Consultive Support - Supervision For NLP Practitioners: Two Articles by Te Ruru

A. Reflections on a Grecian Urn

Finding Consultive Support

Te Ruru

The people I have learned from most, who taught me best of all, were all eccentric, a little mad and didn't give much of a damn about Freud or psychodynamics. They all danced and taught me to dance. And belly-laughed and taught me to belly-laugh. -George Sweet

In Search of Excellence

What makes the difference between simply being an NLP technician, and being an NLP Practitioner par excellence? This is a question many practitioners ask themselves as they begin to think about how they can best offer what the world needs now. Among the resources that help make that difference, like keeping up with current developments in NLP, reading Trancescript and other NLP literature, and networking with other practitioners, is supervision, or as we prefer to call it in NLP circles, consultative support. The purpose of this article is to offer some tips for choosing a supervisor. If you are going to pay a colleague to help you uncover and expand your own excellence, then you might want some reassurance that you are going to get a good return on your investment. Does this sound like a good idea? Read on then, because the following information will make your choice an easier and more discerning one, especially for practitioners offering personal consultations.

Who Needs It Anyway?

"There is already", observes Jacobs (1996), "an established norm in counseling that counselors should continue to be supervised throughout their working life"(1). This is generally true of most helping professions, where supervision has become both a must for professional helpers, and a distinct "professional field in its own right"(Orlans & Edwards, 1997, p.409). To ensure that professional and therapeutic tasks are carried out with skill and integrity, Dryden (1993) considers regular supervision to be essential to the consulting process.

This position is generally supported in Aotearoa, although there are those who disagree. While Manthei (1997) argues that "Ongoing supervision of both counselors-in-training, and experienced practicing counselors is widely recognized as both desirable and essential" (136), Pearson (1996) challenges the concept of ongoing supervision as "an academically inspired nonsense determined by a few"(14). Such differences merely reflect the diversity of views about the nature and function of supervision, and the fact that regular supervision is often one of the requirements for membership of professional organizations.

While supervision is not yet obligatory for membership of the NZANLP, you may have noticed the modal operator in clause 3.1 of its Code of Practice: "Practitioners should have regular consultative support". This means that our professional organization here in Aotearoa considers supervision as something of a necessity, and a means of furthering professional development and ensuring the safety and effectiveness of practitioner-client relationships.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Excellence in NLP, Bolstad and Hamblett (2000) remind us, involves "being scrupulously clean about using positive internal representations"(15). When we name an activity, we need to be aware that the words we use are situated in the cultural contexts in which we live. Words are often coloured with shades of meaning that have accumulated with time and changing usage.

"Supervision" is a composite word derived from Latin roots: super, meaning above or over, and videre meaning to watch, to see. In common parlance, the word "supervisor" has come to mean a person who exercises general direction or control over an activity; one who manages, inspects and corrects the work of others. "Supervisee" can refer to a person under scrutiny, like someone under police supervision or in periodic detention. These meanings suit a hierarchical context and focus on a monitoring function. Are supervisors to be considered as the NLP police, or perhaps the profession's quality controllers?

Williams(1992) claims that supervision is "the cornerstone of counseling"(440). The construction of supervision as a separate professional entity that sits at the pinnacle of the helping professions is not particularly helpful. In the current environment of growing professionalism, where assessment has become something of an obsession, supervision runs the danger of simply becoming a monitoring devise. Because it is a requirement of membership in many professional associations, it does serve a legitimate monitoring function as evident in NZAC(2000), "Counsellors shall monitor their counseling work through regular supervision by professionally competent supervisors"(25). However, if supervision leans too heavily towards its monitoring function, it is danger of becoming snoopervision in stead.

Monitoring is certainly a function ascribed to counselling supervisors. Manthei(1997) defines supervision as "a formal monitoring relationship that ensures that counselling services are being delivered effectively and competently"(137). He even claims that such monitoring means that "the supervisor assumes some degree of responsibility for the work of the counselor" (137). At a time when helping professionals are more likely to be the target of litigation, Cormier and Bernard (1982) warn that supervisors may be considered legally responsible for the welfare of people consulting their supervisees. The NZAC now requires a supervisor's report to accompany a counsellor's annual application for membership renewal, and the NZANLP is moving in the same direction. Supervisors may find themselves responsible not only to the people they supervise, but also to their own professional associations, those of their supervisees, an agency or department employing a counsellor, a third party funding supervision, their supervisees' clients, and even a court of law.

While Willaims (1992) acknowledges that supervision includes the task of monitoring, he maintains that because supervision is a non-managerial activity, it needs a new, un-ambiguous word that captures the essence of what supervision is intended to achieve.

Possible Reframes

Perhaps retrieving supervision's original meaning, and finding a term to encompass that meaning, might be useful. For those of us working as NLP consultants, I believe there is a need to redefine what is meant by "supervision". The NZANLP (2000) seems to highlight that need by using the term consultative support, which it describes as "a formal arrangement, which enables practitioners to discuss their client services regularly with one or more people who have an understanding of consulting and consultative support".

Similar shades of meaning for "supervision" can also be found by looking at the earliest use of the word, which dates back to the seventeenth century. In his play Othello, written between 1602 and 1604, Shakespeare has Iago use the word when questioning Othello's ability to listen dispassionately to his incrimination of Cassio: "Would you the supervisor, grossly gape on?"(Othello, III, 3, 395). Here the word is used to convey the sense of a spectator or observer who looks over events with detached curiosity. In other words, the consultant is able to look over a practitioner's work with curiosity and a sort of contrived naivety that gives rise to questions about what worked best, and what the practitioner might do differently next time. Rather than "oversee" a practitioner's work, a supportive consultant is able to "see over" the limits of current practice to new and creative possibilities; the true exercise of "super-vision".

From Monitor to Consultant

This reframe for supervision changes the emphasis from monitoring to consultancy. Caplan (1970) distinguishes between supervision and consultation. The former is described as "an ongoing process of inspecting the work of supervisees by a person who is high on the hierarchical power structure"(85). Consultation is a less formal, intermittent interaction between colleagues "arising out of current work related problems"(85), in which the consultant has no direct responsibility for implementing change but rather offers useful clarifications, reframes and support to the practitioner.

Practising supervision in the spirit of collegial consultation is also less likely to generate feelings of anxiety, shame or blame for a practitioner. Practitioners' anxieties, writes Bradley (1989), are often centred in concerns related to evaluation and others' perceptions of them.(43). In NLP circles it would be stating the obvious to say that the degree of honesty and openness a practitioner is prepared to display will be directly proportional to the degree of rapport between consultant and practitioner. The nature of the relationship between consultant and practitioner, especially for a practitioner who is new to NLP consulting, may be unclear. If this is the case, a certain level of anxiety is almost certain. Shohet and Wilmot (1991) encourage the type of relationship between consultant and practitioner that will allow two people to see themselves as being on the same side so they "can drop their judgmental attitudes and be co-researchers in attending to the process in which they are involved which is being highlighted by the issue"(88). Crocket (1999) offers the following useful reframe.

"I would suggest that accountability in the context of supervision is most usefully construed as "able to give an account" as opposed to the more familiar "having to justify". In this way I am interested to think about how supervision supports a counsellor to be able to give an account of their work. This version of accountability implies an audience; an audience interested in making sense of a counsellor's account, in engaging their account, in inviting them to enlarge or expand on or clarify their account, and, thereby, to bring forward their author-ity as counselor in their own practice. Accountability on these terms implies a mutuality by which the terms of the account are negotiated. Further, it offers a story of legitimation that is dependent on a dialogical community; one that takes seriously the production of counselor authority"(76).

Such an approach also takes into account the nature of adult learning. Gardener (1989) notes the mismatch between hierarchical models of supervision and the reality of adult learning styles that tend to make meanings, and therefore learnings, from personal experience.

A collegial and consultative style of supervision also encourages the practice of self-supervision. Jacobs (1996) holds that effective supervision not only aids the development of better practitioners, but also assists practitioners to monitor their own work "without always brining it to supervision"(137).

Where Are You At?

Effective supervisors also take careful note of developmental stages; their own as well as the practitioners who consult them. Bolstad(1995) views consultative support as a process that fosters practitioners' expertise. He sees this journey to excellence as a developmental one, and finds support for this view in the Drefus and Drefus(1980) research into differences in strategies, sensory awareness and belief systems between novices and experts. Bolstad also points to the findings of Benner(1982) to support his model of developmental supervision, which cycles through the five stages summarized in the table below.

From Novice to Expert: Developmental Stages


Practitioner Focus: Little experience with situations in which training will be utilized. Concerned with rules, guidelines and techniques.
Consultant Focus: Supports practitioner's discovery and utilization of skills and guidelines.

Advanced Beginner:

Practitioner Focus: Recognises guidelines and has some experience of what usually happens in consulting situations.
Consultant Focus: Helps practitioner when guidelines from their basic training need to be applied more fully.


Practitioner Focus: Manages complexities of actual client situations and has ability to combine processes and design interventions.
Consultant Focus: Guides practitioner to deepen understanding of the unique relationship with client.


Practitioner Focus: Unconsciously skilled and aware of the most unique aspects in order to decide what to do next. Able to access and utilize vast array of experiences.
Consultant Focus: Enhances practitioner's proficiency through examination of case studies and practitioners own process.


Practitioner Focus: Has an intuitive grasp of situations and zeros in on issues that need attention. Able to challenge rules and guidelines based on such intuition.
Consultant Focus: Promotes excellence and professional development through peer consultation and encouraging practitioner to supervise him/herself and become supervisor for others.

NLP or not NLP

A question often asked by practitioners is, "Should I get a supervisor who is also an NLP Practitioner? May be that way they will understand where I'm coming from." Finding a colleague who is an NLP Practitioner, and who can offer effective consultative support is an advantage. As the NZANLP (2000) observes, "by embodying all the presuppositions of NLP the Consultant will have most of the qualities required to be a mentor"(12). While this may be true, it does not mean that a person has to be an NLP Practitioner to embody pre-suppositions that are not actually exclusive to NLP. There are other related models of brief therapy, and there is no reason why someone with a similar orientation could not make a fine supervisor for an NLP Practitioner. In my own history as a practitioner, I have had several supervisors from different theoretical backgrounds: Person Centred, Narrative, Solution Focused, Taoist, and NLP. All have been helpful.

Hawkins and Shohet (1991) claim that a supervisor's style of supervision is partly shaped by the style of the supervisor's own counselor training and orientation; that "bias in approach is to some extent inevitable"(110), and that this is an area that is usefully explored in supervision. Proctor (1994) also notes that practitioners who become supervisors will tend to use the same skills and abilities they acquired in their own training, thus modeling them to the practitioners they supervise. In this case, it does make good sense to seek a colleague who has a good grasp of the presuppositions and practices of NLP.

For practitioners in more remote areas of Aotearoa, this choice may not be so straightforward. The Proctor study found that proximity was also a factor in practitioners' choice of supervisor. In cases where there are no other qualified NLP Master Practitioners or Trainers available for consultative support, practitioners may have to hire a consultant with different training and theoretical background, or consider telephone or E-supervision, especially if there is access to computers with video and voice functions.

There are no musts in this matter. The minimum would seem to be an acceptance of the presuppositions behind brief therapy, an understanding of NLP perspectives, and a knowledge of NLP processes. To this basic set of requirements, several other factors could be considered. Usher and Borders (1993) report research that indicates that practitioners' choice of supervisors is also related to the level of skill and experience of practitioners. This makes good sense. While it may be almost essential that a freshly certificated Practitioner seek out an NLP Master Practitioner or Trainer for consultative support, a Master Practitioner or Trainer well along the road of confidence and experience, may benefit from the cross pollination of supervision with a colleague from a different theoretical background. Any professional association considering making consultative support a requirement for membership, may need to consider carefully how that requirement is defined.

Cultural Contexts

Traditional models of supervision, as with NLP itself, developed largely in white western academic environments, which may not share the same presuppositions as helping styles that have emerged out of cultural and ethnic minorities (Leong,1994). As there is a distinct group of indigenous peoples as well as a mixture of settler races in Aotearoa, supervisors in this country need to have both a conceptual understanding of bicultural issues, and a practical participation in bicultural situations. This will require an understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi and biculturalism as they apply to New Zealand.

"Culture" also needs to be understood in its broadest sense so it includes race and ethnicity, as well as socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, gender and age. Alanso and Rutan (1978) for example, remind supervisors to recognize the limits of their capacity to empathise with an experience foreign to their own, that is, as a member of the opposite sex. This warning is simply a reminder that those who offer consultative support need to "accept and respect the boundaries of empathy"(930). This expression of respect models for practitioners, the sort of respect required in their cross-gender and cross-cultural client relationships.

Friend and Colleague

The alliance between consultant and practitioner in consultative support is often enhanced when the two are both colleagues and friends. Personal knowledge of the practitioner's developmental history and training makes the process less scary if the practitioner is young in experience. Picking a friend and colleague who is experienced enough to maintain functional difference during sessions is also necessary. A friendly, respectful, professional, educative, affirming and inspiring experience is what most practitioners are looking for in consultative support. Heath and Tharp (1991) in their research into what therapists actually thought about supervision confirm this view. They found six typical responses from those attending supervision: "We want relationships based on mutual respect." "You don't have to be a guru." "Supervise us or evaluate us; not both." "Assume that we're competent. We're hard enough on ourselves already." "Tell us what we're doing right. Affirm us. Empower us." "Listen to us. Make supervision a human experience."

On Grecian Urns and All That

There is an additional quality that I often look for in the colleagues I turn to for consultative support - the mad hatter syndrome. There is probably a case for choosing a supervisor who has at times moved outside "preferred professional practice" to design innovative approaches to working with people. I am reminded of a very useful metaphor in which deShazer (1988) views counselling as partly art and partly a science, and therefore a craft. Because there are objective, measurable, and sensory specific criteria for making a ceramic teapot, for example, it does not take an outstanding artist to make such a pot. Its success or failure as a functional teapot is easily assessed because there are clear and teachable guidelines for assessing the finished article. After all, a teapot is a teapot; it either works or it doesn't. However, there are teapots and there are teapots. A teapot that is both functional and aesthetically appealing may be of high value because of its beauty and/or antiquity. Its worth in this case is measured not only because of its functionality, but also because it is a work of art. Such an artifact has an additional quality that not only appeals, but also may even ignite the viewer's imagination.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! With brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Though silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

- John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

To achieve such outstanding results, an artist may even break some of the established norms for making teapots, and in doing so become the craftsperson par excellence. By daring to go beyond the boundaries of potting norms, such an artist may in fact establish new and exciting norms for the craft. By modeling such a craftsperson, other potters who are up to it, may also achieve similar levels of excellence.

In an analogous sense, the expert practitioner is also a person who coaches clients to inspiring outcomes. Achieving such excellence may sometimes involve working outside accepted guidelines; remember "wanton curiosity" and experimentation? This in turn may lead to therapeutic boundaries being expanded in new and amazing ways. "Freud and Erickson", observes deShazer (1988), "violated the rules of their times, and as a result, can be seen as masters or artists"(49).

Whatever we may think of Freud and Erickson now, the analogy holds; those who modeled the excellent parts of their work were able to achieve similarly outstanding results, and establish new techniques that could be used by other practitioners within acceptable professional and ethical boundaries. Since the pursuit of excellence in the field of NLP consulting may at times involve elements of design and experiment, it is important that Practitioners check this through the process of consultative support. This will be particularly useful if the supervisor is her/himself a bit of a boundary rider; somebody who, like the poet in Ode on a Grecian Urn, is an expert at "asking the questions that show what's there"(Manhire, 2000).


Choosing a colleague to hire for consultative support requires the skill of a wise shopper. Know what you are buying, who you are buying it off, what's in the package, whether or not you really need it, how much its going to cost, and whether or not you are likely to get a good return for your investment. The checks on your shopping list could include:

- and any others you might like to add.

Te Ruru BA, MEd, Cert.Couns. is a NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer living in Christchurch, the most populous city on Te Waka a Maui, largest of the islands in the South Pacific island nation of Aotearoa, otherwise known as New Zealand. He works as a personal consultant and communication skills coach. His services include Consultative Support, which he provides face to face or over the phone for practitioners living outside Christchurch. For more information and a free brochure he may be contacted at 442 Innes Road, Christchurch 8005, Aotearoa/New Zealand. Ph +64 3 385-9058, Fax +64 3 385-9053, E-mail:

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B: Coffee Conversations

Exploring Seven Dimensions of Supervision

Te Ruru

The Coffee Bean Genie

Sometimes the most useful ideas can emerge over a cup of coffee. It's almost as if the genie of insight has been lying dormant inside the coffee beans until its secrets are expressed into the piquant vapours rising from a perfectly brewed latte. One day in 1985, several trainers and supervisors were enjoying just such a collegial moment when the conversation turned to their most recent experiences with trainees. One supervisor commented that in his supervision session a student had been curious about what to do when a client seemed to resist any attempt to engage. "So that's what you talk about in supervision", another trainer responded. "My supervisee and I explored what it was like for her to feel very maternal when working with an adolescent client who had been raised in a foster home." Yet a third supervisor related how at the start of the supervision session, the counsellor had burst into tears claiming "I can't go on like this. It's all too much. May be I'm not cut out for this job."

As the conversation proceeded, it became clear that each supervision session had a distinctly different quality. Two of the trainers (Hawkins & Shohet, 1991) took this central idea and developed a way of thinking about supervision that takes account of the factors that influence what is brought to supervision and how it is processed. They identified five factors that influence what direction supervision takes:

Choosing The Blend

My own observation as a supervisor is that what NLP Practitioners choose to focus on during supervision differs from session to session, according to where they are currently paying attention, their developmental stage, and their level of expertise. Effective supervision, also known as consultative support and peer support in NLP circles, provides a process that allows practitioners to focus on what is happening in the practitioner-client context, the practitioner- supervisor context, and the practitioner-supervisor-wider-systems context. This 3600 degree view, or super-vision, can provide the sort of collegial support that develops reflective practice and enhances self-awareness. Hawkins and Shohet (2000) suggest that "one aim of all supervision is to help practitioners develop a healthy internal supervisor which they can have access to while they are working." (30). This brief reflection offers a NLP interpretation of the work of these two authors who developed a framework for thinking about seven different modes or dimensions of supervision. Each mode represents the focus of supervision at any one point in the session. The focus may shift through several modes in a session that is designed to thoroughly explore the concerns a practitioner has brought to supervision.

Noticing The Flavour

By the beginning of this century, Hawkins and Shohet (2000) had developed what they called "the double matrix or seven-eyed supervisor model" (68). Both practitioner and supervisor are able to look at what is brought to supervision through seven different lenses, or to continue the coffee metaphor, notice seven distinct flavours. Perhaps these seven flavours could also be thought of as submodalities of supervision. In summary form, they are as follows:

  1. Reflecting on the content of the session: how the client presented their concern, what they chose to talk about and which area of their life it related to, what was noticed about the physiology of the client, what actually happened, and how the session may relate to a previous session. From a NLP perspective, the supervisor is helping the practitioner to develop exquisite sensory acuity, and to notice their own internal dialogue (Ad processing) in response to what they are seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling.
  2. In this mode the focus is on which processes the practitioner used in the client-work they have brought to supervision. In terms of the NLP RESOLVE model (Bolstad, 2002), the focus is on how the practitioner was Leading: which processes or interventions were used and why were they chosen, and what other choices may have been useful and/or appropriate at that stage.
  3. Noticing what was happening between practitioner and client constitutes the third modality of supervision. From a NLP perspective, the supervisor is helping the practitioner enter into a perceptual shift and adopt third position. From that view-point the practitioner is encouraged to notice the nature of the energy system practitioner and client were creating together, as if the practitioner was a fly on the wall in their own session. In psychotherapeutic terms, the supervisor would also be assisting the therapist to notice any transference from the client.
  4. Reflective practice requires a high degree of self-awareness. In NLP terms, this requires the practitioner to "go meta" to herself and notice what was going on inside herself. So the focus of this aspect of supervision is the internal processes of the practitioner. During this reflective process, the practitioner may identify which beliefs and feelings were supporting her work, whether or not there were limiting beliefs or feelings generating a less than resourceful state, and which "key questions" might best supporting the practitioner's performance. In traditional counselling jargon, countertransference would also be an issue to explore.
  5. What goes on between practitioner and supervisor is also part of the whole story in supervision. In this mode the supervisor is modelling what was being asked of the practitioner in mode 3. "How is rapport with this practitioner?" may well be a question the supervisor is asking herself. Or it may be that the supervisor and practitioner are checking out a parallel process: "In what way is our experience here in supervision like what you were experiencing with your client right then?"
  6. What mode 4 does for the practitioner, this mode does for the supervisor. An effective supervisor needs to be aware of his own internal process. This is a way of modelling self-awareness to the practitioner. Hawkins and Shohet (2000) also hold that "In order to use this mode supervisors not only have to be aware of their own processes, but also be able to attend to their own shifts in sensation, and the peripheral half-thoughts and fantasies, while still attending to the content and process of the session" (83). The supervisor is able to hold fourth and even fifth perceptual position, and engage fully with the practitioner at the same time; a skill that we all need in our consulting work, whether that be a personal consultation or within the framework of supervision.
  7. Mode 7 is about focusing on the wider context. One of the presuppositions of NLP is that all change needs to be evaluated in the context of its ecology. Supervision will always take place within a wider ecology which may include families of practitioners, organisations, cultural differences, and the law.

The Six Eyed Genie

Accessing the maximum amount of information and feedback on one's NLP consulting work is one of the features of effective supervision. This can be done by gleaning as much information as possible from all of the parts of the system in which we are working. As NLP practitioners we are system thinkers. We hold presuppositions like whoever has the most flexibility, most influences the system, and all results are feedback for the system, and behaviours give the most useful information about the system. What this means in the context of supervision is that the more parts of the system we can access, the more feedback we can obtain.

This approach can also be thought of in constructivist terms. The Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico claimed that to know is to make (Vico, 1948/1725). This thinking foreshadowed modern critical constructivists (Mahoney, 1991; Guidano, 1991) who hypothesise that external reality can never be experienced directly, and that human realities tend to be metaphorical and constructed mostly through language. Peavy (1998) reminds us that "critical constructivists stress that individuals co-construct personal and social realities, emphasising interaction and interdependence with surrounding social and physical worlds" (38). The constructivist supervisor presupposes that the consulting experience of the NLP practitioner, as it emerges through performance and expressed through personal meaning, is the ground in which supervision is rooted. Therefore the learnings that are derived by the practitioner do not come solely from the supervisor, but are co-constructed by all parts of the system in which the practitioner and supervisor are operating. Being able to access perspectives from all parts of the system will mean that the learning is constructed in a more comprehensive, more complete, and therefore more useful way.

Those of us offering supervision services have an ideal tool for NLP practitioners construct the most exciting supervision experiences. During the period DeLozier and Grinder (1987) were constructing NLP codes, they articulated the idea of perceptual positions. Now the concept of perceptual positions is one of the central features that inform NLP practice. In the context of supervision, being able to access all six perceptual positions (Young, 2004) provides a way of capturing the richest meaning and the most comprehensive learning from the review of NLP practice.

Coffee Grounds

At the heart of supervision is the reflective practice that leads to the coaxing of NLP expertise. This provides sufficient grounds for utilising the seven modes of supervision, and the six perceptual positions, to co-construct a 360o feedback system. The next time delicious aromas of a freshly ground and brewed exotic blend of coffee waft past your olfactory nerves, keep an eye out for the coffee bean genie. This many-eyed mentor is willing to grant you the gift of super-vision. All it requires is a willingness to sit with an experienced colleague and reconstruct your NLP practice from several perspectives, notice what is of value, and leave the rest.

Te Ruru is a NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer involved in supervision and counsellor education in Christchurch. He may be contacted at