…and what it might have to do with Supervision.
Journalists trying to grapple with the various claims and counter-claims made by both sides in the US election, and in the Brexit campaign, have coined the term ‘post-truth’ to try to describe discussions that seem to bear only a tenuous link to reality. We know that in a war, even a political one, the first casualty is truth and lies are weaponised. But there remains beneath the hurly-burly the question: what is ‘truth’?
Since the pre-Socratic philosophers – notably Parmenides – and later Plato (with his allegory of the cave in which shadows represent our perceptions) the idea that there is a difference between what we can perceive and reality has been a key theme in Western and Eastern thought. It reached its apogee in Kant’s dualistic model: what we can perceive (phenomena) and underlying ‘things in themselves’ (noumena) which we can’t. In the 19th century, Nietzsche developed this idea to the point where he could write ‘there is no such thing as truth, there is only perspective’. So what has to pass as truth may be subjective, or inter-subjective, if a number of people agree on a perception. (The notoriously conflicting witness statements on the same event tend to bear this out, as do varying historical and journalistic accounts.)
So far, so pretentious, some may say. But…..the whole issue of what is ‘real’ and how far we can approach it is central to supervision (and coaching) and to the art from which they draw so much inspiration, psychoanalysis. Virtually all psychoanalytic theorists, from Freud to Lacan, have posited a realm that we are not aware of – the unconscious – but which has a major effect on our feelings, thoughts and actions. It is only through analysis, therapy, or to a lesser but still powerful degree, supervision and coaching, that we can begin to approach this dimension, without of course fully understanding it.
In supervision (as in therapy and analysis), ‘truth’ is essentially a matter of what his/her experience means to the supervisee, arrived at through a dialogue with the supervisor and an emergent, new version of ‘reality’ that seems to make sense to both. Through questions and hypotheses, the supervisor explores with the coach underlying elements which bear on important themes and issues, including the relationship with the coach itself. In this way, what Bollas called ‘the unthought known’, a hitherto unconscious truth, is disinterred and revealed. New perceptions that shed light on a client’s experience evoke a kind of epiphany and a feeling of liberation – and create a way forward.
James Mackay is Co-Founder and Director of the Tavistock Institute’s course in Supervision for Coaching and Consultancy.
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