Guidelines for Reflective Supervision

First3Years Endorsement: Reflective Supervision Guidelines


The intent of this document is to emphasize the importance of reflective
supervision for best practice and to better assure that those
providing reflective supervision are appropriately trained.

Distinguishing Between Administrative, Clinical and Reflective

Many supervisors of infant and family programs are required to provide
administrative and/or clinical supervision, while reflective supervision may
be optional. Put another way, reflective supervision often
includes administrative elements and is always clinical, while
administrative and clinical supervision are not always reflective.

Administrative supervision relates to the oversight of federal, state and agency
regulations, program policies, rules and procedures. Supervision that is
primarily administrative will be driven to achieve the following objectives:

  • hire
  • train/educate
  • oversee paperwork
  • write reports
  • explain rules and policies
  • coordinate
  • monitor productivity
  • evaluate

Clinical supervision, while case-focused, does not necessarily
consider what the practitioner brings to the intervention nor does it
necessarily encourage the exploration of emotion as it relates to work with an
infant/toddler and family. Supervision that is primarily
clinical will most likely include many or all of the administrative objectives
that are listed above as well as the following objectives:

  • review casework
  • discuss the diagnostic impressions and diagnosis
  • discuss intervention strategies related to the intervention
  • review the intervention or treatment plan
  • review and evaluate clinical progress
  • give guidance/advice
  • teach

Reflective supervision is distinct due to the shared exploration of
the parallel process. That is, attention to all of the relationships is
important, including the ones between practitioner and supervisor, between
practitioner and parent, and between parent and infant/toddler. It is critical
to understand how each of these relationships affects the others. Of additional
importance, reflective supervision relates to professional and
personal development within one’s discipline by attending to the emotional
content of the work and how reactions to the content affect the work. Finally,
there is often greater emphasis on the supervisor’s ability to listen
and wait, allowing the supervisee to discover solutions, concepts and
perceptions on his/her own without interruption from the

The primary objectives of reflective supervision include the following:

  • form a trusting relationship between supervisor and practitioner
  • establish consistent and predictable meetings and times
  • ask questions that encourage details about the infant, parent and emerging
  • listen
  • remain emotionally present
  • teach/guide
  • nurture/support
  • apply the integration of emotion and reason
  • foster the reflective process to be internalized by the supervisee
  • explore the parallel process and to allow time for personal reflection
  • attend to how reactions to the content affect the process

Reflective supervision may be carried out individually or within a
group. For the purposes of this document, reflective supervision refers
specifically to work done in the infant/family field on behalf of the
infant/toddler’s primary caregiving relationships.

Reflective supervision may mean different things depending on the
program in which it occurs. A reflective supervisor may be
hired/contracted from outside the agency or program, and may be offered to an
individual or group/team in order to examine and respond to case material. If
the supervisor is contracted from outside the agency or program,
he or she will engage in reflective and clinical discussion, but administrative
objectives only when it is clearly indicated in the contract.

If the reflective supervisor operates within the agency or program,
then he/she will most likely need to address reflective, clinical and
administrative objectives. When discussions related to disciplinary action need
to occur, it is the direct supervisor who addresses them. When the direct
supervisor is also the one who provides reflective supervision, some schedule a
meeting separate from the reflective supervision time. Others choose to address
disciplinary concerns during the regular reflective supervision meeting.
Disciplinary action should never occur within a group supervisory
session. In all instances, the reflective supervisor is expected to
set limits that are clear, firm & fair, to work collaboratively and to interact
and respond respectfully.

In sum, it is important to remember that relationship is the foundation for
reflective supervision. All growth and discovery about the work
and oneself takes place within the context of this trusting relationship.

To the extent that the supervisor and supervisee(s)
are able to establish a secure relationship, the capacity to be reflective will

When it’s going well, supervision is a holding environment, a place to feel
secure enough to expose insecurities, mistakes, questions and differences.”
Rebecca Shahmoon Shanock (1992)

Supervision is “the place to understand the meaning of your work with a family
and the meaning and impact of your relationship with the family.” Jeree Pawl,
public address

Do unto others as you would have others do unto others.” Jeree Pawl (1998)

Best Practice Guidelines for the Reflective Supervisor

  • Agree on a regular time and place to meet
  • Arrive on time and remain open, curious and emotionally available
  • Protect against interruptions, e.g. turn off phone, close door
  • Set the agenda together with the supervisee(s) before you begin
  • Respect each supervisee’s pace/readiness to learn
  • Ally with supervisee’s strengths, offering reassurance and praise, as
  • Observe and listen carefully
  • Strengthen supervisee’s observation and listening skills
  • Suspend harsh or critical judgment
  • Invite the sharing of details about a particular situation, infant, toddler,
    parent, their competencies, behaviors, interactions, strengths, concerns
  • Listen for the emotional experiences that the supervisee is describing when
    discussing the case or response to the work, e.g. anger, impatience, sorrow,
    confusion, etc.
  • Respond with appropriate empathy
  • Invite supervisee to have and talk about feelings awakened in the presence of an
    infant or very young child and parent(s)
  • Wonder about, name and respond to those feelings with appropriate empathy
  • Encourage exploration of thoughts and feelings that the supervisee has about the
    work with very young children and families as well as about one’s response(s) to
    the work, as the supervisee appears ready or able
  • Encourage exploration of thoughts and feelings that the supervisee has about the
    experience of supervision as well as how that experience might influence his/her
    work with infants/toddlers and their families or his/her choices in developing
  • Maintain a shared balance of attention on infant/toddler, parent/caregiver and
  • Reflect on supervision session in preparation for the next
  • Remain available throughout the week if there is a crisis or concern that needs
    immediate attention

Best Practice Guidelines for the Reflective Supervisee

  • Agree with the supervisor on a regular time and place to
  • Arrive on time and remain open and emotionally available
  • Come prepared to share the details of a particular situation, home visit,
    assessment, experience or dilemma
  • Ask questions that allow you to think more deeply about your work with very
    young children and families and also yourself
  • Be aware of the feelings that you have in response to your work and in the
    presence of an infant or very young child and parent(s)
  • When you are able, share those feelings with your supervisor
  • Explore the relationship of your feelings to the work you are doing
  • Allow your supervisor to support you
  • Remain curious
  • Suspend critical or harsh judgment of yourself and of others
  • Reflect on supervision session to enhance professional practice and
    personal growth

Best Practice Guidelines Regarding Reflective Supervision to Endorsement

It is in the best interest of practitioners who promote infant mental health, as well as
the infants and families they serve, if the reflective supervisor meets the
following standards:

  • Has earned First3Years Endorsement or meets all of the qualifications for
    Endorsement as an Infant Mental Health Specialist at Level III or an Infant
    Mental Health Mentor (Clinical) at Level IV
  • *Specifically, has received a minimum of 30 clock hours of training specific
    to the First3Years Competency Guidelines and related to the practice of infant
    mental health
  • *Specifically, has received a minimum of 50 clock hours of reflective
    supervision within a minimum of one year and a maximum of two
    years while working with or on behalf of infants, toddlers and their

The following exception is made if a supervisor provides reflective
supervision to bachelor’s prepared candidates working toward Endorsement as
an Infant Family Specialist at Level II and meets the following standards:

  • Is master’s prepared and has earned First3Years Endorsement as an Infant Family
    Specialist at Level II
  • *Specifically, has received a minimum of 30 clock hours of training specific to the
    First3Years Competency Guidelines and related to the promotion of infant mental
  • *Specifically, has received a minimum of 24 clock hours of reflective
    supervision within a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years
    while working with or on behalf of infants, toddlers and their

First3Years recommends that those providing reflective supervision participate
regularly in individual or group reflective supervision while providing
supervision to candidates working toward Endorsement as Infant Family
Specialists, Infant Mental Health Specialists or Infant Mental Health Mentors at Levels
II, III and IV.

Reflective supervisors who have not earned Endorsement or cannot meet the
standards as defined in the guidelines above are invited to contact the First3Years Central
Office (972-906-2696) to inquire about training and participation in reflective
supervision groups (see below).

As in relationship-focused practice with families, reflective supervision
is most effective when it occurs in the context of a relationship that has an
opportunity to develop by meeting regularly with the same supervisor over a
period of time. Therefore, First3Years expects that Endorsement candidates will have received
the majority of the required hours from just one source with the balance coming from no
more than one other source.

Building Capacity for Reflective Practice:

First3Years recognizes that in many regions there are few supervisors who meet the
qualifications for Endorsement (as specified above). If an Endorsement candidate has
difficulty finding supervision to promote or support the practice of infant
mental health or if a program has difficulty finding someone to provide reflective
supervision to guide and support staff who are candidates for Endorsement,
First3Years can be a resource, too.

First3Years invites Endorsement candidates and supervisors to contact the First3Years
central office (972-906-2696) to assist in finding supervisors who are
Endorsed and available to work with them or to discuss the standards for best practice
presented in this guide. Rapidly changing technology makes it possible to connect
through the internet, by phone conference, or face to face.

Please note: Peer supervision (defined as colleagues meeting together without an
identified supervisor to guide the reflective process), while valuable for
many experienced practitioners, does not meet the reflective supervision
criteria for Endorsement as specified in this guide. The provider of reflective
supervision is charged with holding the emotional content of the cases presented. The
ability to do so is compromised when the provider is a peer of the presenter.
Unnecessary complications can arise when the provider of reflective supervision has
concerns about a peer’s ability to serve a particular family due to the peer’s emotional
response AND the provider and peer share office space, e.g.

Reflective Supervision: References and Suggested

Bernstein, V. (2002-03). Standing Firm Against the Forces of Risk: Supporting Home
Visiting and Early Intervention Workers through Reflective Supervision. Newsletter of
the Infant Mental Health Promotion Project (IMP). Volume 35, Winter 2002-03.

Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration and Services, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. (2000). Early
childhood mental health consultation (monograph). Washington, DC: National Technical
Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health, Georgetown University Child Development

Fenichel, E. (Ed.). (1992). Learning Through Supervision and Mentorship to Support the
Development of Infants, Toddlers and their Families: A Source Book. Washington, D.C.:
Zero to Three.

Bertacci, J. & Coplon, J. (1992). The professional use of self in prevention pp. 84-90.

Schafer, W. (1992). The professionalization of early motherhood, pp. 67-75.

Shahmoon Shanock, R. (1992). The supervisory relationship: Integrator, resource and
guide, 37-41.

Foulds, B. & Curtiss, K. (2002). No Longer Risking Myself: Assisting the Supervisor
Through Supportive Consultation. In Shirilla, J. & Weatherston, D. (Eds.), Case Studies
in Infant Mental Health: Risk, Resiliency, and Relationships. Washington, D.C.: Zero to
Three, pp. 177-186.

Heffron, M.C. (2005). Reflective Supervision in Infant, Toddler, and Preschool Work. In
K. Finello (Ed.), The Handbook of Training and Practice in Infant and Preschool Mental
Health. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 114-136.

Journal for ZERO TO THREE ( November, 2007) Reflective Supervision: What is it? Vol. 28,
No. 2.

Eggbeer, L., Mann, T. & Seibel, N. (2007). Reflective supervision: Past, present, and

Heffron, M., Grunstein, S. & Tiemon, S. (2007) Exploring diversity in supervision and

Schafer, W. (2007). Models and domains of supervision and their relationship to
professional development.

Weatherston, D. (2007) A home based infant mental health intervention: The centrality of
relationship in reflective supervision.

Weigand, R. (2007) Reflective supervision in child care: The discoveries of an
accidental tourist.

Wightman, B., Weigand, B., Whitaker, K., Traylor, D., Yeider, S. Hyden, V. (2007)
Reflective practice and supervision in child abuse prevention.

Parlakian, R. (2002). Look, Listen, and Learn: Reflective Supervision and
Relationship-Based Work. Washington, D.C.: Zero to Three.

Pawl, J. & St. John, M. (1998). How you are is as important as what you do. In Making a
Positive Difference for Infants, Toddlers and their Families. Washington, D.C.: Zero to

Shahmoon Shanok, R., Gilkerson, L., Eggbeer, L. & Fenichel, E. (1995). Reflective
Supervision: A Relationship for Learning. Washington, D.C.: Zero to Three, p. 37-41.