Why Human Service Professionals need Consultative Supervision.

Work Grime


Back in the 1920s British miners fought for what was termed “pit head time” – the right to wash off the grime of the work in the boss’s time. Supervision for human service professionals is like that. It allows them to wash off in work time the grime of their daily interactions with the people they have been helping. That grime represents often as extreme distress, trauma, abuse, multi-problem complexity, even threats. To be able to sit down with an experienced professional and de-brief and gain perspective that allows them to move recharged and refreshed into the next interaction is important for their professional development as well as their mental health and psychological well-being.

It has been seen as mandatory for many decades in many human service professions. It is understood and expected that human service organisations will provide it and/or that practitioners will seek it out.

In recent years, however, there have been increasing numbers of organisations working in the human service sector, who traditionally didn’t prioritise supervision for their staff, that have begun to recognise its value and now require their staff to engage in it on a regular basis. School principals, teachers, academics, doctors, allied health professionals, local government staff, ministers of religion, for example, are all seeking an experienced supervisor who can help them enhance their professional practice.

Most of these people are already highly experienced and while their organisations may want “Professional Supervision” put on the tax invoice, they actually don’t need to be “supervised”. What I have offered these people over 25+ years is what I call “Consultative Supervision”, a process by which they consult with me about their work. It much more resembles a mentoring process than it does traditional supervision. It is a collegial and collaborative relationship that is highly confidential.

Consultative Supervision 

  • is initiated by the practitioner;
  • is sought from outside their working environment;
  • is engaged in with the support of their organisation;
  • focuses on the professional development of the practitioner, not only on client issues or case management;
  • emphasises pro-activity rather than reactivity;
  • leaves the autonomy, control and direction of the consultation with the practitioner;
  • has no administrative or evaluative function;
  • can be engaged in by individuals and groups;
  • can be short term, sought out for a specific purpose;
  • can be a long term commitment seen as essential to practice excellence and professional development.

I have written a 17 page booklet on Consultative Supervision for Human Service Professionals that can be downloaded here.

If you would like to talk with me about Consultative Supervision, go to my Contact Page and schedule a call with me.


  1. Fred Schrader on February 7, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    I’ve never heard about this “pit head time” story. So, yeah, I can proudly say: “Today, I’ve learned something new. :)” And you’re the reason for this! Thanks for the article!

  2. Maree Harris on February 7, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    Fred, thanks for joining the conversation. It is a good concept, isn’t it? It doesn’t just relate to supervision. I think it also underpins employee assistance porgrams (EAPs) where organisations provide counselling to their staff who maybe stressed from whatever causes and for whom it is affecting their work.

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