By Jo Birch
Supervision of supervision: something becoming

Supervision of supervision: something becoming

A strange beginning

Two years ago, at the scene of a fatal accident involving a pedestrian and a lorry, I was in the ‘right place at the right time’, able to provide immediate psychological support to the driver involved. In the moment of connecting my training, life experience, every supportive mentor and elder, was present in me as I entered a profoundly deep, inter-personal space with, and in service of, this person whose life had been changed in an instant.

The incident prompted in me a deeper inquiry into what it is that I have been ‘learning’ all these years. What is it that I am doing? More than counselling, coaching or supervising? If I could more clearly identify myself and my work, I may be more consciously able to extend myself to better serve others. I was curious.

The birth of the Supervision of Supervision (SoS) Group

At that time, I was a member of the Global Supervisors Network[i] (GSN) Special Interest Group (SIG) and the opportunity arose to explore my work as a Supervisor of Supervisors. This seemed to me to be an inquiry into the role of ‘elders’ in our professional field and I wondered if this might provide some insights into my more personal questions.

The Supervision of Supervision (SoS) Group emerged naturally from the GSN SIG meeting, following a call for more research after a world-wide survey[ii]. Several individuals expressed interest. One offered to conduct an Objective Data Analysis from an outsider position; another stepped forward as Supervisor, and three people as participants. I was excited by the idea yet hesitated. I noticed I was fearful, also curious about what I could bring to the inquiry. I realised I could bring myself and first person meta-reflections of my experience. Settling on this as a distinctive contribution, I eased into my place as the final participant.

We decided to engage in four SoS groups, each of 1.5 hours. We would record the sessions; the external researcher would listen and then delete recordings, attending to concerns about confidentiality. The Supervisor would hold the group and, together, we would review the process at the end.

The emerging research process

The External Researcher circulated documentation regarding his role and methodology. This was discussed at length during our SoS sessions.

My own research process began with considering the Seven-Eyed Model [iii]: a familiar process model for supervision offering seven relational and systemic lenses through which to explore the work of the supervisee. Eye 6 focuses on inner experiencing and depends on being receptive to what is emerging. I recognised I could draw on my ability to be fully present in the moment, accessing my somatic, emotional and cognitive experiencing in relation to whatever unfolds within me and within the group.

In this place of inner attunement I found synergy with autoethnography as a research methodology.


The unique and personal perspective of the researcher is the foundation of auto-ethnography[iv]; a form of autobiographical narrative focussing on the researchers’ experience - this subjective dimension enhancing overall understanding.

Auto-ethnographers are wholly participating and observing their own story within ‘social location’[v]. Auto-ethnography attempts to address the split between ‘our cognitive and embodied ways of knowing and being’[vi].  In contrast to a perceived ‘objectivist’ research methodology in which the researcher is separated from the subject, auto-ethnography calls for integration. It is transpersonal in nature; a ‘place of zero’[vii] bringing logic and reason together with subjective aesthetic expression, born of the internal felt-sense of the material.

Auto-ethnography calls for an increasingly deeper inquiry into the embodied experience ‘asking over and over if we have penetrated as many layers of our own defences, fears and insecurities as our project requires’[viii]. This methodology therefore has the potential for uncovering previously inaccessible personal experiences and meaning-making.

The intention of auto-ethnography is to reveal what is under the surface. This necessarily raises implications about confidentiality, and the inclusion, of delicate personal revelations; and in the case of coaching supervision, sensitive business material which may be the context in which those personal revelations arose.

The very nature of the auto-ethnographic exploration in community, means that others are ‘implicated’ in the researchers’ journey. In developing my subjective insights and reflections I would necessarily need to comment on the words and actions of others, or at least my interpretations of these.

Being mindful of this, I formulated a Research Proposal and created a risk assessment regarding Confidential Information (Table 1) and shared this with the SoS group.

Table 1: Confidential Information


Own personal and professional

Belonging to this group e.g. dynamics, relationships etc

Belonging to friends & colleagues

Belonging to supervisees (and their clients)

Business information

Professional field information
















Group members







External observational researcher







Me in the research process

As a practitioner-researcher with no current academic community, I floundered. I oscillated between despair, wishing I had never voiced this research perspective as an option, and determination. I was sure there was something of value to illuminate here – in the professional task of creating knowledge through subjective experience; and in my personal inquiry not knowing what would be revealed to me.

Despite my confusion, I continued to journal and record my experience.

I found inspiration in previous conversations with Margaret Chapman-Clarke; I engaged in peer inquiry and drew on the support of others at the Oxford Brookes Colloquium[ix]; the Conference of Auto-ethnography[x]; and the Pluralistic Conference[xi] in which I participated in an illuminating Poetic Inquiry session with Richard Knight[xii]. I was thrilled by the range of creative ways that Auto-ethnography might be written up - using poetry, art, performance, and other formats – and felt a great sense of loss that this was not more generally adopted by practitioners.

I also acknowledged that whilst as auto-ethnographer, I may choose the methodology primarily focussing on my own experiencing, this needs contributions from others in the field to more fully describe, and make sense of, the phenomena.

I raised these considerations at one of our debriefing sessions with the Supervisor who had also been journaling throughout the SoS process. As we considered options, we arrived at the notion of inviting all participants and external researcher, into a Poetic Inquiry. 

Poetic Inquiry

Poetic Inquiry had the potential to reflect the experiences and sense-making of others in the group. It gave me a structure to capture personal experiencing within the collective process of the SoS group. The Supervisor offered a structure Playing with 9 Words[xiii]. We began with Free Writing, which dates to the work of Dorothea Brande in 1930’s[xiv] and was popularised by Julia Cameron[xv] in the 1990’s. The process was embraced by the supervisor, one participant and me. With permission from the Poets involved, I share our poems.


Julia Menaul – Group Supervisor


In the beginning

The mirror is held up.

I breathe but the tension is tangible

What medicine is this that I seek to take?

I feel the edge of my vulnerability but also my learning

Listen to that discipline

My own admonishment falls on deaf ears

The burden climbs up on me

And reality is reflected back again.


In the middle

The hot seat is a place like no other.

Sitting, noticing, listening

Time stands still.

I am the observer; he is the observer

In this strange virtual world.

Then the energy sparks into life

Momentum carries us forward

Hurrah, we cry!

Tuning in now we embrace each other in our creativity.

We are spontaneous, we are emergent, we are……….



Is this really the end?

Yes, no, replies the extending hand.

Relief is supplanted by surprise

Rushing in and sweeping my feet from under me

Appealing has two meanings

And wish to be held, to be cossetted

This is the answer.

How to continue?

Who knows?

The reaching out is acknowledged

Relaxing is my pause.



Lise Lewis – Group Participant


Shattering inertia

Confusion contracting thoughts paralysing the brain

Waiting, waiting for enlightenment and certainty that eases the draining

Of energy and stops the repetition of disengagement 

Bringing solace and a welcome promise of movement.



Jo Birch – Group Participant-Researcher


Throw the figments into the fire

Watch them burn

Smoulder, alter, ember.

The illusions I carry.


Fear rises in the grey

Smoke and mirrors

Chaos. As if,

free ions. As if.


Feet on the fire

Feet in the fire

Soles burn.

Souls bare.


An invitation to wake up!

Be conscious.

Receive, this sacred alliance.





Identity created,




My insights and discoveries

In addition to the Poetic Inquiry, I had a vast array of my own journaled data. Analysing this through further reflective process brought some key insights to the fore.

1. Edges

I held the edges. I stepped in and said ‘no’ to some contracting issues – suggestions to lengthen the sessions, extend the contract, or open the recordings to those who missed sessions were all rejected by me as outside the original contracting. I was not the only one, however, I live only in me and it is in me that my inquiry resides. I became aware of how essential these ‘edges’ were in my being able to participate. It felt to me like a matter of life and death. I realised I was believing that holding these edges was about my sense of safety. This realisation, within this setting, has opened a new channel of inquiry into my previous insights about safety and what it means to me as a member of a group. It is also extending my reflections on my professional practice as a supervisor holding groups.

2. Vulnerability

I noticed my own sense of vulnerability was present. I noted my defences with discomfort. An excessive stillness in my body, a tension in my vocal chords with words seeming clipped. I was fearful and judgemental and, at times, believed others were too. Perhaps they were; perhaps they were not.

I felt tension when discussions centred around the external researcher and the Objective data analysis. I wondered how the external researcher might feel on hearing the recording. I hoped he was taking care of his own psychological process. I felt separate from him. It was a strange situation - to have the external researcher so very present in our conversations, and yet not present at all in the sessions.

With regard to my own research I felt insecure. I began to believe I was invisible to the others when my research proposal and risk assessment elicited no responses. On raising this, another group member explained this research raised less questions for them as I was present and participating in the group experience.

3. Intimacy

There was a stand-out moment of expanded intimacy for me when a contribution by one participant seemed to open an unexpected window. I believed they accessed a deeper dimension of their experiencing of the world. In this fleeting moment, my body relaxed and changed. I only realised the extent of my tension as it dissipated. My projections onto the other person fell away, unveiling their, and my, humanity. Finally, I was meeting them, as if for the first time.

There is so much more to explore around these themes and my associated discomfort and defences. My questions arising from this extended encounter, beyond deepening my awareness of how I show up in groups, include: how I am impacted by a perceived ‘openness’ from another; how I attend to self-protective behaviours of myself and others; and, as a group member and as a supervisor, how I hold the space for disclosure, ready to actively embrace the shift in intimacy that may occur?

The becoming of the SoS group

What then is the work of the SoS group? This question returns me to the beginning of this inquiry. After the fatal accident I wrote a piece of performance poetry which opens my inquiry into the essence of my ‘work’ in this world. Here, in this collective endeavour, I hold the same question.

As a group, we found ourselves judging our process – at times wanting to ‘get on’ and yet not being able to disentangle from discussions about contracting and the external researcher. On the occasions we did begin to flow, exploring our work through case studies, emergent issues and themes, I experienced a sense of freedom and connection between us. Chapman-Clarke[xvi] calls on us to ‘get back to what it means to be engaged in a conversation with another human being who is struggling, as we too struggle’. This resonates with my experience within the SoS.

For me, we moved forward. I had such great conviction that, despite the discomfort, we were doing the work, even if I could not articulate what this was. I took as confirmation the moment the four ‘group participants’ met unexpectedly at a conference and spontaneously rushed into a collective embrace! I wonder, what did this moment mean to the others?

The SoS group held us in unexpected ways. Nothing turned out quite as we imagined, yet we have decided to continue. All six of us (including the previous supervisor and external researcher) participating in the new SoS group, each taking turns to serve as the supervisor.

What have we been doing? What were we becoming? Whatever it has been, and is now becoming, is enough for all of us to continue. 


[i] Global Supervisors Network (GSN) was created by Eve Turner in 2016 in response to a perceived gap around Continuous Professional Development for Coaching Supervisors.

[ii] Global Supervisors’ Network (2017) Global Supervisors Network: Supervision of Supervision Survey 2017. Survey Monkey

[iii] Hawkins P, Shohet R 3rd Ed (2009) Supervision in the Helping Professions (pp80-103) Berkshire: OUP

[iv] Chang, H (2019) Individual and Collaborative Autoethnography as a method in Holman-Jones S. Adams, T E. Ellis C (Eds) Handbook of Auto-ethnography (pp313-320) Oxford: Routledge

[v] Muncey T (2010) Creating Auto-ethnographies. London: Sage

[vi] Chapman-Clarke M.A. (2016) Facilitators of Integration: finding a ‘place of zero’. Coaching Today 2016; April: 6-11

[vii] Chapman-Clarke M.A. (2016) Facilitators of Integration: finding a ‘place of zero’. Coaching Today 2016; April: 6-11

[viii] Ellis, C (2019) Preface: Carrying the torch for Auto-ethnography in Holman-Jones S. Adams, T E. Ellis C (Eds) Handbook of Auto-ethnography (p10) Abingdon: Routledge

[ix] First Coaching Supervision Colloquium (2018) Oxford Brookes University, Oxford

[x] Activism, Social Justice & Collaboration. The Sixth British Conference of Auto-ethnography (2019) Bristol Harbourside, Bristol

[xi] Second International Conference of Pluralistic Counselling & Psychotherapy (2019) University of Roehampton, London

[xii] Knight R (2019) Learning from intersectionality: A poetic inquiry into the experience of disability at Second International Conference of Pluralistic Counselling and Psychotherapy 6 – 7 April 2019 University of Roehampton London

[xiii] Chapman-Clarke, M. (2015) Coaching for Compassionate Resilience using Creative Methods: A call for a turn to auto-ethnography, in Hall, L. (Ed.) Coaching through Crisis and Transition, Kogan Page, London.

[xiv] Free Writing accessed 17.8.2020

[xv] Cameron, J (1995) The Artist’s Way. London: Pan

[xvi] Chapman-Clarke M (2017) Time for a paradigm shift in coaching.



Share this article

The Latest On AOCS

Online Community

Become part of our online family. Connecting and empowering each other to succeed. We want to give supervision wider exposure and a larger 'share of voice' in the coaching community. Come and join us!

Back to Top