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Ethics of Cross-Cultural Supervision
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By Rashida Fisher, MS, LPCC, LADC, Adler Graduate School; MARRCH Ethics Committee

We live in an increasingly diverse society. The United States is sometimes described as a melting pot concerning multiculturalism. A better analogy is that of a good salad; varying distinct ingredients mixed. The different cultures of the United States are still very distinct; when combined, they effect significant change that is palatable.With increased diversity, clients’ supervisors need to ensure that culture is discussed in supervision to promote ethical and competent multicultural counselors (Falender, Burnes, & Ellis, 2013). Counselors possessing higher levels of multicultural counseling competence are more effective with their clients compared to counselors scoring at lower levels of competency (Ratts et al., 2016). Similarly, Blair et al. (2013) found clinicians’ implicit bias may jeopardize their clinical relationships. Additionally, counselors have an ethical obligation to develop multicultural counseling competence as a way to promote social justice and decrease health disparities in psychological wellness (Ratts et al., 2016). The NAADAC Association for Addiction Professionals Code of Ethics (2016) requires addiction professionals to promote respect for human dignity and diversity through (a) knowledge, and awareness of cultures’ impact on wellbeing, (b) expression of cultural humility that maintains an other-oriented attitude, and (c) maintain self-awareness that ensures avoidance of discrimination and imposition of the professional's values.

Fostering the development of multicultural counseling competency begins with cross-cultural supervision. Cross-cultural supervision allows the supervisee to gain the requisite knowledge, awareness, and skills of multicultural counseling competencies. Cross-cultural supervision explores the role of culture in the counselor-client relationship and the supervisor-supervisee relationship. Best practices suggest supervisors raise the issue of race and culture as a first step toward establishing a constructive relationship based on mutual respect. The literature suggests multicultural counseling competencies are not fostered consistently due to clinical supervisors’ limited multicultural counseling competence. Ellis et al. (2014) found the absence of multicultural competencies negatively impacted the counselor.

The ethical implications of inadequate and harmful supervision are substantial, as our first ethical obligation is to do no harm and promote client welfare (NAADAC, 2016). Beyond modeling, the gatekeeper function is the chief responsibility of clinical supervisors. The gatekeeper role of the clinical supervisor holds an added layer of ethical obligation of modeling standards by which addiction professionals and emerging addiction professionals are evaluated. The addiction counseling profession has a growing need to address multicultural issues as an integral part of addiction treatment, student training, and clinical supervision. The supervisor is responsible for guaranteeing that multicultural issues receive attention in the counseling process and during supervision. Cross-cultural supervision is imperative for the development of ethical and competent multicultural counselors.


Association for Addiction Professionals (2016). NAADAC Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

Blair, I. V., Steiner, J. F., Fairclough, D. L., Hanratty, R., Price, D. W., Hirsh, H. K., & Havranek, E. P. (2013). Clinicians' implicit ethnic/racial bias and perceptions of care among Black and Latino patients. Annals Of Family Medicine, 11(1), 43-52.

Boysen, G. A. (2010). Integrating implicit bias into counselor education. Counselor Education & Supervision, 49(4), 210-227.

Cameron, C., Payne, B., & Knobe, J. (2010). Do theories of implicit race bias change moral judgments? Social Justice Research, 23(4), 272-289. doi:10.1007/s11211-010-0118-z

Corey, G., Corey, M.S., Corey, C., & Callanan, P. (2015). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (9th ed.). Stamford, CT. Cengage Learning.

Dressel, J. L., Consoli, A. J., Kim, B. S. K., & Atkinson, D. R. (2007). Successful and unsuccessful multicultural supervisory behaviors: A delphi poll. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 35 (1), 51–64.

Ellis, M. V., Berger, L., Hanus, A. E., Ayala, E. E., Swords, B. A., & Siembor, M. (2014). Inadequate and harmful clinical supervision: Testing a revised framework and assessing occurrence. The Counseling Psychologist, 42(4), 434-472.

Falender, C. A., Burnes, T. R., & Ellis, M. V. (2013). Multicultural clinical supervision and benchmarks: Empirical support informing practice and supervisor training. The Counseling Psychologist, 41 (1), 8-27.

Ratts, M. J., Singh, A. A., Nassar‐McMillan, S., Butler, S. K., & McCullough, J. R. (2016). Multicultural and social justice counseling competencies: Guidelines for the counseling profession. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 44(1), 28-48.

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