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Book Review by Ken Smith

Coaching & Mentoring Supervision: Theory & Practice: Bachkirova, T, Jackson P & Clutterbuck D (2011)

The editors open their compendium with a brave introduction to the areas of debate and controversy in the world of coaching supervision: Is it necessary?  Is it different in its practice and purpose to coaching; can and should coaching supervision be different to supervision in other helping practices?  Their various contributors make engaging attempts to answer and elaborate upon these questions.

A theme which unites many of them and one which seemingly distinguishes supervision of coaches is the importance attached to systems-thinking and the need to attend to those parts of the system outside the room.  Inevitably and rightly, recognition is given to Hawkins and Shohets’ seven-eyed model, which receives its own chapter.  One of the pleasures of the book is reading the different variations played by others on the systems theme.  Mike Munro Turner’s 3-worlds model, though having its own complexity, seems certainly at first glance to be an easier model to carry around, while the three interconnected fields described by Sue Congram in her excellent chapter on Gestalt offer a similarly useful though still finely nuanced compression of a systems perspective.

A second important theme is that of supervision’s concern to promote reflective practice.  David Gray & Peter Jacksons’ overview of the history of supervision models relates how the distinguishing bias of coaching supervision is ever more weighted towards social role models of supervision and less towards developmental models, i.e. away from a master (sic) guiding an apprentice, and more towards facilitating processes of meaning making for the coach.  This is clearly exemplified in David Clutterbuck’s model of seven reflective questions and in Katherine Long’s account of using the self in supervision.  David Lane closes Part 1 of the book by sending a cat among the pigeons of the assumptions that may underlie these and other models with a chapter looking at whether supervision is a separate profession, at a time when the nature of professionalism is becoming more complex and crosses inter-disciplinary boundaries.

Of the four Parts to the book – respectively: models, psychological approaches, modes of supervision and a final short selection of case studies – Parts 1 and 2 are for me the strongest and most thought-provoking.  Limitations on space inevitably constrain the choices for Part 2, for which the editors apologise.  Readers may be disappointed to find that the application in supervision of, for example, cognitive-behavioural, positive psychology and symbolic modelling approaches are not covered.  Carmelina Lawton-Smith, however, makes a welcome contribution on organisational psychology with her account of how her four organisational frames can be used in supervision to create alternative perspectives to the one that the coach may be unconsciously privileging.  Indeed, unconscious processes are given their due space by Catherine Sandler who, while describing the importance of understanding and drawing on transference phenomena, wisely counsels caution in how to use this type of material with supervisees; something which finds an echo in Julie Hay’s chapter on Transactional Analysis and her note on the management of the therapy / supervision boundary.

Alongside what comes before, the chapters in Part 3 feel a little cursory, though this may be a consequence of its ambitious scope, encompassing supervision of consultants, group supervision, e-supervision and supervising internal coaches; for which last Alison Maxwell admirably exposes the complexities and challenges facing coaches who work embedded in their organisational system and what this may mean for their supervision.  Similarly, with such a broad sweep in the first half of the book, it is perhaps unsurprising that Part 4’s case studies struggle slightly to achieve their illustrative purpose, though they are still relevant and informative for all that.  In her final case study of Deloitte, Christine Champion strikes a fitting note on which to conclude, when she asserts that supervision promotes the crucial ability to work holistically, which though itself begging a definition, must be at the heart of what it means when sitting with a coach to take a systemic, super-vision.

Ken Smith  March 2012