So much frustration, angst, and self-doubt could be prevented if the information in this 157-page book was read and practiced. If you are employed in nursing, social work, or human services, you should read this book. If you provide direct care services to adults with functional impairment, work as a case manager, or supervise case managers in this area, you should stop reading this review and track down a copy of the book.
Demystifying excellent supervision, this book explains that supervision has three main functions: administration, staff education, and staff support, and that the latter two are often overshadowed by the first. The book makes a case for the importance of each function and how they are related. And although it is a book about the world of gerontological case management and direct care supervision from a social work perspective, because it taps into principles of human nature and human behavior and social interaction, the insights are applicable well beyond social work.
The core idea around which the book is organized is that of “parallel process,” which “refers to the fact that the supervisor’s ongoing interactions with the worker are based on the same values and use many of the same skills as the practitioner’s work with clients—and may even serve as a model for that work” (p. 9). In other words, agencies and supervisors should treat direct care workers and case managers the way they expect these workers to treat clients. A successful agency provides excellent services to clients, and it treats employees as the valuable assets they are. This book is about being human with each other and honoring the potential for change and growth that is inherent in people—including in clients and workers.
In addition to parallel process, other key concepts developed in the book are the importance of building trusting relationships, viewing clients and workers in a holistic way, and recognizing the need for consideration of the person and the environment. These concepts will be familiar to all social workers, as they are fundamental to the profession and rest on a set of values that other health care providers share: seeking strengths, promoting optimum functioning, promoting the least restrictive environment, promoting ethical conduct, treating others with dignity and respect, developing cultural competence, and setting appropriate goals (p. 9).
The first four chapters, which comprise part 1 of the book, provide the foundation of the social work perspective to supervision, review stages of the helping process, and discuss learning and teaching styles. Part 2 is directed toward supervising case managers and provides vignettes highlighting challenges that case managers encounter in practice. Part 3 focuses on administrative issues that provide context to the supervisor’s role vis-à-vis the organizational context and organizational change. Part 4 is devoted to supervising interns, and Part 5 is concerned with the supervision of direct care workers. Throughout the book, vignettes from the field exemplify supervisory responses to actual incidents experienced by case managers, student interns, and direct care workers as they work with older adults with physical or cognitive impairments. The more than 50 short vignettes include examples of community-based, as well as institutional-based, services.
The following groups would benefit from the book:
- Supervisors. If you want to grow as a supervisor and a clinician and foster personal and professional growth in the case managers, interns, and direct service workers who report to you, this book provides a compass to point you in the right direction, and then a map to show how to get there. Field supervisors of nursing, social work, or human services practicum students can better understand their role with students by reading part 4.
- Case managers and direct care workers. If you are frustrated by interactions with your supervisor, but just can’t put your finger on why, reading this book can help you identify principles that may have been violated and can teach you terms and concepts that can help you approach your supervisor with concerns. If you are looking for a job in this field, use the ideas in this book to interview your potential supervisor about his or her supervisory style to help you understand if you want to work for this person. The book can also foster better understanding of some of challenges and pressures your supervisor may be working under.
- Students. This book provides a nitty, gritty view of some of the practice issues you may encounter during an internship and teach you about the challenges and rewards of working as a case manager, direct care worker, or supervisor. The vignettes will be especially useful to students who are new to this area of gerontology, as the book discusses some of the unique features of providing services to clients who are older adults with advanced illnesses.
- Agency directors and board members. If your role is to support the people who provide the direct services to older adults with impairments, this book can help you understand the dynamics operating among supervisors, workers, and clients. As employees are promoted to supervisory roles, it would be appropriate for agency directors to provide them with a copy of this book.
In summary, this is a small book packed with big ideas. The book is wrapped in the vision of better services to older adults and shows how good supervision is an important and doable part of excellent service delivery.
Mercedes Bern-Klug, PhD, MSW
School of Social Work and Aging Studies
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa