Most coaches view supervision as a place of safety. However, a global investigation by Erik de Haan, of Ashridge Centre for Coaching, reveals ongoing issues around shame and trust

Have you taken the most concerning, worrying and/or shameful episode that occurred in your practice over the last few years to supervision? If not, it seems you’re in the minority.

Some 85 per cent of 518 professional coaches from 32 countries surveyed by Ashridge Centre for Coaching’s Professor Erik de Haan, reported they had done so, and that this was helpful.

As de Haan points out, this still leaves 5 per cent of coaches answering, “yes, but it was unhelpful”; while 7 per cent answered, “I could have brought it to supervision, but did not for some reason”; 2 per cent who did not bring it because they “did not trust their supervisor” and another 1 per cent (three coaches) who shared they didn’t bring it “because it was too shameful”.

“These percentages are very low, but they are nevertheless worth noting. Even within a generally positive picture in terms of safety in supervision, there are still negative experiences that will go unreported,” said de Haan.

De Haan set out to investigate whether coaches were holding back from taking to supervision their deepest concerns. Studies, including one of his own (Day, et al, 2008), have suggested that many coaches do not take their ‘critical moments’ to supervision.

The recent study didn’t reveal a substantial difference between those taking up primarily individual supervision compared with those taking up group supervision.

“One can imagine that individual supervision is indeed safer and more confidential than group supervision – what is surprising here is perhaps that group supervisees are almost equally as trusting as individual supervisees,” said de Haan.

He continued: “There have always been concerns that supervisees may feel ashamed or judged, and as a result may not bring their most pertinent doubts or their most worrying mistakes to supervision, believing that it is the best way to protect themselves and/or their supervisors.”

He cited literature suggesting that feelings of incompetence, along with the evaluation and exposure inherent in supervision, have the potential to generate shame and withdrawal in supervisees (Cohen, 2015).

He cited other literature suggesting that supervisees do not bring all of their most pertinent issues to supervision, sometimes for fear the process will be too painful or shaming for themselves, sometimes due to awe or a need to shield their supervisor from sensitive issues (eg, Lawton, 2000; Gray, Ladany, Walker & Ancis, 2001).

He was prompted by his and others’ findings to investigate whether supervision fails to “cover or address the very aspects of practice that it was designed for” and whether coaches in regular supervision are still not gaining access to their very isolation and their most existential doubts.


The survey

The survey posed nine closed questions and was carried out in February and March 2016. It was completed by 518 professional coaches (69 per cent women and 31 per cent men) from 32 countries, most of whom had more than eight years’ experience.

Respondents were asked about their supervisory arrangements. Some 27 per cent report they take more than five supervision sessions for every 40 coaching sessions; 14 per cent less than one and 14 per cent more than eight.

“So it looks like most of these coaches take more than the one hour minimum that the EMCC stipulates for every 35 sessions,” pointed out de Haan.

Some 28 per cent reported receiving only individual supervision and 12 per cent only group supervision.

Supervisee satisfaction was on average just above 72 on a scale from 0: ‘extremely unsatisfied’ to 100: ‘extremely satisfied’ – the normal range for helping conversations and service provision.

“What was interesting was that coaches were more satisfied with their current supervisor than with previous ones: the average percentages drop from 78 per cent for the current supervisor to 71, 71and 70 per cent, respectively, for the three supervisors before that,” said de Haan.

General trust in the current supervisor was also very high: on average 86 on a scale from 1: ‘do not trust at all’ to 100: ‘trust completely’.

De Haan said one participant had shared that for him “trust does not just revolve around shameful and embarrassing issues, but also around commercial sensitivities” and how he has ensured he finds supervisors who are “geographically or institutionally distant” from his immediate circle of coaching colleagues.

Results for male and female coaches were broadly similar, including their ratings of trust and satisfaction with supervisors. However, women do seem to bring significantly more of their ‘concerning’ or ‘shameful’ experiences to supervision (93 per cent of them for women versus 85 per cent for men), and women also report a slightly better experience than men when they brought those issues, said de Haan.

There were similarly lower ratings from younger coaches, coaches with less experience and coaches who take up less supervision.

Coaches below 40 are less satisfied with their supervisors than coaches over 50 (73 per cent versus 79 per cent satisfaction with current supervisor) and they also seem to bring less of their ‘concerning’ or ‘shameful’ experiences to supervision (75 per cent of the below 40s versus 87 per cent of the above 50s; moreover, a very high 6 per cent of under 40s say they did not trust their supervisor with it). Equally, trust levels are 7 per cent higher in the over 50s compared with the under 40s, he said.

The study revealed the same differences for coaches taking up little supervision (a ratio of fewer than two in every 40 coaching sessions) compared to coaches taking up a lot of supervision (more than five supervision sessions for every 40 coaching sessions).

Finally, it revealed the same differences for relatively inexperienced supervisees (less than two years’ experience) compared to experienced ones (more than five years’ experience).



  • A Day, E de Haan, C Sills, C Bertie and E Blass, ‘Coaches’ experience of critical moments in coaching’, in International Coaching Psychology Review, 3(3),
    pp207-218, 2008


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