry for Consultation, p.90. 

Hair, H.J. (2013) The purpose and duration of supervision, and the training and discipline of supervisors:  What supervisors say they need to provide effective services.British Journal of Social Work, 43, 1562-1588. 

Kadushin, A. & Harkness, D. (2014), Supervision in Social Work, 5th Edition, Columbia University Press. 

OCSWSSW Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice Handbook, Second Edition, 2008, Principle 11, Competency and Integrity, Interpretation 2.1.5 

OCSWSSW Practice Notes: Supervision: At the Core of Competence and Ethical Practice,Spring 2012 

Shulman, L. & Safyer, A. (2005) The Hawthorne Press, Inc.,Supervision in Counseling Interdisciplinary Issues and Research, 49-65. 

Turner, Francis J., Editor (2005).Canadian Encyclopedia of Social Work. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 


We gratefully acknowledge the valuable input of:

Lise Betteridge, MSW, RSW, Deputy Registrar, Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers

Marion Bogo, MSW, RSW, Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto

Alice Schmidt Hanbidge, PhD, MSW, RSW, Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Renison University College, University of Waterloo 

Supervision & Consultation Fact Sheet attached below: