Part 3: Communication and Cultural Competence

Activity 3.2: Values and Cultural Competence


This activity contains a number of readings which deal with supervising students who may have different values from your own or who may come from different cultural backgrounds.

Readings for Reflection

Twelve Practical Suggestions for Achieving Multicultural Competence

Richard B. Stuart
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice
February 2004, Vol. 35, No. 1, 3–9


Multicultural competence can be defined as the ability to understand and constructively relate to the uniqueness of each client in light of the diverse cultures that influence each person’s perspective. Because the complexity of culture is often overlooked, multicultural research often inadvertently strengthens the stereotypes that it is intended to thwart. To avoid stereotypic thinking, clinicians must critically evaluate cross-cultural research and be thoughtfully creative in applying it to clinical practice. Twelve suggestions are offered for the use of multicultural research as a source of questions that enhance respect for clients’ cultural identities rather than as answers that foreclose it.

In his article, Stuart writes “there is a very fine line between sensitivity to the implications of a person’s membership in a particular group and losing sight of that person’s individuality. Linguistic convenience can easily give rise to stereotyped thinking that undermines respect for the uniqueness of individuals, the avowed goal of multiculturalism. Awareness of different cultures does provide hypotheses about what the majority of some groups may believe, but it offers scant information about any given individual.”

In his article he identifies a number of suggestions that facilitate multicultural competence. We are including a number of key points for your consideration which we have adapted for the student/supervisor relationship:

  • You have to be aware of the students unique cultural outlook as well as your own cultural biases
  • The danger of generalizing to the individual student from an entire culture. Even within a culture each individual or family member brings their own world view.
  • Develop sensitivity to cultural differences without overemphasizing them.
  • Develop a means of determining the importance of ethnic identity for each learner.
  • Respect students’ beliefs but challenge them when necessary.

The Myth of Cross-Cultural Competence
Ruth G. Dean
Families in Society, 82:6.
November/December, 2001, 623-630.

In the article, Ruth writes, “the concept of multicultural competence is flawed. I believe it to be a myth that is typically American and located in the metaphor of American “know-how.” It is consistent with the belief that knowledge brings control and effectiveness, and that this is an ideal to be achieved above all else. I question the notion that one could become “competent” at the culture of another (Goldberg, 2000). I would instead propose a model in which maintaining an awareness of one’s lack of competence is the goal rather than the establishment of competence. With “lack of competence” as the focus, a different view of practicing across cultures emerges. The client is the “expert” and the clinician is in a position of seeking knowledge and trying to understand what life is like for the client. There is no thought of competence – instead one thinks of gaining understanding (always partial) of a phenomenon that is evolving and changing.”

From Expert to Collaborator: Developing Cultural Competency

Dorbea Cary
Pamela Marques
The Clinical Supervisor
Vol. 26(1/2) 2007


The cultural competency of mental-health professionals is crucial to the provision of necessary and appropriate services to an increasingly multicultural clientele. In a clinical setting, supervisors and supervisees must form a partnership to pursue cultural competency. Through working together, they can use their cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills to benefit the diverse clientele. In this article, the authors share their experiences from teaching a 2-day workshop about cultural competency for supervisors. The goal of the workshop is to enhance supervisors’ knowledge and critical thinking, increase their awareness and sensitivity, and further their skill development in pursuit of this partnership with supervisees.

Here is an excerpt from the article:


Supervision in the clinical setting is one medium for clinicians to learn multicultural practice, that is, to acquire the cultural competency to work with a multicultural staff and clientele. However, the professional literature indicates that most supervisors are not prepared to train their staff in cross-cultural practice (Bernard & Goodyear, 2004). For example, in her study, Constantine (1997) found that, whereas 70% of the supervised therapists had received some multicultural training, 70% of the supervisors had received no such training. In another study, Gatmon et al. (2001) found a low frequency of supervisory conversations related to culture. In mental health, there exists “a serious gap in supervisor competence” and an obvious need “for systematic training of clinical supervisors in the many dimensions of multicultural interactions” (Bernard & Goodyear, 2004, p. 118).

California, in particular, is experiencing this serious gap, both in supervisor and clinician competence. The State’s tremendous demographic shifts are fueling this crisis. For example, 29 of the 30 most ethnically diverse communities in the United States are in California (Lum, 1996). In a first effort to address this critical problem of cultural competency, the California Mental Health Planning Council (2002) convened a series of focus groups comprised of Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and African American clinical social workers.

The participants in these groups identified the following points about the cultural competency of supervisors in particular: (1) the inadequate cultural competency of supervisors frequently creates disruptive, negative experiences, not only for a diverse staff, but also for the multicultural clientele receiving services; (2) supervisors must be prepared to work together with a diverse staff and to recognize the varied needs of the multicultural clientele; and (3) the target audience for any training in cultural competency, if even offered by an agency, is usually the staff, which is more likely to be diverse anyway, rather than the supervisors, who are primarily White. These concerns, although voiced by practitioners, have been echoed time and time again by our students doing field practice, an integral part of their graduate program in social work at California State University, Stanislaus.

In this regard, our students reported that they seldom discussed cultural issues or cultural values with their primarily White supervisors. In order to support the field supervisors, we organized a two-day workshop that offers training in cultural competency specifically for them. In this article, we share our experiences from teaching this workshop for the past three years.

Let’s Discuss: Values and Cultural Competence

Were any of these suggestions helpful to you? Have you considered culture when making students client assignments? Have you ever faced a situation where a student’s values were very different from your own? Do you believe that cultural competence can be taught or achieved?

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