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Supervisor or counsellor? – Emotional boundary work in supervision

Ola Strandler (Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)
Thomas Johansson (Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)
Gina Wisker (Centre for Learning and Teaching, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK)
Silwa Claesson (Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)

International Journal for Researcher Development

ISSN: 2048-8696

Article publication date: 4 November 2014




The aim of this article was to focus on how supervisors relate to and handle the emotional work involved in the supervision process. These emotional issues are related to changes in the academic system, such as an increasing emphasis on efficacy and quality assurance.


Interviews with supervisors are discussed using a theoretical framework built on the concepts of emotional boundary work and feeling rules. A narrative approach was used to make connections between individual stories and the institutional level of the academic system.


The findings show how emotions challenge and condition supervision, and how the micro-processes of supervision and the wider university systems are tightly connected. A paradox is illuminated where emotional aspects are both recognized as an important feature of supervision and as a threat, which could affect it in the context of regulation and increasing demands on efficiency.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that a mediating role of supervisors and emotional boundary work needs to be considered in supervision, which demands certain amount of flexibility in regulations. Also, the risks of associating supervision with private issues are acknowledged.


The findings suggest that supervision is a highly emotional process, and that supervisors, on the one hand, tend to downplay the emotional side of this process, but on the other hand, are well aware of the complexity of the supervision process and its demands on them. Although supervisor–student interactions have become more regulated, they also include more attention to human interactions, feelings and emotional boundary work.



Strandler, O., Johansson, T., Wisker, G. and Claesson, S. (2014), "Supervisor or counsellor? – Emotional boundary work in supervision", International Journal for Researcher Development, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 70-82.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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