Supervision is a process, by which a trained professional provides regular support, instruction and feedback to peer supporters. This process is designed to ensure the emotional wellbeing of both the peer supporters and the clients accessing the program.1,2

The benefits of supervision include enhanced accountability, increased feeling of support, development of professional skills and improved efficiency.  Supervision is also associated with decreased feelings of isolation and role ambiguity. The increased moral generated by supervision ultimately results in lower levels of volunteer burnouts.1

Aspects to take into consideration when planning and running supervision sessions include:

  • The purpose of supervision;
  • Models of supervision;
  • The qualities of a good supervisor; and
  • Ways of structuring supervision sessions.3

The Purpose of supervision

It is important to keep in mind that the main purpose of supervision is to develop the skills of the peer supporters to guide and support them in their role so they can effectively meet the needs of the service users. In addition to increasing the peer supporters learning experience it also serves the function of providing emotional support. Debriefing sessions are a useful strategy to integrate service monitoring practices and to collect feedback from the peer supporters. Conducting debriefing sessions in a group also adds to develop cohesiveness if carried out in a group.3

Models of supervision

Generally, peer support services utilise a reported supervision type approach as this is considered to be the simplest model that does not require any special equipment. Furthermore, a ‘reported supervision’ approach is the least intrusive. Although reported supervision has the disadvantage of being susceptible to recall bias and can be relatively subjective an individual’s account of their experience can nevertheless provide valuable insight into the peer support processes.3

The qualities of a good supervisor

The skills required of a good supervisor are in fact similar to those of a peer supporter.

‘A peer supporter will need the skills of listening, facilitating, disclosure, focusing on providing boundaries and guidance in a nonjudgmental way’. 3, p136

Possible roles of supervison can include:

  • Monitoring client welfare;
  • Ensuring peer supporters comply with ethical, professional and legal standards;
  • Monitoring the mental health, professional development and performance of peer supports;
  • Evaluating the performance of supports and elements of the program; and
  • Screening, selection and placement of supporters.1

Ways of structuring supervision sessions

Depending on availability of time and on personal preference, debriefing sessions can be carried out in one-to-one or group sessions.3 Supervision may be either an informal or formal process.2 Informal supervision may involve informal conversations or meetings.

Where applicable questions in debriefing sessions that may be addressed include:
(Adapted from Cowie and Wallace 2000, p137).3

  • How are they feeling about their peer support work, with particular people, and in general?
  • Do they have any particular concerns about any aspect of their peer support work that you should know about?
  • Have they been spending time supporting anyone in particular or that seemed to be in need of more support than others?
  • How much time they have spent doing it?
  • What are the issues the young person is dealing with and does the peer supporter feel capable of providing the sufficient support or referral as necessary?
  • How has the peer supporter gone about to deal with the issue so far?
  • What has been to outcome of their intervention to date?
  • What do they plan to do next, if anything?

These questions do not necessarily need to be asked directly as they will probably be answered once peer supporters are prompted with a more general and open question about how they are feeling about their experiences.3

More formal supervision processes can be in form of administering a brief questionnaire to the peer supporters at the beginning of the session and then discussing the young people’s answers in a following discussion. This can assist in triggering the young people’s memory and ability to think about specific items in more detail. At the same time it can be used as a monitoring tool and information can be recorded and collected easily this way.

Aspects around structuring supervision sessions include:

  • How often should you meet with your peer supporters?
  • Is attendance required or not?
  • Should sessions occur one on one or in groups?
  • What type of information do you want to obtain from the peer supporters?
  • Where will the sessions be conducted?
  • Do the peer supporters need to be provided with a means to contact the program facilitator in emergencies? For example if they encounter an urgent situation such as a young person needing help and finding themselves in immediate danger.


  1. Lambie and Sias 2009
  2. Bernard and Goodyear 2009
  3. Cowie, H & Wallace, P 2000, ‘Peer Support in Action’, Sage Publications, London, pp137.