The 7-eyed supervision model is one of the most well-known and widely used supervision models.
It stems from Peter Hawkins’ work in the early 80s. At the time Hawkins was trying to get a deeper understanding of differences in supervisory styles and concluded that they were linked to where supervisors chose to focus their attention. The model was further developed by Peter Hawkins and Robin Shohet into what supervisors know and use today.
A map to navigate your supervision practice
In their book “In Love With Supervision” Robin Shohet and Joan Shohet describe the 7 eyed model as:
a map, a framework, with which to view the landscape of supervision (…) [that] enables people to navigate their supervision practice with increasing confidence.
Many new supervisors find this to be very true. Moving around the seven eyes is helps open the conversation up relatively quickly and derive richer insights.
At its heart, this model is about inviting a diversity of views and perspectives. It combines both the psychodynamic as well as systems understanding of how things connect. It creates space for the exploration of the relationships at play. It openly invites the subjective feelings and perceptions of the supervisor as a valuable source of information.
As the story of the coaching relationship unfolds in a supervision session, the role of the supervisor is to listen for modes, or eyes, that may be helpful to explore towards the outcome set by the coach (who is also referred to as “supervisee” in this article and in the literature).
A skilful supervisor helicopters in and out of those seven areas of focus, collecting information and helping the coach paint a richer picture of the various dynamics at play.
The structure of the model
The 7 eyes are nested within two complimentary systems:
There is the coach-client system and the coach-supervisor system. Each of these systems sits within a wider systemic context that any of the three parties (client, coach, supervisor) may belong to.
This context may be having an influence on what is happening in the coaching relationship, but may be forgotten.
- Mode 1. The coachee
- Mode 2. The coach’s interventions
- Mode 3. The relationship between the coach and the coachee
- Mode 4. The coach’s awareness
- Mode 5. The supervisory relationship
- Mode 6. The supervisor’s self-reflection
- Mode 7. The wider context
Let’s go through each of the eyes, or modes, or foci.
Mode 1. The coachee
In this mode we refresh the coach’s awareness of the client. Our aim is to make the client become vividly present in the room.
It is human nature to allow for our subjective interpretations of reality to become our truth. The same can be the case for a coach presenting a client. A picture of the client discussed in supervision can become skewed by the interpretation or the emotions of the coach.
The supervisor’s skill in this mode is to help the coach to stick to observations rather than interpretations. Supervisor’s questions help to return to facts, to separate data from preconceptions.
This can mean painting a full picture of the client, re-introducing information that may have been deleted, or probing in search for evidence behind certain statements (e.g. “the client was sad” – “how do you know? what exactly did they say or do?”). This can help the coach return to what happened in the session.
Mode 1 questions could include:
Describe the client. What three things about the client you would like me to know?
- How did the client present herself/himself during the session?
- If you imagine yourself as the client, how do you feel in your body?
- Embody the client. Leave the room and come back as the client.
- What was the energy of the client like?
Mode 2. The coach’s interventions
This mode focuses on the way in which the coach works with the client. In particular, it’s about exploring the interventions that the coach made, didn’t make or might make in the future.
An intervention is anything that happened in the session that originated from the coach. This does not necessarily mean the use of specific techniques or models. An intervention can be a question asked, a humorous remark, or a moment of silence. Choosing to interrupt, or not, is also an intervention.
Abraham Maslow famously said: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will treat everything as a nail”.
In this mode, one of the supervisor’s jobs is to help the coach avoid this effect by broadening his or her repertoire of interventions. The work can include brainstorming different options and exploring their impact. It can extend into a role-play of different scenarios, helping the coach to experiment and choose how they wish to proceed in the next session.
This mode requires a careful balance between the supervisor being informative (sharing knowledge and additional resources) and catalytic (supporting the coach to come up with their own options). The ultimate objective here is to learn to be creative in his or her practice rather than rely on the supervisor to provide ready-to-swallow options.
This can include exploring interventions that seem quite challenging and wild.
Robin Shohet believes that we may at times tend to “pussyfoot around our clients, under the guise of unconditional positive regard”.
For this reason, this mode could also include voicing unthinkable interventions. Even if they are unlikely to get picked for the session, it can be cathartic to voice them and bring the coach’s thoughts and feelings to the surface. Rather than letting them remain hidden, playing with options in a safe space of the supervision session can result in powerful a-ha moments.
Mode 2 questions could include:
- Tell me about the moment where you felt stuck. What did the client say exactly? What did you say?
- Brainstorm 10 other possible ways of how you could respond. Include at least one wild one.
- Who else do you know who would handle this well? What would they do?
Mode 3. The relationship between the coach and the coachee
This mode is about helping the coach to stand outside of the relationship so that they can experience it afresh.
In their book “Coaching and Mentoring Supervision: Theory and Practice“, Tatiana Bachkirova, Peter Jackson and David Clutterbuck quote the Chinese proverb that says “the last one to know about the sea is the fish, because they are constantly immersed within it”.
Mode 3 is about helping the coach to move above the ‘relational water’ in which they are usually swimming.
It’s about noticing any dynamics that may be at play between the coach and the client that may be impacting the effectiveness of the coaching.
It is also about exploring if the coach-coachee relationship could be a mirror for what is happening in the coachee’s world.
This mode lends itself well to an exploration of a variety of metaphors of the relationship. This encourages detachment and introduces a fresh perspective on dynamics that may be at play.
Mode 3 questions could include:
- If you were on a dancefloor together, what would be happening?
- If you were both animals, what kind of animals would you be and why?
- Become a fly on the wall in your last session; what do you notice about the relationship?
Mode 4. The coach’s awareness
In this mode, we are taking a step away from the coachee and we focus on the feelings that the client elicits in the coach. In other words, this is about what is happening to the coach when they see the client.
This process, also called countertransference, can present itself in many “flavours”, including:
- the client reminds the coach of someone in their lives (e.g. a parental figure),
- the coach over-identifies with the client and their situation,
- the coach feels the need to “rescue” the client,
- the work triggers coach’s unresolved issues,
- the work is affected by the coach’s desire to succeed as a coach and bring on a transformation,
- coach’s own feelings, e.g. of envy, curiosity, care, bias.
[Different types of countertransference are covered in John Rowan’s book “The Reality Game” (1983: 110-111, and expanded on by Joan and Robin Shohet in “In love with supervision” (2020: 101-102)]
Whether we tune into them or not, those feelings are always there. They may be behind that satisfying feeling of great chemistry with a client, as well as behind the feeling of dread before a meeting with another.
At times they may be getting in the way and causing the coach to be stuck. At other times they may present themselves as a great resource to be used. Our job as the supervisor is to help the coach become aware of what may be going on for them, noticing what the client’s material stimulates. This eye can also be about the exploration of the coach’s assumptions, beliefs and values as they relate to the client.
This has a few advantages. First, it helps the coach to become more self-aware, separating what belongs to them from the coachee’s material, growing their capacity to be fully present for their client.
Secondly, those feelings can serve as additional valuable information that may be worth bringing to the coachee’s attention.
Mode 4 can also cover a discussion about the coach’s practice more broadly, including learning edges and the development of skills.
As supervisors, we may discover that we naturally spend a lot of time in this mode in a session as we focus on the supervisee in front of us. If that is the case, it is worth being mindful of that “single-eyed vision” and creating space to explore other modes as well.
Mode 4 questions could include:
- What thoughts and bodily sensations are you experiencing as we discuss your client?
- Who, if anyone, does your client remind you of? [In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different?]
- What would you least like me to know about you and your client?
Mode 5. The supervisory relationship
This mode is about the relationship between the coach and the supervisor.
Central to this is the concept called the parallel process. In its simplest form it can be described by Joan Wilmot and Robin Shohet as “the supervisee will do to the supervisor what the client has done to them”.
There are of course variations to this. One of them being that the parallel process can also work in the opposite direction where the supervision dynamics are mirrored in the coaching relationship, but for the purpose of this article let’s stay with its most basic form.
For example: the client feels and expresses anger during coaching sessions, and the coach behaves in a similar way towards the supervisor.
This is largely an unconscious process for the coach which can be a form of discharge or an attempt to solve the problem by re-enacting it here and now.
In supervision, this eye is about noticing the relationship and examining how it is similar or different from the relationship between the coach and the client.
The job of the supervisor in this mode (also as part of mode 6 below) is to notice their own reactions and feed them back to the supervisee in a non-judgemental way. The skill is to not become submerged in the process but remain detached and work on this with the coach to resolve the challenge.
A particularly telling sign that there may be a parallel process at play is when the relationship dynamic doesn’t feel like our usual way of interacting, but rather it appears slightly “out of character”.
For example, as a supervisor, I may feel I’m becoming critical of the supervisee, but it is not how I usually act. It may be worth paying particular attention to this dynamic and bringing it to the coach’s awareness if appropriate, in case this happens to be a parallel with the coach – coachee relationship.
One thing to be aware of is that it can at times be tempting to see parallel processes where there aren’t any. Our feelings may actually have to do with countertransference at play rather than being an insight somatically transferred through the system. As a supervisor, I may be critical with the supervisee because he reminds me of my brother who I may feel some judgement towards.
Mode 5 questions could include:
- When we discuss your client our voices seem to be louder than usual – I wonder if that could be in any way reflective of the coaching relationship?
- I’m curious as to how the dynamic you are describing might be at play in our relationship here and now?
Mode 6. The supervisor’s self-reflection
This mode is all about the supervisor’s “here and now”. It’s about sharing our own feelings and reactions in an attempt to spark further discovery and dialogue.
Mode 6 can be closely linked to mode 5 – sharing what is going on for the supervisor could shed additional light onto the coaching relationship as those feelings may be somatically transferred.
The skill of the supervisor is to be able to listen to what is being said but simultaneously attend to their own internal process. This can include sharing thoughts, feelings or images as they come up during the session. It’s about naming things as they come and avoiding self-censorship since everything has a potential to be of use in supervision.
What can be challenging with this eye is having enough self-awareness to know when a feeling is imported from elsewhere and when it is our own. If not careful, we may run the risk of misattributing a simple feeling like tiredness or boredom during the last session of the day to insights relevant to the client situation.
An interesting subcategory of mode 6 is mode 6a called the fantasy relationship with the client. It may be helpful to feedback any feelings that we may be developing towards the client during the session, in case this could be a useful point to explore.
Mode 6 questions could include:
The actual questions and feedback will largely depend on what emerges for the supervisor in the moment, for example:
- I notice I’m feeling x (sad/angry/impatient/relieved etc.) (mode 6). Can you make any sense of that as you’re thinking of your client (mode 5)?
- I notice that I’m starting to feel envy towards your client, which is unusual for me (mode 6a). Does that feeling make any sense to you?
Mode 7. The wider context
This mode is about getting a view of the system and exploring what or who is not in the room, but is having an impact.
The supervisor, the coach and the client all operate as part of their own wider contexts, e.g. organisational, social, cultural, or ethical. These systems will have their own power and cultural dynamics at play.
Eye 7 is about consciously re-introducing them into the picture. The goal of the supervisor is to help the supervisee take a high-level perspective and explore if and how the system may be affecting the mindset, behaviours, ambitions, expectations or emotions of their client.
Systemic influence is such a broad term – in reality it can mean anything from company culture, through societal norms, to family members who are not in the room, but who influence the progress of the coachee.
Mode 7 questions could include:
- Who are the other people mentioned by the coachee in your sessions?
- What have you learned about the values, rules and assumptions that are present in the client’s world? How are they showing up in his or her relationships?
- How are wider social, political, economic pressures manifesting themselves for the coachee?
The key advantage of the model is the diversity of perspectives that it invites and its power to broaden the field of exploration.
As with any model, this is a framework that is there to assist us as supervisors while remaining fully present with the supervisee. These perspectives can be explored in a short space of time, during a single session as well as throughout the journey.
It trains us to shift between various focal points and to consider viewpoints that may not be habitual. This results in an increased awareness of other perspectives and factors that may be at play for the client and the relationship overall.
The model focuses on where to look rather than what to look for. This makes it timeless and universal, applicable regardless of theoretical approach or style of the supervisor.