Multicultural Competencies in Group Supervision

Lilian C. J. Wong, Ph.D.

Multicultural competency in group supervision poses greater challenges than in individual supervision, because of the additional considerations of intra-group dynamics and cultural sensitivity between group members. For example, a supervisor’s critique of an ethnic minority supervisee might be more injurious to that student whose culture is more concerned about shame and saving face than the Western culture. Furthermore, any member in a supervision group may unintentionally harm a minority student by making offensive statements because of a lack of multicultural competence.

Research on Multicultural Competencies in group supervision remains very scanty. In Wong’s (2000) study of visible minority students, students reported anxiety about being a minority, feeling unsafe in group supervision, and experiencing unease in self-disclosure. One main hindering factor is the lack of Multicultural competencies on the part of the supervisors and the insensitivity of the group members.

For this Roundtable, I want to pose the following questions for discussion:

  1. What kind of specific competencies are needed to improve cross-cultural communications?

Wong and Wong (1999) have identified several multicultural competencies important for cross-cultural supervision:

  1. Attitudes and beliefs – Demonstrate openness and respect for culturally different supervisees.

  2. Knowledge and understanding – Show knowledge and understanding of the worldviews and cultural traditions of supervisees and clients.

  3. Skills and practices – Demonstrate awareness of cultural biases in assessments tools and clinical judgments; know how to use culturally sensitive and appropriate interventions.

  4. Relationship – Ability to overcome culture and language barriers and working with minority students and clients.

  1. How can a supervisor and group members give honest feedback without offending and harming minority students based on ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation?

Use “I” statements and emphasize that “this is my personal opinion, which may not be correct.” Avoid making strong statements in a definitive, authoritative manner. Make an effort not to use accusative statements and make other people defensive.

  1. Is it possible that political correctness and zero tolerance may undermine the effectiveness of group supervision?

Political correctness and zero tolerance can stifle open dialogue and hinder group supervision. Encourage supervisees and tolerate different views which may be perfectly legitimate in one culture but politically incorrect in North American.

  1. How can we educate students and train supervisors to be more tolerant of culturally different views?

It is important to take a relativistic stance, because each culture has its own norms regarding what is socially acceptable and desirable. We can emphasize the importance of cultural empathy as described by Ridley & Udipi (2002).

  1. What specific training is needed for students to manage their own negative emotional reactions to diverse cultural beliefs and practices that offend and threaten their own?

It is natural that we react emotionally practices and beliefs of other cultures, because of a lack of familiarity and/or clash our own beliefs and moral sensitivity. However, professionally, we cannot let our own gut feelings dictate our actions and practices. We need to recognize our feelings of discomfort and then later on address these feelings in an objective manner.


  1. Which supervision theory is most promising in improving Multicultural competencies in group supervision?

Personally, I believe that the mentoring model (Wong, 2000) is most promising, but the most comprehensive theory has to be multicultural counselling theory (Sue, Ivey, & Pedersen, 1996).

  1. What is the best strategy to reduce or manage group conflicts resulting from controversial cultural issues?

The best strategy is to keep the temperature down by (a) not taking side on the issue, (b) reminding the group to put ego and feelings aside in order to confront the issues rationally and academically.


Ridley, C. R., & Udipi, S. (2002). Putting cultural empathy into practice. In P. B. Pedersen, J. G. Draguns, W. J. Lonner, & J. Trimble (eds.), Counseling across cultures (5th ed., pp. 317-333). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers.

Sue, D. W., Ivey, A. E., & Pedersen, P. B. (eds.) (1996). A theory of multicultural counseling and therapy. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

Wong, L. C. J. (2000). What helps and hinders in cross-cultural clinical supervision: A critical incident study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Wong, P. T. P., & Wong, L. C. J. (1999). Assessing multicultural supervision competencies. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, D. K. Forgays, & S. A. Hayes (eds.), Merging pat, present, and future in cross-cultural psychology, (pp. 510-519). Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers.

Please address correspondence to:

Lilian C. J. Wong, Ph.D.

Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute, Inc.

13 Ballyconnor Court

Toronto, ON M2M 4C5



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