Reflective Supervision Helps Decrease Burnout for Early Interventionists

Early interventionists and other professionals who work with infants, young children and families often face many challenges that can be mentally and emotionally draining. At times, these specialists may experience burnout as well as feelings of helplessness and frustration. A professional development process in the infant and early childhood mental health field known as reflective supervision aims to support early interventionists in their roles. The process and impact of reflective supervision is a current focus of my research as co-director of the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development.

Reflective Supervision Fosters Greater Understanding of Relationships

Through reflective supervision, early interventionists are able to explore and reflect on their work, including the feelings aroused by the interactions they have with the children and families they work with. In a safe, collaborative environment, this open dialogue with a group or one-on-one helps them gain insights and perspectives to develop a broader and deeper range of approaches to dealing with family challenges. Reflective supervision also helps early interventionists gain a better understanding of relationships by encouraging them to step back and consider the thoughts and emotions in themselves and the families.

The Minnesota Department of Education funded a pilot study I conducted along with Shelley Neilsen Gatti that explored the effects of reflective supervision in supporting early interventionists, decreasing burnout and increasing the skills necessary to work with diverse families. Two school-based early intervention teams working in urban public schools were provided reflective supervision. Interviews with participants showed positive feedback about the effectiveness of reflective supervision such as:

  • Gaining insight into how their emotions and previous experiences affect their own work and interaction with children and their families
  • Discovering new ideas for working with children and families
  • Feeling that their service to families improved through increased awareness, support and stress reduction

At the end of the first year, participants found such value in the process that they requested use of school district professional development funds to continue reflective supervision. I’m currently in the midst of a 6-year follow-up study of these participants to learn how they approach challenging situations and how their work in general has changed.

There is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach when working with infants, young children and their families. Reflective supervision is a professional development tool for early interventionists to help build their skills and tackle problems in a non-linear, more organic way. Next week, Betty Carlson will share how our Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Certificate Program, which includes reflective supervision as one of the courses, builds further professional development for early interventionists.

Christopher Watson

About the Author

Christopher Watson, Ph.D.

  • CEED Co-director
  • College of Education and Human Development (CEHD)
  • University of Minnesota

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