Personal reflections on Supervision
I can be a bit stroppy sometimes and I’d been struggling with what supervision was and how it was useful in my work for a while. In my heart I believed it held value and I had experience of great support from my own supervisor. Over the years I’ve learnt to listen to my stroppiness; it’s a catalyst that drives me to want to understand more, to challenge my thinking and myself. So I decided the best way to fully understand and make meaning of supervision was to train to become a supervisor myself. To understand it in a way that I could explain and demonstrate its value to others.
My road to becoming an organisational consultant mirrors the labyrinth of life with many twists and turns towards my current place in the world of work. As I look back over the path so far I can see elements of supervision weaving throughout it. From team leader, to senior manager and now Gestalt organisational consultant and coach I have supervised in the classical managerial sense and peer supervised colleagues without knowing this was ‘supervision’.
I’ll begin my essay with my first ‘growing edge’, to find the words to clearly articulate the difference between supervising as a manager, being a coach and supervising others in my field. And then reflect on my practice through the lenses of the course learning outcomes and the SOS model of attention; Heron’s six categories of intervention; Carroll’s tasks of supervision; and the ethics and diversity of my work. Finally I will reflect on my response to the course and what Supervision is to me.
How do I describe supervision?
In the table below I highlight, from my understanding, the similarities and differences between managerial supervision, coaching, supervision of therapists and supervision of organisational consultants/coaches
Doing this exercise has re-enforced my sense of the number of similarities between the disciplines and therefore how hard it is to clearly articulate the differences in a purely tick-box manner. Maybe a better way to explain the difference is to use a more relational approach and describe it as
Supervision is where two people create a good relational space, which focuses on creative, joyous, collaborative learning and professional personal growth whilst supporting the supervisee’s growth, self-monitoring and well-being for the benefit of their client(s).
Indeed, the words I wrote in my notebook on the very first day of the supervision course have stayed with me and they too remind me what supervision means to me
Supervision is a “secure base”; “reflective space”; “safe space for exploration, growth and self-care”; “two people meeting for the benefit of the third”; and “all about the development of the supervisee. The focus on the client is less important.”
I also notice now how the SOS 9-box model is like opening a window onto the dance of supervision. I imagine the window having 9 leadlight panes with each pane giving a different perspective for the supervisee and for me as supervisor.
How do theories and models of supervision support me?
The SOS model of The Focus of Attention in supervision gives me an easy framework to think and respond to my supervisee before we meet, as we meet and after we’ve met. It reminds me to be explicit about the contracting
between us and to understand the wider situation in terms of ethical codes and the cultural and situational context.
Much of my work is within very secure, complex environments and remaining aware of this wider environment and strong cultural context is vital to building and maintaining supportive and trusting relationships. Trust and safety are foundational to all my work and I am vigilant for potential ruptures in the relationship, often triggered through potential feelings of shame, and will highlight my own areas of vulnerability and shame to model that is safe to admit and talk about these. I also know that there are times when personal sharing isn’t helpful to providing the safe container for the work, where my listening and hearing without judgement is most important.
As I reflect on Heron’s six categories of intervention I notice I use them all as and when needed although I’m most uncomfortable being prescriptive. I only tend to be prescriptive as a last resort or if I’m specifically asked to and I think it would be supportive to the work and growth of the supervisee e.g. a supervisee asked what I thought about being asked to write a cultural charter for a leadership team and after we talked in a facilitative way for a while she became frustrated and asked ‘Should I do it or not?’, at which point I was more prescriptive and said ‘You have to do it, but be careful how much of your emotional energy you put into it. Take care’. I knew she would still make up her own mind and just needed to hear my perspective.
And as I turn towards Carrolls’ generic tasks of supervision I’m aware that I use these in different measures in relation to the experience of the supervisee and their expressed needs. I can hear myself asking supervisees at the beginning of our relationship and in individual sessions what role would be most helpful for me to play at this moment. I will be led by the supervisee and yet I know I also reserve the right to play a different role if I believe this would be helpful to their growth or support their needs better. As an organisational/coach supervisor the tasks of monitoring professional ethical issues and evaluating my supervisees is not as regulated as for therapists however ethical and professional behaviours are very important to me and I do raise these issues as and when I think it necessary for the benefit of the supervisee and their clients.
I am particularly sensitive to issues of diversity and equality having grown up in a multi-cultural city and now working in predominately white, male organisations. I encourage all my supervisees to become aware of their own judgements and biases and experiment with finding ways to set them aside and notice their clients and the organisations they work with as they truly are. I often share the paradoxical theory of change with supervisees for both their self-work and their work with clients. I also encourage creative ways of working including using Lego, constellations and metaphors that can help both the supervisee and me to view the field from different perspectives and notice what becomes figural.
The terminology of parallel systems and transferential phenomena were new to me when I studied for the Relational Organisational Gestalt diploma and I’ve been learning more about them as I practice. I’ve become more aware of my own parallel process when working with supervisees from organisations I know well and I take care to bracket this or use it with my supervisee when it’s helpful. The same is true for transference and counter-transference. I’m sometimes aware of transference, which can help my supervisees to feel supported in the relationship through my many years of experience. I’m also aware there will be times of counter-transference for example on the supervision course I initially felt unskilled to supervise the therapists on the course, assuming their skill level would be much higher than mine.
I believe any meeting between people is a relational dance and all of the models, theory and experience I have has taught me to use all my senses to determine what the most useful next action to take or question to ask is e.g. a phenomenological description, dialogic experiments, silence, reflections of my sense of the situation etc.
As I look back on the supervision course, my own supervision and supervision of others what becomes figural is my need to balance more equally my work and my own well-being. The drive for busyness is endemic with all my clients and supervisees and to be aware of this parallel process in myself is something to learn from and share as I develop my supervision practice. I’m also reminded of how much experience I have working with groups and individuals and although I haven’t followed a recognised path I’m learning to believe my skills and experience are as valid as those of others and I can help, support and encourage other organisational practioners of all levels of experience, and I’m looking forward to it!
Erik de Haan writes eloquently of why supervision is so important for practioners and me when helping people and organisations to change:
“we forget far too easily the extent to which we expose and hurt ourselves, or invite hurt, in the consulting professions. We can then develop a ‘thick skin’ and disparage the constant stream of emotions that bombard us, such as enthusiastic promises, vain hope, defeated expectations, direct or indirect rejections, disguised criticism or jealousy, temptations to over-promise etc. – or act as though we don’t need any help and can bear and process all of it by ourselves. However, that is certainly not the case: to process it all, we need the involvement of outsiders who have gone through similar experiences and can help us put our own into new contexts”. (de Haan 2012, p.2)
Chidiac, M-A., Denham-Vaughan, S. and Osborne, O.,The relational matrix model of supervision: context, framing and inter-connection, British Gestalt Journal, (2017) 26, (2), 21–30.
Carroll, M. (1996), Counselling Supervision: Theory Skills and Practice. London: Cassell,
De Haan, E. (2012) Supervision in action: A relational approach to coaching and consulting supervision. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.
Heron, J. (2001), Helping the Client: A Creative Practical Guide. London: Sage