| Drug = Alcohol & Other Drugs | Copyright & Disclaimer |
Links in GREEN go to pages outside of DrugNet

Click on any DrugNet Subject Heading

DrugNet Home
DrugNet Discussion
Search DrugNet
DrugNet Site Map (Contents Page)
Site Map
DrugNet News, Updates & Events
DrugNet Feedback

Professional Development & Continuous Learning

Click here for this page as a MS Word Document (22 KB)

This page is primarily designed for supervisors, managers and those responsible for human resource development.

It has been written to provide a broad perspective of professional development which is inclusive of supervision and training but goes beyond this.  If done successfully, those senior staff 'responsible' for professional development should see a shift towards clinical staff assuming a greater role in their own development.

This shift will happen when the following is in place:

  1. Appropriate motivation for professional development is made explicit
  2. Overt leadership which demonstrates importance of professional development via allocation of resources and timetabled learning 'space'.
  3. Worker ability to respond (responsibility) to challenging clinical situations with tools, resources and methods which encourage on-site and off-site learning and development.

While DrugNet may provide such a tool in the context of drug use issues, its true value will only be realised when other professional development and continuous learning systems are in place.

Ideally, this overview should be read in conjunction with the other more specific pages on supervision and supervisory tools at the bottom of this page.



Overview, benefits and requirements

Organisational structures

A range of learning opportunities

On-the-job learning

Off-site knowledge & skills development

Effective and supportive supervision

Control model of supervision

Growth model of supervision

The ability to use both successes and mistakes



Overview, benefits and requirements

Well-managed professional development improves the quality of customer service, and provides staff with an opportunity for improved staff relationships, positive feedback and enhanced career opportunities. This requires active planning and resource allocation to maximise the professional development possibilities as described below.

Agencies should promote an environment, which enables both self-directed professional development and agency facilitated learning.

Evidence-based practice requires staff to integrate knowledge from the research and professional field as well as their own experiences, into their clinical practice. This process requires:

bullet organisational structures which allow for reflective practice to integrate acquired knowledge and skills into the workplace;
bullet a range of learning opportunities both on-the-job and off site to update skills and knowledge;
bullet effective and supportive supervision to build a climate of continuous learning and support;and
bullet the ability to use both successes and mistakes as learning opportunities.

Organisational structures which allow for reflective practice to integrate acquired knowledge and skills into the workplace

"A learning organisation is an organisation skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behaviour to reflect knowledge and insights" (Garvin 1993).

The above quote refers to a new climate of professional development in which people contribute not only to their own professional development, but also to the functioning of the whole agency by adopting high quality reflective practices.

These times of rapid change, require rapid response times to integrate new programs and developments into clinical practice. This is emphasised by Mink et al (1993)

Developing people in a short time frame will be what separates the successful organisation from the unsuccessful organisation. People need training and development in a variety of areas. To meet the challenge, each person must become an expert coach and support the learning of others in the workplace.

The ethic here is to create a workplace which places a high value on all staff engaging in reflective practices and employing strategies such as coaching to support individual and organisational development.

Other reflective practices include action learning, whereby a group of individuals (from all levels of the agency) come together on a regular basis to progress a specific project, issue or topic of interest in the workplace. Action Learning is a simple but disciplined method using an on-going cycle of plan - act - review to achieve personal, professional and organisational goals. 

A range of learning opportunities both on-the-job and off site to update skills and knowledge

On-the-job learning can be opportunistic or intentional

Opportunistic learning requires staff and organisations to be aware of learning opportunities as they arise. Examples include; case discussions, informal dissemination of new information, use of hard copy and electronic resource material as needed, casual conversations with colleagues, and opportunistic consultancy support from clinical specialists involved in shared case management.

Intentional on-the-job learning relates to scheduled time for clinical supervision, case review, journal club, ‘topic a month’, guest speakers and staff presentations at staff meetings, specific time allocated for access to resources such as books, journal articles, web-sites or videos, and consultancy support from clinical specialists from other fields.

Job aids, such as assessment instruments, treatment manuals, case summary sheets and referral forms can enhance professional development and performance by "exerting their influence as references when the need to know arises" Craig and Rossett (1996). These authors refer to this type of support as ‘just in time learning’ as compared with ‘just in case’ training. Job aids can assist learning by providing standardised cues to key steps or domains of complex tasks. They are particularly useful when there is a large turnover of staff.

Off-site knowledge & skills development

Training events, should be tailored to the specific needs of staff as they relate to work performance. Ideally, these needs are identified prior to training, couched in measurable learning outcomes and negotiated with the trainer. Workplace follow-up is essential to integrate and reinforce learning outcomes.

Effective and supportive supervision to build a climate of continuous learning and support

Supervisors’ style should include a balance of support, feedback, problem solving and instruction. They should promote team problem solving while also making clear that therapists have primary clinical responsibility for their patients’ care (Budney & Higgins 1998).

The USA based Project MATCH developed a brief, 32-item Psychotherapy Supervision Questionnaire to evaluate the supervisory practices within the project (Click here to view). The following areas in this instrument have been identified in the literature as important in the supervision process:

bullet Level of Comfort with a supervisor;
bullet Level of Congruence between the therapist and supervisor on interventions, goals, and strategies that could be utilised in psychotherapy with particular clients;
bullet Rapport (ie, openness, honesty, and respect); and
bullet Supervision that is Consistent with a particular theoretical model. (Witte et al 1997):P 81

For supervision to be most effective, both supervisor and supervisee should be familiar with common supervisory practices. On commencement of supervision role boundaries should be determined and goals identified, these should be reviewed over time.

Supervision covers a range of practices including peer, professional or mentor and supportive supervision. Models of supervision include growth model (eg. coaching) or control model (eg. line management.). All these elements of supervision are required for optimal professional development, workplace performance and accountability.

Control model of supervision includes:

bullet Administrative/accountability supervision – accountability, workload management and task or decision making monitoring and giving guidance and direction as appropriate.
bullet Educative supervision – giving advice, teaching skills and knowledge to address performance management issues.

This type of supervision is usually provided by a line manager.

Growth model of supervision includes:

bullet Coaching is a process that helps improve individual or team performance with an emphasis on learning, structured questioning and ongoing support. Peers, clinical mentors, line managers or external coaching specialists can conduct coaching.
bullet Mentor or clinical specialist supervision normally involves supervision by someone with more qualifications and/or experience in the supervisory domain. However, the ethic is still to enhance the worker’s skills and knowledge through inquiry and expansion of existing skills & knowledge.
bullet Supportive supervision aims to enhance the worker’s psychological and interpersonal resources needed to effectively undertake service delivery

Use of the Psychotherapy Supervision Questionnaire, (Witte, et al 1997) will provide constructive feedback for supervisors.

The ability to use both successes and mistakes as learning opportunities

Regardless of which methodology is used, an important feature of learning organisations is how mistakes are managed. Richard Barrett (1999) put it this way: "Failures must be redefined as collective learning opportunities. In visionary organisations everyone learns from everyone else’s mistakes as well as their successes."

Much of the welfare field tends to have an inherent negative feedback loop. That is, clients deemed as successes are often not seen again while the ‘failures’ continue to return. The disciplined focus on success and learning opportunities will improve professional and organisational growth, and promote a positive and energetic workplace.



Barrett R 1999, Building a Visionary Organisation. Internet article at http://www.corptools.com/text/bvoart.htm   .

Budney A and Higgins S, 1998 Therapy Manuals for Drug Addiction, A Community Reinforcement Plus Vouchers Approach: Treating Cocaine Addiction: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Maryland.

Craig R and Rossett A 1996. The ASTD Training & Development Handbook: A Guide to Human Resource Development the American Society for Training and Development, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Garvin, D, "Building a Learning Organisation" Harvard Business Review, July-August 1993.

Mink O, Owen K and Mink B 1993 Developing High Performance People- The Art of Coaching Addison-Wesley, Massachusetts.

Witte, G & Wilber, C in Carroll, K. 1997 Improving Compliance With Alcoholism Treatment National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Project MATCH Monograph Series Volume 6 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Adapted from a paper written by Jon Rose as part of a Best Practice Manual avaiilabe on the WA Drug Abuse Strategy Office web (WADASO).  DrugNet thanks WADASO for permission to use this work and for it's continuing support of DrugNet.

Click to go to Top of Page

Click here for DrugNet Action Learning and Organisational Development resources


Other DrugNet Pages in this Subject Heading

Introduction ] National AOD Standards ] Organisational Quality Assurance Standards ] Supervision ] [ Professional Development ] Supervisory Tools ]

[ DrugNet Home ] [ Site Map ] [ Drug Links ] [ Feedback ]

Click Here to Translate into Other Languages