Reflections on using a transcultural supervision exercise to support culturally sensitive supervision
In this blog post, we reflect on our use of a transcultural supervision exercise adapted for use with Burnham’s (2012) ‘Social GGRRAAACCEEESSS’ framework to support.
The context of the supervision is between Anita, an academic and professional tutor at the University of Birmingham and two of the trainees she works with, Haley and Tara. Here, we share our experiences of the activity, which we have done twice, and our reflections on the process.
You can read more about the transcultural supervision activity as we’ve created a separate post to describe the activity that we worked through.
Background to the transcultural supervision exercise
Tara, Haley and I have been exploring the use of a transcultural supervision exercise in our supervision sessions firstly in December 2019 and more recently, adapted using the SOCIAL GGRRAAACCEEESSS framework, in October 2021. This is through undertaking an activity together from Hawkins and Shohet (2012) to help us become more aware of our own and each other’s cultural perspectives and to work in a culturally sensitive way. Hawkins and Shohet (2012) remind us to think about the following;
- It is important to become consciously aware of our own culture.
- All cultures are equally valid, but as we operate within different cultures, we may hold different values and assumptions. Habitual ways of thinking can arise from cultural assumptions.
- It is good to be open and sensitive to the differences that may arise, by both taking an interest in other cultures and areas of difference, whilst never assuming we fully understand the cultural world of another person. This means we start with an interest in finding out from others, whilst accepting our own not knowing.
Haley, Tara and I tried this activity towards the end of their first term in university, in December 2019, and have reflected on how it felt. Initially it felt difficult and nerve-wracking. I was keen to try but worried about disclosing too much and pressuring Haley and Tara to reveal more than they wanted, so we discussed the importance of only sharing what you’re happy to share.
March 2020: Reflections on undertaking a transcultural supervision activity without a particular framework
Once I heard Anita share freely about various aspects of her life, it made me feel comfortable and confident that it was a safe space for me to do likewise. This set the tone so we could all share without being judged. I think being able to share aspects of what makes me ‘me’ is important to enable understanding my values and thinking. It made me consciously aware of what was important to me in terms of culture and my assumptions so that I can be accepting and sensitive to others too.
After hearing both Anita and Tara sharing their culture, I felt that I was able to begin to understand what brought them to where they are today and gained insight into their cultures although far from knowing it all! Although it was really useful to explore which areas of our cultures were similar, it was even more interesting to explore what areas were different. This is because during future supervision, it can help to highlight why we may have different interpretations of the same concept or situation and learn from other points of views. Therefore elevating supervision to be reflective of our own thoughts and reasons as well another person’s thoughts and reasons.
I valued listening about both Haley’s and Anita’s culture and the aspects they considered to be important to them. It gave me insight into their unique journeys to their current positions. Additionally, I gained understanding into aspects of their life they deemed significant and through the discussion was able to compare and contrast this with my own experiences. Listening to both Haley’s and Anita’s accounts made me aware of how much I could learn from them as their experiences differed from my own.
The experience was a structured and safe method in which I could share aspects of my life that I wanted to be known. The discussion made me aware of how my experiences and culture impacted my views and beliefs, and how these have changed over time.
I enjoyed the experience very much though discussion with friends and colleagues has suggested that some people may find it difficult to reflect on their culture. This is something that resonated with me as everyone has a culture, it just may be that some cultures are embedded in the norms of society which some may see as harder to recognise. I believe that trans-cultural supervision would help colleagues to recognise their culture and how they may impact on professional and academic practice.
I was nervous about both (over) sharing my view of my culture and whether I was pressuring Tara and Haley to do something we may later regret. I was aware once the words were out there that I couldn’t pull them back. I had my go first, and whilst aware this may be too leading, it was asking too much of Tara or Haley to expect them to go first. I quickly became aware of my focus on visible aspects of myself, being Indian and a woman, but was keen to shift beyond this, explaining about my schooling, professional journey, even my political leanings.
When listening to Tara and Haley, I realised that I may have found some of this out over time, but how good to have it here, openly and transparently. I became more aware of them both as individuals with values and views, rather than simply as students who I was supervising. I also became aware of their cultural strengths and experiences, what we had experienced that was similar, but also importantly what was different and how we could use this in reflecting on practice.
Later I reflected, that it had deepened our supervisory relationship and we were more likely to share what made us question or become emotional, and truly engage in some deeper discussions that I had had as early in my previous experience of supervisory relationships.
October 2021: Reflections when integrating the use of the Social GRACES framework
I found using the Social GRACES added further depth to the activity. The first time we completed the activity, I tended focus on either areas that were mentioned by someone else or those that were more apparent to me. However, with the using the Social GRACES as a framework, I reflected on areas which were not so obvious to me and so could be considered my unconscious biases.
Now they have been raised, it is something I will consider when talking about my feelings or approaches in work with children, young people and their families. We were also able to reflect a bit more about our differences and similarities and how these could improve on the supervisory relationship, which is always so important regardless of how long we have known each other.
I agree with Haley, using the framework added much more depth to the activity. The Social GRACES framework aided my thinking about culturally significant aspects of my life and the impact this has on my worldview, practice and supervision. It encouraged my response to be more personal, whereas previously, I modelled my response on Anita’s sharing of her culture.
The framework provided more structure to the activity making it less intimidating and adding a sense of security and so may be particularly beneficial for individuals who are still building trusting supervisory relationships. One disadvantage of using the framework to support the transcultural supervision activity is it could limit people’s responses and there may be aspects that people want to discuss and share such as their place in the family or their political views.
I agree with Tara and Haley that the Social GRACES framework added a structure and a further dimension to enable me to reflect. It helped me understand more about myself, Haley and Tara, and where we have similarities and differences. I also became more aware of where my oppressive practice and biases may lie as there are aspects such as employment that I take for granted and may be judgemental towards others. It was interesting for us to consider if we had shared unconscious biases and how this may mean we unknowingly accept certain ways of thinking and need to take greater care to consider this dimension.
We all valued trying out the transcultural supervision activity, helping us reflect on how aspects of our lives have impacted on our views and values which in turn influences on each of our practices, both professionally and academically. We felt it made our supervision and in turn our practice more culturally sensitive, responsive and aware.
Read more about the transcultural supervision activity that Anita, Haley and Tara used in their supervision sessions.
Burnham, J., Palma, D. A. & Whitehouse, L. (2008). Learning as a context for differences and differences as a context for learning, Journal of Family Therapy, 30 (4), 529–542.
Burnham, J. (2012). ‘Developments in the Social GGRRAAACCEEESSS: Visibleinvisible and voiced-unvoiced’ in Krause I (ed) Culture and Reflexivity in Systemic Psychotherapy: Mutual Perspectives. London: Karnac.
Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R. (2012). Supervision in the helping professions (3rd ed) Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill