I have dated my own ‘coming of age’ in social work from a time when I experienced this issue in supervision when I was at the Family Welfare Association (FWA). Up to that point, my supervisors had been caring parental figures whom I viewed largely benevolently. This was in many ways fine of course – I was young and learning, and was fortunate to have good regular supervision in which I felt valued and encouraged. It is paradoxical however that had my relationship with my supervisors remained of this nature, I would also have remained as the junior learner potentially kept as a sort of juvenile worker. When I went to the FWA, I still saw myself as this inexperienced ‘junior’ professional – my application to the Tavistock Clinic had failed because I was seen as too ‘green’. It was within the supervision relationship with my FWA manager that this pattern shifted.
Most of the team (and many of his clients) got rather cross with our Freudian manager – he was very bright and apparently confident. Some saw this as arrogance. He was himself on the way to becoming a psycho analyst and this understanding strongly informed his approach to supervision. In particular, he never gave you answers to your questions, nor showed much sympathy for worries and upsets that came with the job. He was observant and forensic in his responses to what I would raise with him. It was my job to decide what to raise, itself an unnerving responsibility because you knew that that choice of subject matter was itself being scrutinised and interpreted. I found the whole experience very anxiety inducing – instead of being looked after by a parent figure, as I had come to expect, I was required to take adult responsibility for what I chose to discuss, and for the conclusions that I would draw from the session. After a while, it clicked somewhere within me that I had to grow up, and to stop looking for a parent in my boss.