A Rapid Review of Reflective Supervision in Social Work

John McGowan and Professor Jermained Ravalier in front of a "Campaign for better working conditions and wellbeing for social workers" poster

SWU General Secretary John McGowan and SWU Ambassador Professor Jermaine Ravalier contribute to new research paper in the British Journal of Social Work.  

Why the topic of reflective supervision?

Support from colleagues, peers, and managers can act as a buffer to poor wellbeing by providing the resources that individuals need to cope at work. One support mechanism we consistently heard about from all the social workers that we spoke to is the use of reflective supervision.

Across all of our studies with social workers, reflective supervision was described as one of the key approaches that can be used to support both social worker wellbeing and their practice. However, for many that we spoke to, supervision was often described as a tick box exercise designed to keep an eye on case progression rather than to support and help develop social workers.

Bath Spa University, SWU, and others will now work together on this new piece of the ‘working conditions’ jigsaw and develop and make available best practice supervision for social workers and related professionals. We will develop a comprehensive approach to best practice supervision by working closely with social workers from across the country.

John McGowan, General Secretary of SWU, said:

“Supervision is a key area in social work development. I am therefore delighted that SWU will be exploring the role of reflective supervision in social workers’ wellbeing with Prof. Jermaine Ravalier and his team. Common feedback from members indicates that the majority of supervision is ad hoc and irregular. More significantly, feedback has highlighted that it often does not include a discussion linked to reflection, learning and development – it is often reduced to a process of case management. It is important to note that previous working conditions research has demonstrated that effective supervision is associated with higher job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and retention.”

Professor Jermaine Ravalier, who is a Professor in Organisational Psychology and Social Justice at Bath Spa University, said:

“Reflective supervision is crucial to social work practice, but little is known about how reflective supervision works and what the outcomes of reflective supervision are for social workers and their service users. This project co-produced the best approach to reflective supervision. The project began with a rapid review of the literature around reflective supervision, with a particular focus on what works, why, and the implications of both good and poor reflective supervision.


The rapid review found that, while social workers and social work employers covet reflective supervision as a supportive tool, there is little identified literature and that which was found is inconsistent in its definition of reflection.

Interviews and focus groups are currently ongoing.

The aim of these two phases of data collection are to understand the inherent difficulties with reflective supervision, and use the experience and expertise of social workers from across the UK to develop the best practice reflective supervision toolkit.

Conclusions and Implications

Reflective supervision is key to the social work role. It provides key feedback and resources, and ultimately supports social workers in the successful pursuit of their role. This project will support the use of best practice reflective supervision.

Journal Article: A Rapid Review of Reflective Supervision in Social Work

Free access to the article via this link: https://academic.oup.com/bjsw/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/bjsw/bcac223/6884098?utm_source=advanceaccess&utm_campaign=bjsw&utm_medium=email

Authors: Jermaine M Ravalier, Paulina Wegrzynek, Annabel Mitchell, John McGowan, Paula Mcfadden, Caroline Bald

The British Journal of Social Work, bcac223

Published: 08 December 2022