Supervision in the Netherlands

SUPERVISON. More perspectivism. Marjo Boer, Marcel Hoonhout, Jan Oosting (Ed), Vakmedianet, 2015.

A new book on supervision! Bringing 38 experts from the Netherlands together to contribute to producing this 700-page book was quite an achievement. Bravo! The book comprises an introductory chapter with the title „What is supervision? What does a supervisor do“? and five sections:

  1. Aspects of the supervisor’s competence
  2. The supervisor in context
  3. Profiling, positioning and professionalising as a supervisor
  4. The supervisor and research
  5. Supervisor across the border (of space and time)

The editors formulated two objectives for this book: explicate the core value of supervision (1.) and modernise the profession of supervision (2.) In my opinion, the first objective has been achieved. In today’s language, it is made clear what the job of a supervisor involves, what form of learning support we are talking about and how that can best be put into practice. According to this book, supervision has a lot to do with tension or paradox, but I ask myself why do we not look at supervision in relation to other forms of guidance in this way? The question of a client (system), in my opinion, should be leading and not the method. Often a client does not ask for supervision or coaching, but rather for a contribution to the solution of his problems. A professional supervisor must then determine what is needed and whether he can provide it. This book strengthens the identity of professional supervision, however, the development of an ‘’overarching’’ coaching & supervison profession is limited.

The modernisation of supervision lies primarily in expanding the way of working in supervision: new working methods and (digital) resources, flexibility of the structure, responding to a variety of contexts, the use of another language (body language, visual language), inspiring approaches from adjacent practices. More in-depth thinking, whereby meanings, motivations, underlying issues and undercurrents are given a place, is barely evidenced. Certainly, fundamental questions are being raised in the contributions of Tom Luken, Michiel de Ronde, Marianne Banning-Mul, Gerian Dijkhuizen & Sijtze de Roos and in the last chapter (the editors and Pieter van Keulen), but the discussion has not really started. There are only some more or less individual attempts, which is imposing a degree of non-commitment. I do not feel any urgency. Are we not ready yet? Are we afraid?

I was moved by the question of how we as supervisors relate to current socio-economic and social developments. “Where do our responsibilities lie when it comes to the relationship between personal growth and the development of individuals on the one hand and the bigger picture on the other?” (p. 667). The (cultural) historical context of countries is of major influence, which is apparent, for example, from experiences in the Baltic states. How do you deal with oppression and lack of freedom? In those countries supervision has a greater political significance than with us. Do we have sufficient regard for the history carried by those people? Is our solution focus too great? In Eastern Europe, supervision has more of an emancipatory character than with us, while “professional supervision in the Netherlands is more or less characterised by intelligent adaptation to mandatory working conditions”(p. 671). In this regard, Brigitte Hausinger makes a nice statement in her thesis: “if you do not study these contradictions and do not have an opinion on them, you are contributing 2 (sic!) inadvertently and perhaps unwittingly to the dehumanisation of labour” (p. 674). These are statements that correspond with the actual discussion within the world of coaching in the Netherlands (Wolbink, Coenen, Vandamme, among others).

In short, a nice state of the art contribution and, at the same time, enough encouragement for supervisors to engage in discussions about more substantive questions.

Coenen, B. (2013). Coaching de oorlog verklaard. Rotterdam: 2010 Publishers.
Vandamme, R. (2014). Handboek ontwikkelingsgericht coachen. Mortsel: het Ontwikkelingsinstituut bvba.
Wolbink, W. (2013). Het coachvak binnenste buiten. Amsterdam: Boom/Nelissen.

Kees Faber (News 1/2016)