What do coaches bring to supervision?

In June 2022 I published an article in Coaching at Work magazine on the themes and questions that supervisees bring to supervision. I hope it is of use to you in your reflective practice.

What questions do supervisees bring to supervision?

The benefits of supervision for therapists, coaches and their clients are many. Supervision contributes to continued professional development, provides a professional and ethical review of the supervisee’s work and supports her welfare and resilience. But what are the issues that are of greatest concern to them? What questions and issues keep coming up for them during supervision and what insights do these provide into the challenges of their work? Experienced coach and supervisor Pamela Fay takes questions from the past five years of supervisory sessions to shed light on this important topic.

Research has confirmed that not alone are well-supervised professionals more competent and enjoy greater job satisfaction than their non-supervised colleagues, they also have reduced levels of burnout and stress. So it should come as no surprise that even when regular, ongoing supervision is not mandatory, its benefits are today being recognized across an ever growing range of professions. 

In the field of coaching, supervision is recommended by associations to enable practicing professionals reflect on their client work and their own process with the ultimate purpose of continuous improvement in order to serve clients better. As a supervisor I undertake both individual and small group supervisory sessions. My aim is to help coaches explore the known and the previously unknown, with the intent of finding new perspectives on themselves and their coaching practice. 

Coaches using group supervision will typically take up to three sessions a year, each session of three hours duration. I have taken the issues and questions raised in these sessions, as well as from my individual supervisory sessions, over the past five years and framed the themes within the Hawkins and Shohet Seven Eyed Model . The eight most commonly raised issues are presented below under each of the model’s seven modes.

I believe this approach provides a significant value to all coaches well beyond what might be considered satisfying their natural curiosity about what their peers are thinking. Many of the concerns raised in supervision by the executive coach, whether employed within an organisation or in private practice, are common across a range of therapeutic and coaching professions. Typically these range from underlying insecurities (Am I good enough for this task? Am I making a real difference?) to resolution of uncertainties (In a given set of circumstances, which might be the optimum approach?).

But coaching in the workplace has its own particular set of issues, too. For example, if the coachee’s employer is paying for the coaching, who is the client and how might perceived potential conflicts of interest best be resolved?

The use of the Seven Eyed Model in this context, is important. All too often individuals focus on the areas that interest them most and play to their strengths. One of the greatest values of supervision is to bring the supervisees’ attention to all aspects of their work, especially those with which they are  least comfortable.

The questions listed below will help readers who are practising coaches recognise that they are not alone in their concerns and insecurities. More than this, however, I hope readers will consider which questions particularly resonate with them, which models they favour most and which they ignore, and to reflect on why that should be. Finally, I hope it will give cause for coaches to consider what changes or improvements they intend to implement in their practice during 2022.

Mode 1 is a focus on the coaching client and what and how they present.
1. How do I work with a client who is feeling overwhelmed?
2. Can I hold compassionate distance working with a client? 
3. How do I work with a client who is feeling apathetic? 
4. Am I doing the best I can for the client in front of me? 
5. Should I be calling it in the session when I notice a client not being “real”? 
6. What assumptions am I making about my client? 
7. What does my client need and what have they asked for in coaching?
8. How can I work best with a client who has a deep desire to be right all the time? 

Mode 2 is the exploration of the strategies and interventions used by the supervisee.
1. How do I balance the support and challenge that I offer my clients? 
2. How do I stay present and raise awareness with a client rather than moving to solutions? 
3. How much telling vs. asking should I be doing? 
4. When does the coaching engagement become counterproductive for the coaches? 
5. How can my coaching approach evolve based on the experience of what happens for me and my coaching client in the room? 
6. When working with clients, how do I recognise my desire to take control of the moment rather than leaving control with my client? 
7. How do I know if my approach is effective for my client in the long run? 
8. Who is doing the work in this coaching relationship? Me or my client?

Mode 3 is the exploration of the relationship between the client and the supervisee. 
1. When does the coaching relationship begin?  
2. How does my client experience me? 
3. How do I end the coaching process well with my coaching client? 
4. How can I get to a win-win? A win for my coaching client and the organisation where he works and that is paying for the coaching? And how does that impact my relationship with my coachee? 
5. Am I a good enough coach to be working at a senior level? 
6. How can I manage my boundaries with my coachee better? She wants to be my friend.
7. What stopped me challenging my client? 
8. How is the pro-bono nature of this coaching engagement affecting how I show up as a coach? 

Mode 4 is focus on the supervisee, here the supervisor focuses on “how the supervisee was consciously and unconsciously affected by the work with their clients.” 
1. What is my contract with myself in my coaching work? 
2. Am I being overly empathic as a coach?
3. How can I protect myself in my work as I work at a deeper level with a client’s resistance? 
4. How do I get clarity on my own coaching style? 
5. How can I value myself enough to put a proper price on what I do? 
6. How do I become the coach that people seek out?
7. How do I ensure that I am prepared for each session as my practice gets busier? 
8. Am I good enough as a coach? 

Mode 5  is a focus on the supervisory relationship. When working in this mode I pay attention to what is happening in the here and now between me and the supervisee. 
1. How is this coaching supervision relationship different to others?
2. What kind of partnership have we created here?
3. What is it like for my client to be my supervisee?
4. How is anxiety showing up in this supervisory relationship?
5. How can I spot parallel process more effectively?
6. What would it be like to blurt out what I want to say?
7. If there was a metaphor for this relationship what would it be?

Mode 6 The supervisor focusing internally. My the focus here is on my own thoughts, imaginings and embodied sensations in the session. 
1. What questions am I not asking my clients?
2. What assumptions am I making and what am I missing as a result?
3. How do I respond to flattery from a supervisee?
4. What parts of me are visible and invisible to clients?
5. How can I stay humble as a supervisor?
6. Do I have the courage to hold the space with an Adult stance when a session gets challenging?
7. How can I hold a client with compassion when feeling frustration about how they are showing up?
8. How can I help my supervisee client explore her shadow side?

Mode 7 Focus on the wider contexts in which the work happens including the context of the client, the context of their profession and organisation, the context of the supervisee – client relationship, the wider world of the supervisee, the context of the supervisory relationship and the context of the supervisor.
1. How do I balance meeting the needs of my clients, my own needs and my coaching business needs?
2. What does my client represent from the system that he is working in? 
3. Who gets left out of coaching? What about the people that organisations are “leaving behind”?
4. Can we work within the system to try to change it or do we have to work around it? 
5. What do I need to pay attention to in my own system to be able to work in a systemic way with clients? 
6. What is familiar and unfamiliar for me in this organisational system?
7. What is the role for organisational supervision? Who is supervising the internal coaches? 
8. How can I set up for success when coaching a number of people in the one organisation?

About the Author:
Pamela Fay is a coach, coach tutor and coach supervisor living and working in Dublin. Her practice is grounded in Gestalt and Relational Coaching. As well as her private practice she is a lead lecturer on the Coaching Diploma at the UCD Smurfit School www.pamelafay.ie.

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If you're interested in finding out more then do get in touch on 086 1737125 or pamela@pamelafay.ie