The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Developmental-Relational Approach to Field Supervision: Effect On Supervisory Alliance and Affect

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 11:15 AM
Executive Center 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Susanne Bennett, PhD, Associate Professor, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
Kathleen Holtz Deal, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background and purpose: This study examined the effect of a social work supervision-training model on field instructor (FI) and MSW student-rated views of the supervisory working alliance and positive and negative affect related to field supervision. The model—A Developmental-Relational Approach to Field Supervision(DRAFS)—is a 3-session, 16-hour program created and co-taught by educators at two mid-Atlantic social work schools.  Based on theory and research on attachment and student developmental levels, the training educated FIs about the role of a secure supervisory working alliance and its influence on student development.

Main research questions:  (1) What is the relationship between affect and working alliance ratings over time, and do any of the results differ for people in the training and control groups? (2) How does FI attachment relate to initial affect and alliance levels and change over time for the training group, and do results differ for people in the two groups?

Methods: This study used a two-group experimental, pre-post-follow-up design.  A sample of 100 new and experienced FIs and 64 of their students volunteered to participate in the research project, following recruitment from FI orientations.  After random assignment into training (n=48 FIs, 30 students) and control groups (n=52 FIs, 34 students), investigators collected data via self-report questionnaires at three points in time (October, December, and April).  The questionnaire contained measures of perceptions of the supervisory working alliance, general attachment, and positive and negative affect related to field supervision. Investigators used hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to analyze patterns of individual change across time and to handle data with a multilevel structure (within- and between-dyads).

Results: Three statistically significant set of findings suggested: (1) FI attachment styles and affect were associated for both training and control groups at time one.  At the beginning of the year, the more anxious the FI, the more negative affect the FI experienced; the more avoidant the FI, the less likely the student experienced negative feelings about supervision.  (2) For FIs who viewed supervision negatively at the beginning of the year, the training was likely to increase their alliance with students over the course of the year; the alliance did not improve for FIs in the control group. (3) For avoidant FIs who received the training, their students’ alliance ratings did not decrease over the course of the year, but students rated the supervisory alliance more negatively over the year if they had avoidant FIs who did not take the training.

Implications: The study suggested the value of the DRAFS training for informing FIs about attachment processes, enhancing FIs’ abilities to strengthen the working alliance, and increasing FIs’ skills of attuning to the attachment and developmental needs of students.  Specifically, findings underscored possible preventive qualities of DRAFS.  FIs that began the year feeling negative about supervision received support regarding their relational challenges and learned ways to increase the working alliance, thereby preventing the supervisory relationship from deteriorating.  The attachment styles of FIs also seemed to influence how FIs and students felt about supervision and the alliance.