The challenge facing health care chaplaincy is to articulate a model of professional identity and practice that firmly locates chaplains as members of the health care workforce with an important contribution to the delivery of good healthcare. Supervision is one of the key settings for exploring and developing this process.

Supervision supports the development of professional identity. It provides space in which the interactions between personal, professional and spiritual-theological aspects of experience come into view. For each individual this involves a dynamic (constantly shifting) set of interactions. For example, our personal history begins to be shaped by the encounter with our experience of being in professional role. Aspects of our spiritual-theological journey will emerge within both personal and professional spheres of experience. A model of supervision needs to be able to distinguish between these aspects of experience. It needs to be able to hold in tension these separate, yet, intertwined aspects of our experience in the service of supporting our emerging professional identity.

A chaplaincy model of Supervision seeks to address the whole person. It addresses developmental-experiential (personal), learning (formative), and competency-accountability (functional) needs of the chaplain. Unlike counselling it is not a free ranging enquiry and will confine itself to exploring aspects of experience only as they emerge within, and have an impact upon, the professional-work space. Its scope is neither global as in spiritual direction, nor intimately minute as in counselling. The boundaries of work and professional identity frame (i.e. show us what lies within and what lies beyond) the scope of legitimate supervision enquiry.

There are some simple practical questions to be addressed in establishing good supervision.

  • Who requires supervision? The answer is any practitioner requiring a space to reflect upon and learn from their work, notably the impact of the work upon them and how this affects their doing of the work.
  • When and how often? Supervision should be regular, that is, planned and diarised rather than left to individuals to signal a need. The frequency of supervision is variable, but the general guidelines of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy of an hour and half a month seem a reasonable expectation for chaplains.
  • The Supervision contract. At the outset the supervisor and practitioner should discuss and agree on frequency and duration, venue, confidentiality and any exceptions which might be required by the supervisor’s duty of accountability and responsibility. Discussion of mutual expectations will be important and clarification of the expected method of presentation – whether general discussion, pastoral vignette, and/or verbatim recording.