ERIC Identifier: ED372346
Publication Date: 1994-04-00
Author: Fong, Margaret L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.

Multicultural Issues in Supervision. ERIC Digest.

Perhaps two of the most important changes within counseling and counselor education in the past twenty years have been (a) recognition of the need for a multicultural perspective in all aspects of counseling and education and (b) the evolution of supervision models and practices. Recently, these changes culminated in two sets of competency and standards statements that will most certainly guide counselor preparation and evaluation of counselor practice. The Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (AMCD) approved a document outlining multicultural counseling competencies and standards (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, l992) and the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES, 1990) adopted comprehensive standards for eleven aspects of counseling supervision. Now counselors are recognizing the need to consider multicultural issues in supervision and methods of multicultural supervision.

The multicultural perspective will become essential as we move into the twenty-first century. It is projected that by the year 2010 twelve of our most populous states, containing about half of the nation's young people, will have significant minority populations (Hodgkinson, l992). Thus, the supervision triad of client, counselor, and supervisor will most likely contain persons of differing racial-ethnic backgrounds who are confronting problems and concerns in a diverse social environment.

Controversy surrounds the inclusiveness or exclusiveness of the term multicultural so, for clarity, multicultural in this paper will be defined as in the AMCD Standards (Sue et al., 1992), referring to visible racial-ethnic groups, African-Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and Whites. Currently, very little descriptive and even less research literature on multicultural supervision is available (Leong & Wagner, in press). This paper will summarize two different aspects of multicultural supervision: the inclusion of multicultural issues during supervision and the multicultural supervisory relationship.


Bernard and Goodyear (1992) advocated that the supervisor is responsible for assuring that multicultural issues receive attention in supervision. Generally, whenever the client is a minority group member, and sometimes when either the supervisee or supervisor is a minority person, supervisors will recognize the relevance of addressing cultural concerns. However, all counseling and supervision contacts have cultural, racial-ethnic aspects which shape core assumptions, attitudes, and values of the persons involved and which may enhance or impede counselor effectiveness. Majority cultural patterns and the culture of counseling and psychotherapy are often accepted by the supervisor and counselor without thought, what Bernard and Goodyear (1992) label the "myth of sameness" (p. 195). Recent work on white racial identity (Rowe, Bennett, & Atkinson, l994) has underscored the need for majority counselors to develop an awareness of being White and what that implies in relation to those who do not share White group membership. Thus, regardless of apparent "sameness", at some point in all supervision, and preferably early in the process, multicultural issues must be explored.

Logical extensions of this view of multicultural supervision are models that advocate supervision as a method to assist multicultural counselor development. As reviewed by Leong and Wagner (in press), these models propose that supervisees move in stages from minimal racial-ethnic awareness, to awareness of discrepancies between cultures and within self, and then to development of a multicultural identity. The supervisor's role is to promote supervisee growth by challenging cultural assumptions, encouraging emotional expression, and validating conflict of attitudes and values. These multicultural models lack empirical support, but seem to integrate well with developmental models of supervision (Bernard & Goodyear, l992) and direct the supervisor to assess the multicultural awareness level of each supervisee.

A number of supervision techniques have been proposed to insure that the cultural dimension is addressed, though none have research support (Bernard & Goodyear, l992; Leong & Wagner, in press). Planned discussion of culture and the culture of counseling; exploration of supervisee and supervisor cultural backgrounds; required use of videotape (which provides visual recording of nonverbal cultural components); modeling by the supervisor; inclusion of cultural considerations on all intake, case management, and other written supervision reports; and experiential exercises are methods that can be used in individual and group supervision.


While the above section dealt with the multicultural "content" of supervision, the multicultural supervisory relationship is the "process" of supervision. ACES counseling supervision standard 4 (1990) addresses the knowledge and skills related to the supervisory relationship. Only one substandard of nine (Standard 4.1) directly addresses multicultural issues, noting the "supervisor demonstrates knowledge of individual differences with respect to gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and age and understands the importance of these characteristics in supervisory relationships" (p. 30). The second half of Standard 4.1 is the difficult piece, as there is a paucity of empirical knowledge about the dynamics and experiences of the multicultural supervisory relationship. Leong and Wagner (in press), critiqued the four studies published to date and concluded: (1) race can have a profound influence on the supervisory process, particularly in terms of trainee's expectations for supervisor empathy, respect, and congruence, (2) race can influence a trainee's perception of supervisor liking, and (3) there are some circumstances under which race does not seem to influence supervision.(p. 20)

These conclusions point to the critical importance of the initial sessions in the multicultural supervisory relationship. Cultural differences in worldview and communication styles may particularly affect supervisee perceptions of the supervisor as supportive and empathic. Such perceptions have been associated with satisfaction in multicultural supervision (Leong & Wagner, in press). Early discussion of supervisor and supervisee racial-ethnic backgrounds and expectations about supervision may help establish a base for the development of trust and empathy.

Another critical dimension of the multicultural supervisory relationship is the management of power. The supervisor is viewed as having expertise and has the responsibility of evaluating the supervisee, both contributing to an unavoidable power differential in the relationship. In situations of a minority supervisee and a White supervisor or a White supervisee and a minority supervisor, both participants may attribute power to majority group membership. This additional perceived power differential and past experiences with power abuses by Whites may make trust formation difficult and result in cautious, guarded communication. This, in turn, may result in the opposite of the personal self-disclosure and openness to feedback required in supervision.

Early and recurring discussion of supervisor and supervisee expectations of performance, orientation as to how to best use supervision, and clear statements of evaluation criteria are methods to promote fairness and share the evaluative power. Such discussions should be coupled with exploration of how expectations of performance and perceptions of fairness in evaluation may be altered by each person's cultural background. The supervisor will need to continue to consider the influence of minority experiences of oppression and prejudice on perceptions of power throughout the supervision process.


While there is some convergence of opinion, the identified issues and suggestions for interventions in multicultural supervision are currently based on personal experiences rather than empirical study. A consistent theme in the literature is the critical role of the supervisor: in promoting cultural awareness; in identifying cultural influences on client behavior, on counselor-client interactions, and on the supervisory relationship; and in providing culture-sensitive support and challenge to the supervisee. This is a daunting responsibility! As all supervision is some form of multicultural supervision, supervisors will need to be proficient in the multicultural competencies identified by Sue et al. (1992). All supervisors-in-training should work with supervisees from racial-ethnic groups other than their own and receive supervision of multicultural supervision. Likewise, experienced supervisors will need to seek continuing education, consultation, and focused supervision of supervision with a multicultural emphasis to meet gaps in experience and education.


Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. (1990). Standards for counseling supervisors. Journal of Counseling and Development, 69, 30-32.

Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (1992) Fundamentals of clinical supervision. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Hodgkinson, H. L. (1992). A demographic look at tomorrow. Washington D.C.: Institute for Educational Leadership.

Leong, F. T. & Wagner, N. M. (in press). Cross-cultural supervision: What do we know? What do we need to know? Counselor Education and Supervision.

Rowe, W., Bennett, S. K., & Atkinson, D. R. (1994). White racial identity models: A critique and alternative proposal. The Counseling Psychologist, 22, 129-146.

Sue, D. W., Arredondo, P., & McDavis, R. J. (1992). Multicultural counseling competencies and standards: A call to the profession. Journal of Counseling and Development, 70, 477-486.

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