Erin Stirling

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Sheila Sammon




Clinical supervision has long been a hallmark of social work practice, but recent changes to the practice context has threatened its survival. The changing face of social services, brought on by the growing neoliberal ideology in North America, has led to a drastic change in social work practice, and to the availability of clinical supervision. How well is undergraduate social work education keeping pace with the current practice reality?

This qualitative study involved an analysis of the introductory texts used at the schools of social work in Ontario, combined with interviews completed with five hospital social workers. The goal was to explore the notion of clinical supervision for social workers in hospitals, their current practice reality, and the message that is provided to new social workers through the introductory textbooks used in undergraduate programs.

The text analysis revealed that the discourse of available supervision is deeply imbedded in the materials used in introductory social work courses, and helps to set up an expectation about supervision as being both necessary and available in social work practice. The interview participants discussed a very different practice reality. In hospitals where program management has occurred, there is no formal clinical supervision available. These changes have led to feelings of isolation, regular use of informal consultation, an increase in unpaid work, and fears about the surveillance aspect of supervision.

The disconnect between the messaging available to students and the reality of social work practice in hospitals pointed to several important implications including: a need for hospitals to recognize the benefits of formal supervision; the suggestion to explore group supervision as an alternative; and a push for schools of social work to teach the reality of practice settings, and to continue to teach students to be self advocates for their own professional development.

McMaster University Library

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Social Work Commons