Mastering Mentoring Series Part Two: Traditional Versus Emerging Models

By: Sana Ali, MD 

Mentoring is characterized by the bidirectional exchange of knowledge and skills to promote professional growth and personal gratification. Through meaningful partnerships in learning, Muslim mental health professionals are well equipped to support students, trainees, young professionals and peers. 

This article provides an overview of Mentorship, Coaching, and Supervision as conceptual learning frameworks supported by evidence-based literature. 

Mentorship, Coaching, Supervision – Modern Learning Models

Take a moment to recall people who were effective in helping you learn something new or challenging. Who taught you to write a thank you note upon receiving a gift? How did you learn to negotiate a salary? When did you learn emotional intelligence? Throughout our lives, we actively and passively learn from many people, in many places, and through many experiences. 

Much like therapy, a productive partnership is all about boundaries and fit. Agreeing on the who, when, where, how and why determines how transformative the experience is. Likewise, the more you know about different models of relational learning, the more you gain from transferable learning.

MentoringCoachingSupervising
DefinitionA relationship between a more experienced (i.e., mentor) and a less experienced (i.e., protégé or mentee) person intended to advance the personal and professional growth of the less experienced individual. 1A process of a one-on-one relationship between a professional coach and the person coached (executive, coachee) for the purpose of enhancing behavioral change through self-awareness and learning, and thus ultimately for the success of the individual and the organization1A senior, professionally credentialled supervisor formally providing relationship‐based, treatment‐focused psychotherapy education and training to junior colleagues/trainees about their ongoing therapeutic work.2

Supervision

Similar to how clinical rounds serve as the signature pedagogy for medical education, psychotherapy supervision serves as the signature pedagogy for psychotherapy education. 

Supervision’s purposes include:

  • developing and enhancing supervisee conceptual/treatment skills
  • developing and solidifying the supervisee’s sense of identity as a psychotherapist
  • developing the supervisee’s conviction about the meaningfulness of psychotherapy itself
  • monitoring supervisee treatment efforts and safeguarding patient care 4, 5, 6

In essence, supervision is a process that primarily utilizes the principles of coaching and role modelling to meet its goals.(7-14) Clinical or psychotherapy supervision often borrows techniques from mentoring and coaching, however mentoring and coaching are not an appropriate substitute for supervision. 

Unlike coaching and mentoring, supervisory relationships are specifically hierarchical.16 When a trainee is dependent upon a supervisor for academic progression and career advancement, a trusting relationship between supervisor and trainee may pose a challenge (16) compared to that of a trusting relationship within mentoring and coaching.

While supervision primarily faces competing tensions between service and education demands [17, 18], supervision, mentorship, and coaching all face organizational issues, such as lack of a consistent standard of training, support, and resource limitation. 19

MentoringCoachingSupervising
ExpertiseMentors are experts in industryCoaches are experts in skillsetSupervisors are senior colleagues within the practice
ApproachMostly InformalSometimes FormalFormalMostly FormalSometimes Informal
StrategicSkillsSkills
Development DrivenPerformance DrivenDevelopment/ Performance Driven
FocusProcess-FocusedProblem-FocusedPsychotherapy-specific Focused
Relationship-Oriented;Mutually BeneficialTask-OrientedProvider Confidence Patient Outcomes

Coaching 

Coaching can be defined as a relationship between a professional coach and an executive (i.e., coachee) for the purpose of enhancing behavioral change through self-awareness and learning, and thus ultimately for the success of the individual and the organization.20

The coaching paradigm is thus: 

  • coachee performs task or activity, or applies his or her knowledge and training in a pre‐constructed real or simulated scenario
  • coach observes coachee and uses a combination of provocation, questioning, challenging and encouragement to help the coachee achieve an improved performance 
  • coachee performs activity again
  • cycle is repeated

The purpose of this paradigm is to generate a measurably improved performance. 21, 22, 23

Coaches give formative assessments and iterative feedback immediately after observing behaviors to help the coachee discover what does and does not work, as well as to inspire the learner to reach his or her maximum potential. 24 The cycle of observation–feedback recurs until the learner attains his or her best possible performance.

Coaching is unique from mentorship and supervision in that it is a paid career in itself. Coaching techniques are applied based on the specific needs of the client at that particular instance in time. Oftentimes, coaches may not have successful experience in their respective coaching arenas, nor is it necessary. Coaches are sought out for their expertise on excelling at the parts that make up the whole, not for their expertise of the whole. 

Coaching differs from mentorship in that it does not focus on knowledge transmission, advice, or counselling. Rather, it emphasizes aims and outcomes instead of processes.25 Supervision measures success by increased competency, whereas coaching revolves around the idea of the “even better performance” and achieving one’s “personal best”. 26

The byproduct of a core performance-based approach is improvement of non-technical skills, including decision making, teamworking, and reflective practice. Coaching has also been found to significantly reduce rates of “failure to progress” and increase one’s ability to troubleshoot problems.27 Although ‘personal best’ is not the motto for mentorship or supervision, there are evident advantages appreciated by all three disciplines in encouraging individuals to constantly improve.28

Mentorship 

Mentor, the man and the concept, first appeared in Homer’s Odyssey. In search of Odysseus, his son Telemachus receives advice from the goddess Athena in the guise of Odysseus’ old and trusted comrade, Mentor. This early demonstration of the value of mentorship has expanded to include numerous accepted definitions to describe the exchange of information that allows a mentor and mentee to appreciate the other as a whole person29.

The relational and reciprocal outcomes of mentorship, such as personal growth, interdependence and connectedness 30 are demonstrated through the following:31, 32

  • career guidance
    • vision building, goal-setting, review of goal progression
    • reflection and exploration of interests, abilities, beliefs, and ideas
    • challenge decisions or avoidance of decisions 
  • skill development 
    • educate, evaluate, and challenge academically and professionally
    • provide training and resources
    • research, clinical, and academic skills
  • sponsorship
    • public acknowledgment of achievements, advocacy for opportunity
    • expansion and optimization of professional network
    • protection from harsh 
  • psychological + emotional support
    • encourage, motivate, actively listen, help with problem solving
  • role-modelling
    • a guide for behavior, values, attitudes

Mentoring can develop informally as a relationship that evolves naturally over time toward mentoring commitments, or formally as an assigned mentoring relationship.34  And, unlike the coaching dynamic, mentorship has the possibility to evolve into a peer relationship.35

Mentors do not have to be in a superior power position. One may easily be mentored by someone who possesses the needed skill or competence but is several levels below in the organizational hierarchy. 

Perhaps one stark contrast between mentorship and other learning processes is its inherent emphasis on mutual benefit. Compared to coaching and supervision, mentorship is more of a transformative, holistic process. Sharing lessons learned through personal and professional experiences offers a demonstration of critical-thinking and problem-solving that can be applicable regardless of circumstance.

ProcessMentoringCoachingSupervising
ThoughtMy experience is…What skills will help you get from point A to point BIs provider well-acclimated; Are patients receiving appropriate care
Communication“When I was in a similar situation, I did…”“What have you tried doing? How has that helped or not helped?What if you try it this other way.”“What is the most important issue here for us to address in supervision?”
ActionGuidance + AdviceChallenge + AssessCase Conceptualization, Case Discussions

This concept cloud demonstrates the relational spectrum between Coaching, Supervision, and Mentorship:

Partnership Philosophy

Despite the considerable overlap that exists between mentorship, coaching, and supervision, they are distinctly valuable entities. The main point to remember is that all three models are grounded in a partnership philosophy. Collaborative partnerships reduce the friction of hierarchy and enhance bidirectional growth while maintaining healthy boundaries.

As Muslim mental health professionals, engagement in meaningful learning partnerships is vital to the visibility and advancement of the muslim mental health workforce. A foundational understanding of these learning processes will hopefully empower you to collaborate with someone whose partnership philosophy best suits your goals. Whether you are seeking, receiving, or offering guidance, proficiency in these relational models facilitates better management of expectations and the successful transfer of learning.

Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: 

“The Believer to the Believer is like a solid building, one part supporting the other.” 

(Bukhari and Muslim)

About the Author:

Dr. Sana F. Ali is a drug safety and pharmacovigilance medical doctor. An appreciation for biopsychosocial interventions for older adults with mental health and cognitive disorders propels her interest in geriatric psychiatry. A passion for health equity and bioethics underscores her clinical and research work in global health, primary care and community medicine. She is a frequent guest speaker on topics surrounding mental health, wilderness and rural medicine, and preventative medicine. Dr. Ali serves as the Director of Mentorship at the Institute for Muslim Mental Health, and she champions personal and professional growth, mentorship, and community for Muslim mental health providers.