What is professional supervision and how does it differ to spiritual direction, mentoring and coaching?
“Like many priests, I am a resourceful person and am capable of a number of things; however, professional supervision keeps me accountable to my key calling as a priest. So, I have been seeing a professional supervisor monthly since the start of last year in order to be more discerning about my call and regarding what initiatives and activities I choose to engage in,” says The Rev’d Tania Eichler
What is professional supervision?
Professional supervision in a ministry context is all about journeying with people and creating space for conversations for clergy and lay ministers to unpack ministry concerns, celebrate highlights, discuss wellbeing and reflect on vocation-related goals.
Professional supervision differs to spiritual direction, mentoring and coaching, and consequently I have found each of these to be valuable at different times in my life.
Like many priests, I am a resourceful person and am capable of a number of things; however, professional supervision keeps me accountable to my key calling as a priest. So, I have been seeing a professional supervisor monthly since the start of last year in order to be more discerning about my call and regarding what initiatives and activities I choose to engage in.
The following summarises what professional supervision is about, while also clarifying what spiritual direction, coaching and mentoring involve.
Professional supervision is about journeying with someone and enabling them to set the agenda, with guidance from the supervisor, to explore ministry issues and reflect on vocation-related goals and wellbeing.
Professional supervision is a formal arrangement and generally peer to peer.
One of the many benefits of professional supervision for me is the provision of valuable resources and tools that I would not otherwise know about or have access to; for example, if I have a ministry matter I need to address.
I have had a number of ‘penny dropping’ moments in my ministry, and the professional supervision sessions also help to give these meaning and foster further useful insights.
Professional supervisors for ACSQ clergy and lay ministers may be churched or unchurched, Anglican or from another denomination. It is my preference to see a Christian professional supervisor. I feel the need to see someone who is a Christian because I am working in a spiritual space; however, other clergy may have different needs.
I also prefer to go to someone outside the Anglican Church, but who is still ordained, so I see someone who is Lutheran who understands the blessings, challenges and constraints of ordained ministry. I intentionally choose to see someone outside our community – someone who doesn’t know me from a bar of soap. I think this gives the conversations a measure of objectivity and keeps the conversation on track, mitigating the risk of things getting chatty.
Spiritual direction is the practice of journeying with a person to help deepen their relationship with God, as a person learns and grows in their own personal spirituality.
A spiritual director tends to be ‘wiser in years’ and possess greater spiritual maturity and may be either a clergy or lay person.
‘Spirituality’ is at the forefront of spiritual direction, rather than vocation and ministry goals, as in the case of professional supervision.
Spiritual direction is not a one-size-fits-all arrangement – the directed person needs to pray and seek God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit regarding what director will help them grow spiritually over what is usually a lengthy period.
A key benefit of spiritual direction is understanding myself more, including my strengths and weaknesses, and seeing God active in what I do.
A saw a spiritual director once a month for decades. The director suggested Psalm 55, which spoke to me about what was happening in my life at the time – specifically the ending of something so something new could begin. The spiritual direction helped me in a particular situation that I was dealing with at the time.
The spiritual director was a mature and experienced Anglican priest and I am so grateful to this wise and generous person.
I mentor a few leaders in my Maroochydore parish. As a woman-in-ministry figure, these leaders wish to benefit from my learnings, so I seek to be an encouraging and aspirational sounding board.
Mentoring relationships are not peer to peer and tend to be informal, in contrast to professional supervision. Mentors tend to be someone you know, whom you have an established relationship with and who are willing to share with you the benefit of their experience and learning.
I have particularly been offering mentoring in my parish during the course of our parish’s significant site redevelopment, helping people to manage stress and change by encouraging them and suggesting systems, structure and processes to help them.
I love seeing people’s face light up when they feel inspired or heartened and when encouraging them to celebrate wins with questions like, “What did you do to celebrate?”
I have been coaching via CoachNet, a Christian organisation, for six years.
Unlike mentoring, coaching is a client-based arrangement involving a formal agreement focused on the client’s agenda. It’s about articulating goals and helping a person reach those goals.
This often involves asking strategic open-ended ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ questions, as coaches ask rather than tell, with the relationship being client-focused and question-based.
In contrast to professional supervision, there is often more accountability in a coaching arrangement and a coaching relationship tends to occur over a shorter and more finite time period.
Whether the coaching is for a personal or professional agenda, it helps people to articulate goals that they are being led to achieve and assists with achieving them.
I currently have a coach for the Pathways Program and also see a professional supervisor monthly. I don’t have a spiritual director at the moment, as I am focused on cultivating the other supporting relationships and achieving the associated goals.
Thus, professional supervision, spiritual direction, mentoring and coaching involve different aims and agendas, with the nature of the relationships also differing.
You don’t need to have a professional supervisor, spiritual director, mentor and coach simultaneously – it’s healthy to be discerning about what is professionally required or most helpful at a given time.
Note from Dr Stephen Harrison, Executive Director of PMC: The Anglican Church Southern Queensland is introducing a professional supervision program which will be rolled out in phases over 2021 to 2024. All clergy (with an Active Licence) and Stipendiary Lay Ministers will be required to have a supervision arrangement in place by 1 July 2023. A series of educational sessions (in-person and online) is being offered during 2021 to help those who have questions or concerns about the new professional supervision program or how the professional supervision policy requirements will apply to them. Find out more by visiting the faithful + effective website.Jump to next article