Reflections on the Restorative Function in Supervision

restorative function in supervision

Reflections on the Restorative Function in Supervision

In a previous article, Nick Bolton, founder of ICCS, has described the three core functions of coaching supervision.

In it, he details Inskipp and Proctor’s well-known framework that categorises supervision as serving three purposes:

  • Formative
  • Normative
  • Restorative 

In this article, I want to explore the restorative function in supervision in more detail.

What is the restorative function in supervision?

Let’s quickly set the Restorative Function in the context of the three core functions.

The Formative Function focuses on the coach as a coach, exploring their coaching skills and supporting them to be more effective in their work so improving the experience and outcomes for the coach’s clients.

The Normative Function, by contrast, focuses on the coach as an ethical practitioner. It helps the coach work within ethical guidelines, understand best practices and unpick thorny issues and dilemmas.

The Restorative Function, put simply, focuses on the wellbeing of the coach and how they are being impacted by their work with clients. 

As the name implies, it seeks to restore, re-energise and rejuvenate the coach in order that they can continue their work positively.  Or indeed, even to help them decide it’s time to take a break.

But why do coaches need to be restored? What is at risk of draining them or, worse still, leading to burn out?

The coaching relationship is one of collaboration and deep conversation.  The conversational space can be exciting, invigorating and positively outcome-focused leaving both coach and client on a high, celebrating the client’s journey. 

But it can also be a challenging place. 

Coaches support their clients through transformations, shifting paradigms and significant and, often uneasy, changes in life, relationships and business.  The conversations that coaches have are often powerful, with clients encouraged to go deep to unpick their challenges.  

Within these conversations, the client may share things that can impact the coach emotionally or energetically.  Conversations may trigger the coach’s own emotions, evoke painful memories or challenge their values and beliefs in a way that makes the neutral space of a coach hard difficult to maintain.  

And yet they are there to hold all of these emotions, thoughts, feelings and reactions. They are supposed to hold that space and encourage growth whilst remaining unattached to the outcome.

Theoretically, at least, they are meant to be boundaried and professional throughout!

But coaches are, of course, also human.

What do they do with all of that stuff?  What do they do with the things that impact them?  Where does it go?

Most coaches have ways of decompressing: a walk after work; a drink with a friend; a ten-minute meditation; or any number of other techniques.  But supervision goes further than that. Supervision allows the coach to not simply manage the impact of the challenging emotions and experiences but to learn from them, make sense of them, grow as a result of them. 

The supervisor is someone who understands the profession, who’s been there, and is trained to support and check in with what the coach needs for themselves and their clients to allow them to restore.

In his book, Supervision in Action, Erik de Haan introduces the metaphor of supervision being a utility room.  He identifies the utility room as this intermediate space between working in the garden and then fully participating in family or social life. He states that:

Supervision is where we wipe the sweat from our brows and the dirt from our faces, wash our hands, look at ourselves in the mirror and get ready to become an ordinary person again…to do so we need to bring our newly acquired experiences, impressions and reflections to the surface, review them…and then muster up the courage to process our emotions, undertake honest reflection and integrate our recent experience into our broader practice

How do supervisors provide the restorative function?

So how do supervisors provide this restorative function to their supervisees? How do they ensure they are creating this place for coaches “to process emotions, undertake honest reflection and integrate recent experience into broader practice”?

Coaching skills + supervision methodology

It goes without saying that the restorative work does not happen in a vacuum.  The coach and coaching supervisor will have contracted for the nature of the sessions they undertake and part of this will be describing the restorative nature of supervision and the ability to openly share difficult moments and emotional stuckness.

So, contracting is a key to laying the foundations for restorative work where it’s needed.  But I’ve often found that the restorative function seems to have a certain place within supervision as an exploration of an issue unfolds.

It can be helpful to examine a specific supervision process to see this in action.  A great example of this is Page and Wosket’s Cyclical Model of Supervision.  This sets out five stages to move through and around as a working partnership.

  • Contract – get clear on the ground rules, build a relationship, maintain boundaries, set expectations.
  • Focus- What is the focus of the session, what is the presenting issue, the coach’s approach and their priorities.
  • Space – Create and hold a space. Collaborate, support, challenge, affirm. Reflect. A key component of the restorative process.
  • Bridge – Consolidate, share information, client’s perspective, planning
  • Review – Re-contract. Discuss is working well in the supervisory relationship and what needs explored

As the supervisor moves through the cycle of supervision, they can encourage their coaches to feel what they need to feel, good or bad, to make sense of things, to offload, to acknowledge the impact of their conversations and, ultimately, to move on.  All of these things help the coach to restore themselves or in more common parlance, to fill up the tank, take the weight off, get their head clear! In other words, to do what they need to do to ensure that their wellbeing is good, and they can continue serving their clients.

However, while the restorative function can be present in all five stages, it most fully reveals itself during the Space stage where the coach can fully attend to their feelings and notice the impact of their work.

Creating and holding a safe space for coaches, then, is vital. But how to do this properly?

Active Listening, Presence and Curiosity 

One key, of course, is the conversation itself and the act of listening.  It’s easy to underestimate the restorative power of being listened to.  As the supervisor encourages the coach to take the time to think and notice what’s going on they begin to feel heard and understood, there is a lightening of the load.  

Nancy Kline talks about listening with respect, interest and fascination, and staying present and curious is as necessary in the supervision space as it is in the coaching space. Creating ease, as Kline states, offers freedom from rush or urgency and “allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking”.

Kline believes that everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do and that thinking environments where we offer a non-judgemental space are optimal environments. A space to gain clarity, to unpick assumptions, and to be able to really think about who we are and how we are and how to achieve the best outcomes possible.

In order for the restorative function of supervision to happen, thinking needs to take place, prolonged, unhurried thinking.

Cathartic Questioning

Another key behaviour supervisors can use is that of evoking catharsis – a release of emotion – not with a view to fixing it, changing it or challenging it, but just simply to let it out.  

John Heron, in his book Helping the Client, identifies six categories of interventions in the people helping professions and with the cathartic intervention being one. 

But what is a cathartic intervention?

Quite simply, a cathartic intervention, is one where the  supervisor somehow invites the coach to release their emotions.  It might be question or a subtle gesture that gives permission and encouragement for the coach to express their emotions and frustrations. By expressing these in the supervisory space they are able to release and let go of strong emotions relating to their work, to restore, rejuvenate and return to the coaching space or to their daily life without this emotional load. 

Supervision without the restorative function

The word supervision can conjure up thoughts of a top-down management, of rigorous oversight and authority.  In reality, coaching supervision in coaching is never this.  But there is something even more explicit in this with the inclusion of the restorative function.  If we look at supervision through a restorative lens it immediately feels collaborative, compassionate, caring and equal.

In thinking about the Restorative Function of supervision a useful thing to ask is what would happen without it? What would be missing or lost?

Where or how would coaches be without that utility room to wash their hands and wipe the sweat from their brows? Without being able to restore, rejuvenate and realign what might happen to their practice?

It does not stand alone

The Restorative Function then is a crucial component of supervision.  But it is just that, a component. The restorative function does not stand alone. Instead, it sits alongside the Formative and Normative Functions and compliments them.  The supervisor’s job is to master how to move between them, to combine them, and know when to use each.


I started this article with a short explanation of the three functions of supervision identified by Inskipp and Proctor. The restorative, the formative and the normative.  Let us leave with the idea that the three functions sitting alongside each other offer a powerful triad to help coaches explore their practice and ways of being within their profession.

This powerful triad of functions offers a structure that supports both coaches and their clients and helps supervisors do this valued and necessary work. 




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