As an Asian-American graduate student specializing in minority mental health in the early 1990s, psychologist Susana Ming Lowe, PhD, felt as though she was “flying solo.” Her goal was to treat each client by integrating issues of culture, race, sexual orientation and spirituality into therapy, but she wasn’t able to work with more than a handful of ethnic-minority clients until the last year of her doctoral training. Finding someone to guide her research was equally challenging — she didn’t meet face to face with a clinical supervisor of color until her final semester.
She tried working with her peers, but, she says, “we weren’t sure we really knew what we were doing.”
Lowe is now among a growing number of clinical supervisors of color in the United States. To support them and the students they supervise, she edited a special issue of Training and Education in Professional Psychology (Vol. 4, No. 1), which discusses the challenges of finding and being a mentor of color and the importance of discussing color and racial identity in therapy.
“Sharing Wisdom: Ethnic-minority Supervisor Perspectives” includes six personal stories by clinical supervisors from different backgrounds about the challenges of supervising trainees of another race or background. The issue also includes five articles on the latest qualitative research on the role of racial identity in supervision.
“As a collection that provides the narrative wisdom of supervisors of color, and conceptual pieces on how to use specific strategies for supervising, it will provide a handy tool for supervisor training programs,” says Lowe, who co-edited the collection with one of the journal’s associate editors, Claytie Davis III, PhD.
In one article, Fred Millán, PhD, a Latino from the State University of New York, Old Westbury, describes how a white supervisor dismissed his cultural perspective as he tried to connect with an African-American patient. He discusses how that experience has guided his own supervision, working with students to help them understand how their cultural identity affects their interactions with patients.
By contrast, Steven Murphy-Shigematsu, PhD, describes how supervisors of color can be perpetrators of discrimination if they fail to acknowledge the complex cultural identities of the students they supervise. A black student he interned with, for example, struggled during supervision because his black supervisors didn’t acknowledge the strong Irish-American identity he developed being raised by an Irish-American mother.
In a more theoretical piece, Anneliese Singh, PhD, and Kirstyn Yuk Sim Chun, PhD, propose a model of supervision for “queer people of color supervisors” that combines elements from multicultural counseling and LGBT counseling. The article includes specific questions supervisors can ask themselves about how their personal identities may influence their interactions with the people they supervise and ways to use the answers to those questions to be a better supervisor.
Davis says he plans to assign readings from the special issue to his trainees at the University of California, Berkeley, counseling center so they can appreciate the complex feelings that ethnic minority psychologists deal with when working with students as well as patients and how important it is to recognize and discuss the role race and ethnicity play in the therapist-patient relationship.
Lowe hopes the issue will resonate with all psychologists and trainees, regardless of their ethnicity.
“At the heart of each article is the idea that supervisors can provide the education, guidance and support so their students provide good, culturally appropriate therapy to anyone who comes in the door,” says Lowe.
Beth Azar is a writer in Portland, Ore.