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Who’s coaching the coach?


Coaching Supervision has become a ‘hot topic’ in recent times and is seen as a vital part of the continuing professional development (CPD) of any professional coach. However it can seem costly and there is a shortage of qualified supervisors available. Carmelina Lawton Smith and Carol Whitaker look at the pros and cons of the different methods of supervision.

Most associations now require evidence of supervision to support accreditation and feel that it is an essential component in the building of an ethical and respected coaching profession. However, despite the documented benefits of supervision, not every coach is undergoing supervision and the most often cited reason is cost.

Coaching is an unregulated profession and currently coaches can obtain work and operate without any form of accreditation or supervision. As a result coaches often feel it is an unnecessary burden with an expensive price tag. Fees vary widely for both coaching and coaching supervision (see recent survey Meyler Campbell survey Coaching at Work Vol. 3 issue 5) but there is some evidence that coaches are reluctant to pay the going rate for specialist coaching supervision even when it is only a small premium over what they already charge their own clients.

Peer supervision
Some coaches are shying away from a paid supervisor preferring to set up one-to-one peer supervision relationships which involve no exchange of money. This allows them to put a ‘tick in the box’ but raises questions about the quality of the supervision obtained. There is the obvious danger of collusion and questions of quality with untrained and unqualified supervisors entering the field.
Gil Schwenk of Bath Consultancy Group raises this concern.  “Supervision is much more than a chat with a couple of peers over coffee.  Effective supervision focuses on the coaching process, organisation context with psychological mindedness.  It also needs to focus on the holistic practice including the quality of their coaching, ongoing development and resourcing.”
Another way to reduce the cost burden is to use a professional coaching supervisor  and split the cost among a number of coaches to undergo group supervision. However, there may be a reluctance to disclose details of certain problems and unique and personal development areas may never be tackled in favour of more commonly experienced issues.

"If we want to create a profession that is distinct and meets the needs of coaches we must communicate and support the growth of coaching supervision."

Even if we could encourage every coach to engage the services of a qualified professional coaching supervisor to ensure the quality, it is doubtful there would be enough of them to go round.

Coaching supervision is a relatively new discipline and despite a number of organisations now offering specialist post-graduate level training the throughput is slow. As more of these courses become available we should see a growing number of specialist coaching supervisors in the marketplace. However the current drought is creating a potential issue that may have ramifications for years to come.
The cost and limited availability of coaching supervisors is creating a vacuum often filled by supervisors from other helping professions such as counselling and therapy. These supervisors may bring a new perspective and are usually significantly cheaper than the coaching alternative. This has created a profitable market that qualified therapeutic supervisors are keen to exploit despite limited coaching experience or knowledge. They are quick to point out their established psychological knowledge and the value of significant supervision experience.
But while coaching shares some common ground with the other helping professions, we should not forget the organisational context within which much of the coaches work takes place.
One of the possible concerns is that the supervisor from counselling or therapy may well fail to adjust their style or approach and as a result engage in a therapeutic relationship with a high focus on the past, concentrating the coach’s development in a very specific area. There is likely to be a high psychological content in such relationships whether or not it is appropriate for the context in which the coach works. While psychology may be a helpful addition to the coaching skill, any coaches work successfully without it and some express concern that it could turn coaching into therapy. “Psychology must be used appropriately to protect client and coach.” (Vicky Ellam-Dyson ‘Think Again’ Vol. 4 Issue 2)

"Even if we could encourage every coach to engage the services of a qualified professional coaching supervisor to ensure the quality, it is doubtful there would be enough of them to go round.

Another concern is that not all coaching supervisors have the right type of qualification or experience as David Clutterbuck notes: “In my view many people touting themselves as supervisors are simply 'old hands' at coaching. This does not mean a) that they are positive role models or b) that they have the depth of perception to be able to fulfil what is a very different role. Supervisors need a high level of eclecticism (to be able to place the issues presented in a variety of different contexts) and a significant ability to remove their own ego from the conversation, so they can be simultaneously attentive to all of Hawkins’ seven eyes.”
If we want to create a profession that is distinct and meets the needs of coaches we must communicate and support the growth of coaching supervision. There is currently a round table discussion of the professional bodies (AC, APECS, EMCC, ICF) trying to produce a common standard and description for coaching supervision. There are also a number of specialist training programmes emerging such as the Post Graduate Certificate in Coaching Supervision at Oxford Brookes University. This will help communicate the value and essential contribution of coaching supervision.

To support this strategy it is vital that organisations and suppliers of coaching ask the right questions to ensure coaching supervision delivers benefits appropriate to the organisational sector. Only then can we be sure that those who wish to work in this area have the skills and experience required to take, the coaching profession and those that work within it, forward.
While coaching may have evolved from many other fields, maybe it is time that we were classified as an independent professional species and recognise the unique profile and attributes we possess.

Carmelina Lawton Smith is a senior lecturer and consultant with Oxford Brookes University Business School and an independent executive coach and development specialist. Carol Whitaker is an executive coach and a qualified coaching supervisor with extensive senior management experience in both the public and private sector.

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