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Reflective Practices for Engaging in Trauma-Informed Culturally Competent
Article in Smith College Studies in Social Work · March 2018
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Smith College Studies in Social Work
ISSN: 0037-7317 (Print) 1553-0426 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wscs20
Reflective Practices for Engaging in Trauma-
Informed Culturally Competent Supervision
Rani Varghese, Laura Quiros & Roni Berger
To cite this article: Rani Varghese, Laura Quiros & Roni Berger (2018): Reflective Practices for
Engaging in Trauma-Informed Culturally Competent Supervision, Smith College Studies in Social
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00377317.2018.1439826
Published online: 07 Mar 2018.
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Reflective Practices for Engaging in Trauma-Informed
Culturally Competent Supervision
Rani Varghese, MSW, EdD, Laura Quiros, PhD, and Roni Berger, PhD
School of Social Work, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, USA
Race, ethnicity, and culture are critical components that affect
and shape the supervisory relationship, yet literature about
ways to acknowledge and actively engage them from a
trauma-informed approach has been limited. To enhance the
discussion of this issue, this article first reviews leading theoretical
aspects of supervision designed to train practitioners in
the field of mental health, followed by a discussion of race,
ethnicity, and culture in supervision and, finally, provides
reflective practices for engaging in trauma-informed culturally
Received 24 November 2017
Accepted 31 December 2017
Culture; ethnicity; race;
There is an increasing recognition and understanding in social work practice
of the impact of personal and collective traumatic events on the growth and
development of individuals, families, and communities. Consequently, we
have seen an exponential rise in the number of theories, empirical studies,
practice manuals, and teaching models relative to diverse aspects of traumainformed
practice and efforts to effectively prepare practitioners to provide
competent trauma-informed services (Abrams & Shapiro, 2014). A major
vehicle for such preparation is supervision (Joubert, Hocking, & Hampson,
2013). Trauma-informed supervision is a lens through which the supervisor
works and involves engaging the “principles that guide trauma-informed
practice, safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment”
(Berger & Quiros, 2014, p. 298). However, the discussion of sociocultural
aspects of trauma-informed supervision has been significantly limited. Race,
ethnicity, and culture are critical components that affect and shape the
supervisory relationship (Hall & Spencer, 2017; Hair & O’Donoghue, 2009;
McRoy, Freeman, Logan & Blackmon, 1986), yet acknowledging and actively
including race, ethnicity, and culture in this relationship within trauma
informed supervision remain limited. To address this issue, the authors
first review leading theoretical aspects of trauma-informed supervision.
Following is a discussion of race, ethnicity, and culture in supervision for
CONTACT Rani Varghese, MSW, EdD [email protected] Adelphi University School of Social Work,
1 South Ave., Garden City, NY 11530-4801.
SMITH COLLEGE STUDIES IN SOCIAL WORK
© 2018 Taylor & Francis
trauma-informed practice. Finally, tools for preparing culturally competent
trauma-informed supervisors are discussed and illustrated.
Leading theoretical and empirical aspects of supervision for
A discussion of supervision for trauma-informed practice resides in the
intersection of two bodies of professional knowledge related to trauma and
to supervision. Traditionally, these two topics have been addressed individually.
Only recently have a handful of attempts to focus on supervisory aspects
of trauma-informed practice emerged (Berger & Quiros, 2014, 2016;
Berkelear, n.d.; Furlonger & Taylor, 2013). Following are brief discussions
of trauma-informed practice, supervision, and, specifically, supervision for
The field of trauma is peppered with a plethora of diverse conceptualizations,
explanations of the dynamics of trauma reactions, intervention models, and
debates regarding best practices (Arroyo, Lundahl, Butters, Vanderloo, &
Wood, 2017; Cohen, Mannarino, Greenberg, Padlo, & Shipley, 2002;
Strand, Abramovitz, Layne, Robinson, & Way, 2014). Despite debates regarding
the aforementioned issues, some consensus exists (Berger, 2015).
Specifically, there is agreement regarding the multifaceted and complex
nature of traumatic experiences, the importance of fostering safety, trustworthiness,
choice, collaboration, and empowerment at all levels of service
delivery (Harris & Fallot, 2001), and the critical role that the helping relationship
plays in trauma practice. Leading theories in the field of trauma vary in
complexity, breadth of focus, and frameworks on which they rely. These
theories typically originate from psychobiology, psychology, sociology, psychiatry,
social work, and anthropology. They include theories that are exclusively
focused on individuals, those that are predominantly systemic,
addressing families and communities, and some that apply to individuals
and systems of all sizes.
Foundations for trauma theories originated with Pierre Janet, Freud and
Breuer who viewed hysteria as caused by a traumatic event, which overwhelmed
the mind of its victim and caused dissociation (Howell & Itzkowitz,
2016). These ideas were followed and developed by pioneers such as
Lindemann (1944), Gerald Caplan (1964) and Lydia Rapoport (1962). Their
work on crisis and crisis intervention was followed by Parad (1965) and
Lazarus and Folkman’s (1984) seminal theory of stress and coping. Later, the
theoretical lens expanded to include models of resilience, hardiness, and
posttraumatic growth (Berger, 2015; Garmezy & Rutter, 1983; Luthar &
2 R. VARGHESE ET AL.
Brown, 2007; Ungar, 2013). Contemporary trauma theories have increasingly
emphasized biological aspects of trauma, specifically the role of genetic,
neural, and psychosensory components (van der Kolk, 2003). Parallel to
individual theories, conceptual frameworks developed regarding family and
community trauma. Major among them are classic theories by Koos (1946),
Hill (1949), McCubbin and Patterson (1982), Olson and McCubbin (1982)
and, more recently, Boss (2001) and Hobfoll (2001).
The aforementioned conceptual frameworks informed two types of
interventions. One is trauma specific, focusing on processing a particular
traumatic experience; the other is trauma informed, which includes a lens
and subsequent interventions that are sensitive to environmental elements
in addition to personal and cultural factors. The leading approaches
among trauma-specific practice models are crisis intervention (Roberts,
2002), cognitive behavior and exposure therapies, psychosensory interventions,
and psychoeducation (Berger, 2015). While research strongly supported
the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), no
compelling evidence exists that any particular treatment approach is superior
to others (Cloitre, 2015; Foa et al., 2005; Gerger et al., 2014). Focus on
trauma-informed practice principles has recently begun to emerge in
schools, healthcare facilities, mental health agencies, and other organizations.
This approach encourages all members of an organization to have a
comprehensive understanding of the effects and complexity of trauma, its
potential behavioral manifestations, and principles for addressing the
needs of traumatized clients. Furthermore, trauma-informed practice is
ideally culturally sensitive as well as collaborative and promotes safety,
trustworthiness, empowerment, and respect for clients’ preferences (Berger
& Quiros, 2016; Harris & Fallot, 2001).
Supervision has long been recognized in the helping professions as a major
vehicle for providing knowledge and skills and for shaping competence to
ensure professional development and service quality (Bearman et al., 2013;
Kadushin & Harkness, 2002; Shulman, 2010). The interaction between an
experienced practitioner and novice supervisee offers a safe and reflective
space to explore alternative perspectives and to identify and implement the
“best” interventions in particular client situations (Berger & Quiros, 2014).
The supervisory interaction includes educational, supportive, and administrative
functions. The educational function focuses on teaching the supervisee
about relevant population groups, models of practice, and strategies for
intervention and their theoretical roots. The supportive function provides
emotional help for identifying personal and work-related challenges and for
offering strategies for coping with them. The administrative function consists
SMITH COLLEGE STUDIES IN SOCIAL WORK 3
of educating about the agency’s policies, delegating assignments, and monitoring
and evaluating practitioners’ performance.
Research has supported the importance of supervision and its potential
impact on staff retention, skills, and quality of care (Hoge, Migdole,
Cannata, & Powell, 2014). Accordingly, its importance has been recognized
by licensing bodies such as the NASW, the American Mental
Health Counselors Association, and the American Psychological
Association. In a critical review of the literature relative to clinical supervision
since the 1990s, Watkins’s (2014) main conclusions were that
clinical supervision has become more globalized in nature, international
supervision conferences are being organized, and collaborative research
on supervision spans across multiple continents. Best practices for supervision
include setting clear goals, accountability, offering constructive,
and accurate feedback within the context of a safe and mutually trusting
supervisory relationships (Borders, 2014). To help develop a cadre of
supervisors who can provide such effective supervision, there is a need
for supervisor training programs, research relative to the transfer of
training to actual practice, and supervision of supervision (Watkins,
Supervision for trauma-informed practice
Supervision for trauma work combines critical knowledge about trauma
with an understanding of supervision. It focuses on the interrelationship
between trauma, the practitioner, the helping and/or supervisory relationship,
and the context in which the work is done. Supervision for traumainformed
practice addresses relevant personal attitudes as well as agency
issues and is designed to enhance the performance of the practitioner,
prevent or mitigate vicarious trauma, as well as improve the “traumainformedness”
of the agency (Berger & Quiros, 2014). Mirroring principles
of trauma-informed direct practice, central to supervision for such practice
is creating a supervisory environment that promotes emotional and
physical safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment.
Contributing to the creation of such an environment are personal characteristics
of the supervisee and the supervisor, the nature of the supervisory
relationships, and organizational aspects. Ideally, to be effective, a
supervisor should be accessible, consistent, direct, deliberate, and affirming
as well as self-reflective. Maintaining an open dialogue and viewing
supervision as a collaborative process are essential. Using a traumainformed
lens, the supervisor responds to a supervisee’s experience and
provides guidance relative to available resources. Furthermore, agencies
can support trauma-informed practices by offering trauma-specific training,
effectively allocating caseloads, and providing opportunities for respite
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