Professional supervision and professional autonomy


  • Synnöve Karvinen-Niinikoski University of Helsinki, Finland
  • Liz Beddoe University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Gillian Ruch University of Sussex, United Kingdom
  • Ming-sum Tsui Caritas Institute of Higher Education, Hong Kong



supervision, social work, critical reflection, managerialism, professional autonomy and agency


INTRODUCTION: Supervision is a well-established component of practice in the health and social care professions. In recent years, however, relentless changes in the nature of professional roles within these contexts have led to corresponding variations in how professional practice supervision is configured and delivered.

METHOD: This article examines how professional supervision and its future are seen by an international group of experts in social work supervision. The evolving perceptions of social work supervision’s role, and the relationship to professional autonomy in the social sphere are explored with reference to the authors’ earlier research.

FINDINGS: The tension between supervision as a surveillant tool of management and a practice of critical reflection is acknowledged in literature as posing a threat to one aspect of professional autonomy and agency.

IMPLICATIONS: The authors pose an alternative, theoretically grounded, approach based on the traditions of critically reflective supervision to assist the recognition and management of the balance between support and surveillance or managerial organisational dimensions. Meta- theoretical understanding of professional supervision in the frame of human agency will help both practitioners and supervisors to construct sustainable and proactive social work. Instead of despairing about the loss of autonomy, the professionals may go through significant societal and professional transformations as subjects of their own expertise and professional agency.


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How to Cite

Karvinen-Niinikoski, S., Beddoe, L., Ruch, G., & Tsui, M.- sum. (2019). Professional supervision and professional autonomy. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 31(3), 87–96.



Original Articles