Thinking about trans-cultural supervision and working with difference

By Haley Fong, Tara Janda and Anita Soni

man wearing white top in front of woman wearing blue long sleeved top

Photo by Christina Morillo on



In this blog post we explore the concept of trans-cultural supervision and how we have used this in our practice. The context of the supervision is between Anita who is an academic and professional tutor and two of her Year 1 trainees: Haley and Tara. Here they share their use of experiences of trans-cultural supervision.


Anita: Tara, Haley and I have been exploring trans-cultural supervision in our sessions 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 remind us to bear in mind the following;

  1. It is important to become conscious of our own culture.
  2. 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.
  3. It is good to be sensitive and open to the differences that may arise, by both taking an interest in other cultures and areas of difference, whilst never assuming we understand the cultural world of another person. This means we start with an interest in finding out from the others whilst accepting our own not knowing.

The Activity

In order to explore our cultures we used the following activity:

Person A explain to Person B What I would like you to know about my cultural background is… (where cultural background is interpreted in the widest sense and so can include many aspects of a person’s life that they think is relevant).

Person B listen carefully to Person A and recounts what they have heard.

Person A listens to Person B and clarifies, corrects any misunderstandings, adds further information

Person B then reflects how this may relate to the supervisory relationship.

The roles are then reversed and Person B then explains to Person A about their cultural background, and the following steps are repeated.

The discussion ends with considering what might be the same about each other, and where there are overlaps.

Haley, Tara and I tried this activity towards the end of their first term in university and have reflected on how it felt. Initially we all felt unsure and apprehensive but decided to give it a go.



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 sets the tone so that we know we can share our thoughts and background without being judged. I think being able to share aspects of what makes me ‘me’ is so important to enable understanding my values and thinking. Also, it made me consciously aware of what was important to me in terms of culture. It is important for me to be aware of 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 their background and 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. In that sense, we can learn from other points of views and engage in thought-provoking discussions based on these. Therefore, it elevates supervision to another level as we can 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, such as my school experience, previous jobs, and my family’s religious background of my life, 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.

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 agreed it was an activity we would engage in again!

Tara and Haley are in the first year of the initial training course at the University of Birmingham. Anita is one of the course tutors.


Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R. (2012) ‘Supervision in the helping professions’ (3rd ed) Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill

Developing Supervision Champions

By Anita Soni

Supervision plays a central role for the helping professions. For educational psychologists, this is demonstrated in the guidance from the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychologists and the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC). Despite this, it can be difficult to come to shared agreement as definitions of supervision vary between and within professional groups.

This was something we discussed during the supervision course for educational psychologists held at the University of Birmingham over 4 days from November 2018 to June 2019. The key word that continually cropped up was “reflection”. As educational psychologists we are all seeking to become reflective practitioners and supervision is a key mechanism that enables this. However reflection itself is not an easy concept and can be defined in differing ways.

Helpfully, in June 2019, the Chief Executives of the statutory regulators of the health and care professionals (including the HCPC) issued a joint statement of support that sets out a common expectation that health and care professionals should be reflective practitioners. The HCPC emphasises that registrants should engage in continuing professional development that enables learning and reflection. Within the joint statement, reflection is defined as ‘… the thought process where individuals consider their experiences to gain insight about their whole practice. Reflection supports individuals to continually improve the way they work or the quality of care they give people.’

The joint statement goes on to offer advice on how reflection can become more effective and identifies four components of good reflection including:

  • Reflection is something to engage in willingly, and should not be seen as a bureaucratic chore.
  • Systematic approaches to reflection that aim to draw out learning are more effective.
  • The value of reflecting on positive and negative experiences.
  • The focus of reflection should be on the service users, their families and carers.

These four components are helpful when considering supervision, as this too benefits from being undertaken as a willing endeavour, from the use of structured approaches, including successes and failures and being service user focused.

It is important to recognise that reflection can be difficult and challenging to undertake. Trainee educational psychologists and their supervisors spend a great deal of time in supervision and reflection and supervision take commitment, time, openness and honesty. Indeed it can be a challenge to talk about what has gone wrong, or what may be emotionally challenging and so there can be a temptation to stay on safe ground.

During our supervision course, we discuss how supervision can be a relatively hidden and private practice, as we generally we don’t see how others do it. As part of the course we encourage participants to bring videos of their supervisor to share. Initially, the thought of sharing videos of supervision was challenging, as it can be uncomfortable to see and hear yourself. Nonetheless, once we started sharing video and audio recording, it became easier and we learned from watching, listening and discussing how to enable good supervision, indeed we reflected on our supervisory practices, and became supervision champions!

If you are interested in reading the full joint statement issued in June 2019, it can be found here.

If you are an educational psychologist and are interested in thinking further about supervision, developing your skills and knowledge, and becoming a supervision champion, why not come to the four day BPS accredited course at the University of Birmingham? Let me know if you’re interested through email at

Anita is a tutor on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.

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