Listen, I’ve had great supervision and I’ve had not-great supervision.
When we are starting out we are typically front-line Social Workers with insufficient preparation working with the neediest populations. We are excited about our new career and we want to do great work. But, this is tough work, and often we are waaaay outside our comfort zone.
Great supervision can keep us from curling into a ball under our desks six months in. Great supervision gives us compassion, tools, and confidence so we can recover from even the worst day.
Poor supervision can leave us insecure, uncertain, and un-prepared to respond to the demands of the day. Poor supervision is a ticket on the express train to burnout.
I have three words for you: Boun Da Ries. Boundaries. Boundaries are your friend.
Here’s five ways they can keep you sane when your supervisor is making you crazy.
1. Clearly define your role to yourself.
Remember back on your first day of grad school and you were all excited about going out and doing good? Saving the world?
Honey, you’ve got to let that go.
You are not here to save the world. And you are of no use to anybody trying. You are part of a system now and you are only slightly more powerful than the clients you serve through that system. You cannot save anyone from their life.
Your job is to find out the little bits and pieces of power you do have and make the most of them however you can to benefit your client.
Do not waste time and energy banging your head against walls you didn’t build and don’t have the authority to tear down. You are here to smooth the edges for your clients, so get to sanding.
2. Slow it down.
If you are a Social Worker in an agency, there will always be someone who is not happy with you.
There aren’t enough hours in the day for you to please everyone.
Pause and breathe throughout your day.
You are a competent adult. You are capable of looking at your world of work and making a determination of what needs to happen next.
You will make mistakes. This is ok. Really.
Someone will be mad that you didn’t do what they wanted you to do. That’s ok, too.
Someone else (might) be happy you did the thing for them you did do that you knew most needed to be done. Or, they might not be happy, but YOU know.
3. Don’t ask your supervisor for something they don’t have.
Identify what your supervisor does have to offer you and go to him/her for that. No more, no less.
Don’t go in with your heart and your vulnerability all hanging out.
This is a burned-out, jaded supervisor bound by agency systems, politics, and finances you know little about, not a fuzzy mama bear who can finally affirm your worthiness.
Tell him or her what they want to know, ask what they can answer.
Your worthiness is not defined by this relationship, nor is your career.
4. Learn how to practice self-compassion like a boss.
Be your own mama bear.
Take care of your insecurities and vulnerability so you can get back to sanding, or trying to figure out how to get out of the agency and do private practice, or whatever you are supposed to be doing.
You don’t need that supervisor to like you, understand you, or value you anyway.
You like you. You understand you. You value you.
5. Get outside support.
Locate more voices, supportive, compassionate voices, who can give you the support, perspective, and tools you need to be a great agency Social Worker, or any other kind of Social Worker.
Whether it’s non-agency-supervision, group supervision, psychotherapy, or coaching, invest in yourself, your well-being, and the future of your career.
You are amazing. Yes, you. You really are. You do great work in impossible circumstances. Your work matters to your clients. You deserve self-care and support.
If you need more support, reach out to me here. I offer distance coaching around the world and clinical supervision here in Maryland. I'd love to help you love Social Work again.
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...