The 7 Eyed Supervision Model: A Map to Navigate Your Coaching practice

[This article was originally published on the ICCS blog (International Centre for Supervision). While I wrote this article with trainee supervisors in mind, I'm reposting it here as it can be equally beneficial for coaches who want to reflect on their sessions.]

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.

7 Eyed Model for Supervision

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