The next blog in this series examines eye 5 of the Seven-Eyed Model: The relationship between Supervisor and coach.
This fifth eye suggests that the relationship between the supervisor and supervisee can hold useful information regarding what was happening in the original coaching session. Essentially, the supervisor can use the dynamics of their relationship in “the here and now” to gain clues about what might be happening in the coach:client relationship. This is what is known as the parallel process. I’ve noticed that the longer I work with a supervisee, the stronger my sense is of our own unique supervision relationship dynamic. And as can be seen from this story, it can be really helpful for the coaching client too.
I was supervising a coach who was relatively new to the world of coaching – she was a creative writer before. In our previous sessions I had been struck by how articulate she was and how mature her thinking was regarding her clients. We had only ever worked by phone, however, I felt I knew her quite well. She brought a client case where she felt stuck. We talked through what she had tried so far and what was happening – this all seemed very appropriate and yet she didn’t feel like it was working. When I asked her to explore her “stuckness” she really struggled – she was hesitant and clunky. I noticed that I was beginning to feel stuck too – I moved my attention to what was going on between us. When I thought about my supervisee it felt as though she wasn’t telling me the whole story. I couldn’t seem to “join the dots” from what she was saying. Although I couldn’t see her, I imagined that if she had been in the room with me, she would be averting her eyes from my gaze. This felt like a different person to the one I was used to supervising, for that reason, I wondered if a parallel process was in play. I shared this with her and explained that I felt I wasn’t hearing the whole story and asked if that might be how she felt when she was working the client. It was an “OMG” moment – yes she said, it really felt like her client was “holding out” on her. Through further discussion, she remembered a passing “niggle” early on in their coaching relationship. Something said about a prior relationship that the coach had noticed, not been able to make sense of and which had passed by. For some reason she started to connect the two things. A penny seemed to drop, and the coach said… “perhaps we’re not having the right conversation …. If I get stuck again, I’ll ask her that question … something tells me it’s all tied up with her ability to trust”.
So how do I know as the supervisor, that what I am experiencing is a parallel process?! Well of course I don’t always. A fundamental requirement for a supervisor is to have a high level of self-awareness so that they can identify any personal interference. I shall say more about this in my next blog about Eye 6. However, when I think about an established supervisor: supervisee relationship, I have a general sense of the coach’s coaching model, their typical style, their repertoire of techniques and their development areas. I also have a strong sense of “how” they are when we work together. As a supervisor therefore, I am always looking out for any changes in this dynamic which might hold clues about something that is “just beyond” the coach’s current awareness. Helpfully, my separateness from the actual coaching situation that gives me a wider perspective. Whilst the parallel process can be a powerful phenomenon, as the supervisor, when it occurs I am less “in the grip” of it than the coach is. Together we can think through how our current experience relates to the client experience, gradually bringing something that was just beyond reach to come into view.
When have you experienced of this kind of thing with your supervisor? When I’m training coaches they often ask “how does this happen”? And I have yet to find an eloquent answer! I have suggested that the supervisor has developed some kind of systemic empathy. How would you explain and describe what happens when you experience the parallel process? I’ll be intrigued to hear your thoughts.