What is coaching?

(And how is it different to supervision?)

Firstly, I am a BIG FAN of both coaching and supervision: each has their own value and contribution to our practice and our career development. Over the years, I have been grateful to have experienced high quality, transformative supervision: the kind that shifts your whole mind-set, helps you learn and become a more reflective and effective practitioner (Carroll, 2011). 

Then I discovered coaching. It totally resonated with my continual drive for self-development and goal-setting, my zest for learning, and ultimately striving to live my best EP life. Through coaching, I found new ways that I could grow and drive forward my ambitions. 

People have often asked me, “how is coaching different to supervision?” so here’s my take on that. I’ll start with my favourite definitions of coaching, and then I’ll outline some of the key similarities and differences (in my view) between coaching and supervision. I do acknowledge that there is, of course, some degree of overlap, and the two are not mutually exclusive. 


1. Coaching is about potential and personal growth

Here are two of my favourite definitions of coaching. To me, coaching is: 


“Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”  (bold added) 

International Coaching Federation (2020) 


“A collaborative solution-focused, results-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of the coachee." (bold added)

Association for Coaching (n.d.)


So, coaching is about maximising your potential. It’s about being supported in your own personal growth. How about this analogy…? 

In supervision, you are the pilot of a plane with the passengers as your service users. Your supervisor is the air traffic controller. Whilst you decide how to fly the plane, the air traffic controller (supervisor) guides your journey within a system of boundaried routes and helps you to safely plan your actions within the immediate future. The air traffic controller (supervisor) is there to support you to provide a safe and effective service to the passengers (service users). 

In coaching, you can choose your own vehicle: how about a rocket!? The coach provides the rocket fuel and becomes your co-navigator to guide you wherever you want to go. There are no limits! Coaching is about helping you to realise your ambitions, achieve your goals and fulfil your ultimate potential in your EP career. 


2. Coaching is goal-focused 

Coaching is future-focused and it is centred on improving something for the coachee. As such, it is an inherently goal-focused approach (Grant, 2019). 

Supervision clearly has an educative and reflective function, which leads to learning for the supervisee: “Reflection is the ability to think about the past, in the present for the future” (Carroll, 2011 p. 19). The educative and reflective nature of supervision lends itself well to casework discussions and ideas relating to enhancing practice, in-keeping with HCPC standards (HCPC, 2018). It is not, however, usual practice to explicitly set goals during supervision. 

Coaching makes more explicit use of goal-setting. This is about setting yourself goals and achieving them. Goals are complex and multi-faceted: a skilful coach will understand the nature of goals and the intricacies of knowing how and when to set them (Grant, 2019). On-going coaching sessions can provide accountability towards achieving your goals (Underhill and Edwards, 2021). 

If you’re interested in considering your own EP career goals, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What are my career ambitions?
  • What would my ideal career look like?
  • What do I want to do next, and ultimately, in my career?
  • What would I like to have, be and do in my EP career?


3. Coaching puts you first (and that’s not selfish!) 

Supervision asks: What is best for service users? What can you offer to service users? 

Coaching asks: How can you be your best self? What do you want in your career? How will you be most fulfilled? 

In my view, it is not selfish to put yourself first. ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’ and all that. The idea of pursuing ‘happiness first’ is also supported by positive psychology. In his book, ‘The Happiness Advantage,’ Shawn Achor (2011) argues that “happiness fuels success, not the other way around.” Taking steps to be your best self and find the most fulfilling career (i.e. happiness) is what enables you to provide the best services to children, schools and families (i.e. success). Coaching puts you first, and that ultimately benefits service users. 


4. Coaching helps you overcome blocks and barriers

Coaching and supervision both provide a safe, non-judgemental space. Supervision offers an emotional and supportive function, which can support with managing the emotional demands of your practice (HCPC, 2018). 

Coaching can also hold a safe space for managing emotions, especially in relation to goal achievement. Readiness to change (feeling ready), motivation to change (feeling willing) and self-efficacy (feeling able to change) are three key ingredients for achieving your goals. Coaching can support you to overcome barriers in relation to each of these, drawing upon a range of psychological approaches:  Motivational Interviewing (Miller and Rollnick, 2013), Solution-Focused Coaching (e.g. Grant, O’Connor and Studholme, 2021; O’Connell and Palmer, 2019) and Cognitive Behavioural Coaching (e.g. Neenan, 2018; Palmer and Szymanska, 2019).  


5. Coaching is coachee-led and collaborative

The above definitions of coaching refer to partnership and collaboration. These values are central to my practice – as an EP, as a supervisor and as a coach. 

Coaches are positioned as a facilitator, rather than an advisor (Willson and Bresser, 2021). I believe that coaching is about coming alongside you, letting you lead the way and working together to get to where you want to be. Coaching is non-hierarchical and does not require the coach to have greater knowledge, expertise or experience than the coachee. 

Supervision, on the other hand, tends to have a hierarchical structure. I do not think that any EPs consider ‘supervision’ as solely the managerial ‘big brother is watching you’ approach to overseeing your practice. In reality, however, most EP services (in my experience across several Local Authorities) appear to maintain a hierarchical approach to supervision: more experienced EPs are responsible for supervising less experienced EPs (and Trainee EPs). 

In coaching, a collaborative and non-hierarchical approach is consistent with principles of solution-focused approaches, in which the coachee is considered the ‘expert’ in their own life (Grant, O’Connor & ‘Studholme, 2021; O’Connell and Palmer, 2019). Solution-focused approaches to coaching also acknowledge the coachee’s existing strengths and resources, and consider that “coaching is a process of facilitation in which the coach helps the coachee uncover solutions” (Grant, O’Connor & Studholme, 2021, p. 126). This does not therefore necessitate the coach to have more experience or knowledge than the coachee: it is a collaborative and non-hierarchical relationship. 


6. Coaching is future-focused 

Both supervision and coaching can be future-focused, though there are differences. Supervision tends to focus on the immediate future, such as planning your next steps in your casework. Coaching tends to be more global and holistic and looks at the ‘bigger picture’. This may include considering your longer-term goals and aspirations, as well as your immediate next steps and medium-term milestones. Coaching always moves the coachee forward (Wilson and Bresser, 2021). In my opinion, supervision asks the ‘smaller questions’ whilst coaching asks the ‘bigger questions’. 

  • Supervision asks: “What am I doing in this casework…” (a small ‘what’) “…in order to benefit this service user?” (a small ‘why’)
  • Coaching asks: “What am I doing in my career...” (the big ‘what’) “…in order to maximise my potential and enhance my career fulfilment, so that I can maximise my impact for service users, and maybe even contribute to our profession more widely?” (the big ‘whys’)



  1. Coaching is about maximising your potential and personal growth.
  2. Coaching can help you set goals and provide you with accountability to achieve them.
  3. Investing in yourself and your career is not selfish.
  4. Using psychological models in coaching can help you overcome your blocks and barriers.
  5. Coaching is coachee-led and collaborative.
  6. Coaching can help you see the ‘bigger picture’ and find ways forward in your career.


Get in touch

If you are interested to find out more about coaching, please do get in touch. I love talking to  EPs about their career ambitions and goals. I also offer free 20-30 minute taster sessions (qualified EPs only), to see whether you think coaching might be right for you. 

WhatsApp: 07957 025 066

Email: fi@theedpsychcoach.com 




Association for Coaching (n.d.) Coaching defined. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.associationforcoaching.com/page/CoachingDefined

Carroll, M. (2011). Supervision: A journey of lifelong learning. In R. Shohet (Ed.). Supervision as transformation: A passion for learning (pp. 14-28). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Grant, A. M. (2012). An integrated model of goal-focused coaching: An evidence-based framework for teaching and practice. International coaching psychology review, 7(2), 146-165. 

Grant, A. M. (2019). Goals and coaching: An integrated evidence-based model of goal-focused coaching and coaching psychology. In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (2nd ed., pp. 34-50). Oxon: Routledge

Grant, A. M., O’Connor, S. A., & Studholme, I. (2021). Solution-focused coaching. In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: Theory, tools and techniques to achieve outstanding coaching performance (4th ed., pp. 121-142). London: Kogan Page.

HCPC Heath and Care Professions Council (2018).  https://www.hcpc-uk.org/standards/standards-of-proficiency/practitioner-psychologists/

International Coaching Federation (2020) What is coaching? Retrieved October 8, 2021, from https://www.icf-cf.com/What-is-Coaching 

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change (3rd ed.). New York: The Guildford Press. 

Neenan, M. (2018). Cognitive behavioural coaching: Distinctive features. Oxon: Routledge.

Palmer, S., & Szymanska, K. (2019). Cognitive behavioural coaching: An integrative approach. In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (2nd ed., pp. 108-127). Oxon: Routledge

O’Connell, B., & Palmer, S. (2019). Solution-focused coaching. In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds.), Handbook of coaching psychology: A guide for practitioners (2nd ed., pp. 270-281). Oxon: Routledge 

Underhill, B. O., & Edwards, L. A. (2021). Goal setting in coaching. In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: Theory, tools and techniques to achieve outstanding coaching performance (4th ed., pp. 340-356). London: Kogan Page.

Willson, C., & Bresser, F. (2021). What is coaching? In J. Passmore (Ed.), Excellence in coaching: Theory, tools and techniques to achieve outstanding coaching performance (4th ed., pp. 13-33). London: Kogan Page.


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