Supervision: should it be painful?

Supervision: should it be painful?

Friday, September 9, 2022

Recently - in my continuing ponderings about gentleness - I found myself recalling a supervision session from a while ago, with someone who was working on her accreditation as a Time to Think coach. (For over a decade until recently I had the privilege of being the Practicum Supervisor for Nancy Kline's students who were wanting to qualify as Thinking Environment practitioners.  Over a period of months they would complete a series of practice coaching sessions - pro bono - with clients and write them up, along with a couple of essays reflecting on their understanding of the Thinking Environment.  Along the way they would have a number of hours one-to-one with me, to think together about what they were learning and for me to answer any questions or support them with any challenges that had arisen for them.)

On this particular day I'd read the notes the supervisee had sent me ahead of time and noticed that there was something in what she had written that suggested she hadn't understood a key principle of Thinking Environment coaching.  My regular approach (which I continue in my supervision to this day) was always to invite people to think about their practice for themselves, with my focussed attention, starting with what was going well or what they were proud of, before moving on to reflect on what they might have been finding challenging, or had questions they wanted my input on.  Usually this would throw up any problems that I'd noticed in their notes, without me having to raise them, and they would think it through (with some input from me if needed and my continued attention) and work out the solution for themselves.  I've always taken the view that working it out for oneself is better (and more sustainable) than having to be told.

Unusually, on this day the supervisee didn't refer to the thing in their notes that I had been worried about and so I had to raise it with them directly.  They immediately understood what I meant, thought through the implications for their practice and made notes for themselves about what they needed to change.  

So imagine my surprise when, approaching the end of the session, they said:  "That's all great, but now I'd like you to tell me what I've been doing wrong, so I can correct it." Puzzled, I told her we'd already covered that. "No, we haven't" she said, "I 'd have noticed."  

Exploring further, it emerged that her experience of being corrected, or given "constructive criticism" was that it usually produced a physical response in her, akin to being hit.  Our conversation about what she needed to re-visit and change in her practice to qualify had happened so organically and so gently that she hadn't noticed it happening.

So I find myself wondering:  are there other people like her who assume that a supervision session is going to hurt, or be embarassing or painful in some way? And if so, does that mean they avoid taking the plunge to sign up for supervision (whether one-to-one or in a group), and miss the opportunities for learning, growth, support, and encouragement in their practice? (Unless, of course, it's part of a qualification they really want, in which case perhaps they just decide to grit their teeth and hope for the best 😳)  ?

What do you think?

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