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Using analogies to enhance self-awareness and cultural empathy: implications for supervision.

Self-awareness is conceptualized as an important component of multicultural competence among counselors. Scholars have suggested that the promotion of self-awareness and, relatedly, cultural empathy can be most effectively facilitated through the use of experiential learning. The use of analogies is presented as another method to promote multicultural competence during supervision.

La autoconciencia se conceptualiza como un componente importante de la competencia multicultural entre consejeros. Los academicos han sugerido que el fomento de la autoconciencia y, de forma relacionada, la empatia cultural puede ser facilitado de forma mas efectiva a traves del uso del aprendizaje basado en la experiencia. Se presenta el uso de analogias como otro metodo para fomentar la competencia multicultural durante la supervision.


Supervisors play an important role in helping supervisees translate theories into practice (Bernard & Goodyear, 2004). In order for supervisees to be adequately trained to work with a diverse clientele across various contexts, issues pertaining to multicultural competence need to be addressed during supervision (Ancis & Ladany, 2001). Multicultural competence among counselors has been perceived to be important enough by the American Counseling Association (ACA) to specify in the ACA Code of Ethics (ACA, 2005) that supervisors should "infuse multicultural/diversity competency in their training and supervision practices" (Standard El l.c.). Multicultural competence has been primarily conceptualized in the literature as a tripartite model that addresses the need for competencies in three broad areas: (a) self-awareness, (b) knowledge, and (c) skills (Sue, Arredondo, & McDavis, 1992). These competencies were subsequently refined and operationalized by the Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development (Arredondo et al., 1996; Roysircar, Arredondo, Fuertes, Ponterotto, & Toporek, 2003).

Multicultural competence training in general has seemed to affect knowledge and skills acquisition more than the facilitation of serf-awareness (Tomlinson-Clarke, 2000). However, findings indicate that changes in self-awareness may have the most impact in cultivating multicultural counseling competence (Torres-Rivera, Phan, Maddux, Wilbur, & Garrett, 2001). Furthermore, self-awareness is perceived to facilitate cultural empathy, which contributes to more culturally sensitive counseling (Ridley & Lingle, 1996). A number of multicultural scholars have suggested placing more emphasis on including experientially based affective learning as a component of multicultural training to improve the self-awareness and cultural empathy of counselors-in-training (Kim & Lyons, 2003; Roysircar, Gard, Hubbell, & Ortega, 2005; Tyler & Guth, 1999). Increasingly, experiential learning has been valued as a way to enhance didactic or traditional strategies for training counselors (Achenbach & Arthur, 2002; Tyler & Guth, 1999). Findings indicate that experiential learning does contribute to increased multicultural understanding (Kim & Lyons, 2003; Roysircar, Sandhu, & Bibbins, 2003). An example of an experiential activity that has become common in multicultural training is the use of popular movies (Tyler & Guth, 1999; Villalba & Redmond, 2008).

use of analogies to increase multicultural awareness

Epstein (1994) proposed in his cognitive-experiential self-theory that the use of narratives in the form of analogies is yet another way to experientially engage individuals. According to Epstein (1998), there is an experiential mind, as opposed to a rational mind, that needs to be engaged in order to bring about awareness of one's attitudes and behaviors in an interpersonal context. However, the experiential mind does not respond to words and numbers (i.e., lectures and textbooks) like the rational mind. In order to engage the experiential mind, one needs to communicate with it using its own medium, such as narratives in the form of analogies (Epstein, 1998). Thus, using analogies in supervision is yet another method of experientially engaging supervisees to help them become more self-aware of their prejudices and biases and to subsequently change them. Furthermore, findings suggest that analogies can provide a means to transfer existing knowledge to a new context (Welling, 2007) in order to empathize with the experiences of racially diverse clients. At the time of this writing, I did not find any literature that addressed the use of analogies as an experiential tool to enhance multicultural competence. In this article, I offer background information regarding self-awareness and cultural empathy, the value of experiential learning, and the use of analogies in learning, and illustrate the use of analogies to promote experiential learning in multicultural supervision. A discussion and conclusion of using analogies in multicultural supervision ends the article.

self-awareness and cultural empathy

Becoming a multiculturally competent counselor involves more than simply acquiring didactic knowledge and skills to work with clients from diverse backgrounds (Sodowsky, Kuo-Jackson, & Loya, 1997). Supervisees must be willing to increase their self-awareness to understand how their biased beliefs and attitudes may have an impact on the way they conduct counseling sessions (Leach, Aten, Boyer, Strain, & Bradshaw, 2010). According to Sodowsky et al. (1997), self-awareness "necessitates 'deep cultural self-empathy,' a process that involves a profound understanding of the internal 'gut-level' responses to one's own culture and to the cultures of others" (p. 12). Consequently, such deep self-awareness is perceived to facilitate accurate cultural empathy with culturally diverse clients (Sodowsky et al., 1997; Sue et al., 1992).

Ridley and Lingle (1996) defined cultural empathy as counselors' ability to understand the experiences of clients from culturally diverse backgrounds. There seems to be evidence, based on limited research in this area, that accurate cultural empathy on the part of supervisees may ultimately determine their ability to sensitively respond to their clients with diverse worldviews (Constantine, 2001). If it is acknowledged that self-awareness and cultural empathy are prerequisites for effective and culturally sensitive counseling, counselor training programs may have to consider incorporating strategies to facilitate the development of both as part of their multicultural competence training (Constantine, 2001). Tyler and Guth (1999) have stressed the importance of including affective or experiential learning strategies in addition to cognitive or rational learning in counselor education. Experiential learning, according to Tyler and Guth, provides for "vicarious learning" that promotes self-awareness and will help supervisees identify and refute their naive concepts and stereotypes about the experiences of clients from different cultures.

experiential learning

According to Sue and Sue (2008), by placing emphasis on didactic or traditional learning, supervisors often reduce multicultural supervision to imparting impersonal knowledge that could potentially make supervisees distance themselves personally from cultural issues by emphasizing the lives of others and not facilitating reflection on their own lives. Furthermore, simply focusing on cognitive development or increasing knowledge does not seem to be related to changes in human behavior in general (Tyler & Guth, 1999). Therefore, as suggested by Achenbach and Arthur (2002), counselor trainees or supervisees may need to be experientially affected in an effort to heighten their self-awareness and cultural empathy, which are generally believed to be the foundation for developing multicultural competencies.

In an effort to facilitate understanding of multicultural issues, multicultural supervisors are beginning to include nontraditional supervision strategies, for example, the use of stories (Sommer et al., 2009). These nontraditional or experiential teaching strategies are perceived to be essential in helping students to increase their self-awareness and cultural empathy because they are emotionally engaging and have a stronger impact on both the formation of attitudes (Chaiken, 1980) and behavior (Brewin, 1989) than does intellectually processed information.

According to Epstein (1994), narratives in the form of analogies can also be emotionally engaging because they represent events in a manner similar to how they are experienced in real life. Epstein (1994) asserted that it is for this reason the Bible teaches through the use of parables, metaphors, and analogies and not through philosophical discourse. Therefore, learning about abstract multicultural concepts (e.g., power differential) with the help of analogies can provide a more personally meaningful comprehension of these topics. Maybe more important, learning through analogies can prove valuable in revealing inaccurate schemas about others based on misconceptions that are highly resistant to change (Galloway, 1992).

the use of analogies in learning

The value of taking new ideas and/or experiences and associating them with previously organized knowledge in a meaningful manner, as is the case when using analogies, has been well documented in the literature (e.g., Gentner & Stevens 1983; Newton, 2003). It has been proposed that analogies allow one to "see" in the mind the relationships between ideas, which bring about a new understanding (Sampson, 1965).

According to Gentner (1983), processing an analogy requires individuals to perform a cognitive mapping between the relational predicates shared by two domains, the familiar domain (source) and the new domain (target), that are functionally similar. For example, in the analogy "a sword is to a warrior as a pen is to a writer," the relational predicate (sameness) that is shared by the warrior and the writer is "weapon." An understanding of the predicate in the source domain (sword) allows for the use of information about the source domain to make inferences about the potential characteristics of the target domain (pen). Consequently, important outcomes of analogical reasoning are generation of new schemas and fresh or novel understandings of old schemas (Gentner & Holyoak, 1997).

The use of analogies within an educational setting has its justification in the constructivist view of learning (Pittman, 1999). Constructivist theory is a cognitive approach in which learners actively construct their own interpretations and meanings by adding new knowledge to preexisting knowledge. The extensive use of analogies, especially in science education, has been prompted by evidence from research that shows that analogies do facilitate learning, especially inferential thinking (e.g., Donnelly & McDaniel, 1993; Mayo, 2001). Given that analogies have been shown to have the capability to improve inferential learning, it is perplexing that only a small fraction of the literature on analogies has been published in traditional psychological and educational psychology journals (Guzzetti, Snyder, Glass, & Gamas, 1993). The use of analogies is as applicable in understanding psychological concepts (e.g., multiculturalism) as it is in the natural and physical sciences, especially because analogical representations have been shown to serve good introductory function to learning new ideas and concepts (Donnelly & McDaniel, 1993).


There has been ample research verifying the value of analogical reasoning in explaining the challenging concepts of various areas of study (Mayo, 2001). It is usually the case that beginning supervisees have very little exposure to multicultural issues; however, the use of analogies may help to transfer an explanatory structure from a familiar domain to an unfamiliar one (Vosniadou & Schommer, 1988). Additionally, by using domain-general analogies that, at first glance, have nothing to do with the multicultural topic being discussed, supervisors can gently coax supervisees into further exploration of sensitive cultural issues. This is helpful in multicultural supervision because supervisees must be gradually introduced to the field to avoid resistance to anxiety-provoking topics such as racism and White privilege (Locke & Kiselica, 1999).

Epstein (1998) cautioned that rather than trying to lower anxiety by rationalizing away irrational thoughts and behavior (e.g., locking one's car doors at the first sight of a Black man), it is more beneficial to acknowledge and to be aware of their influences. Only through awareness can supervisees consciously decide whether to take into account the emotional "vibes" they feel in their responses to anxiety-provoking stimuli. The use of analogies in supervision is one way that White supervisees can be exposed to their emotional vibes to sensitive cultural topics in an effort to enhance their self-awareness and cultural empathy. Learning is then created at an experiential level and not just at an intellectual level when supervisees opt to reflect on vicarious experiences gained through the use of analogies (Tyler & Guth, 1999). Thus, the possibility is there for deep fundamental changes to be made in the supervisees' cultural beliefs and attitudes, which, according to Epstein (1994), have a very powerful influence on analytical thinking and behavior.

In the following sections, I hope to contribute to the literature by illustrating how to incorporate analogies in multicultural supervision to experientially engage supervisees to increase their self-awareness and cultural empathy. Examples with explanations are provided for the following multicultural concepts: color blindness (ice skating judges), myth of meritocracy (Jake and John), affirmative action (two guys and a carrot), and power differential/ ability to define reality (Alice and her manager).


The aim of this analogy is to experientially heighten awareness about the topic of color blindness among White supervisees. The use of this analogy not only allows the supervisees to become more aware of their beliefs and attitudes about color blindness, but also allows them to vicariously experience and understand the impact of color blindness on racial minorities.
   Imagine that while watching an ice skating competition on
   television, you see your favorite competitor perform an amazing,
   seemingly flawless triple axel. You have never seen anything quite
   so graceful and perfect! Much to your surprise, however, the skater
   does not receive a perfect score for her effort. You might respond
   to this seeming injustice by becoming angry and blaming the judges.
   You begin to accuse the judges of being biased and incompetent. You
   could not fathom why the skater did not receive the points she
   seemed to deserve, only to realize after watching it in slow motion
   that the judges were right after all.

The relational predicate that the supervisor intends to map from the source domain (ice skating judges) to the target domain (people of color) is not merely an abstract concept, but the actual feeling of one's experience or perception of being minimized or rejected. Thus, after the supervisor shares the analogy, it is important to ask the supervisee how he or she thinks the judges would have felt if the supervisee had accused the judges of being biased and/or incompetent before the supervisee was able to see the action in slow motion. This is a crucial step in the process, because it is this vicarious experience from the analogy that will allow the supervisee to affectively empathize with what a person of color might feel when his or her experiences or perceptions about the consequences of having black or brown skin are minimized or ridiculed.

In order to use the analogy for even deeper analysis, the supervisor could then ask the supervisee the reason for not being able to see what the judges were able to observe without the benefit of slow motion replay. At this point, it might be helpful to further personalize the question by having the supervisee think about the differences between himself or herself and ice skating judges in general in terms of judging ice skaters. Finally, the supervisor can summarize the point of the exercise and help the supervisee reflect at a deep and experientially meaningful level by sharing that, just like the ice skating judges (source domain) in the analogy have become very observant of mistakes made by ice skaters as a result of having watched ice skating all their lives, most people of color, as a result of being discriminated against all their lives solely based on their skin color, have become very attuned to discriminatory looks, attitudes, and behaviors from Whites. The supervisor can further explain by stating that, just like someone who is not an ice skating judge cannot notice all the mistakes made by an ice skater without the help of slow motion replay, a White person might not have the necessary experiences to notice very subtle discriminatory acts, gestures, and looks based solely on a person's skin color. So, when a White person says, "Just get over it! You're being paranoid! It has nothing to do with your skin color" to a person of color who complains of being discriminated against because of his or her skin color, the supervisee can be reminded that such "color-blind" statements are tantamount to accusing the ice skating judges in the analogy of having a faulty or skewed perception of an ice skater's performance.


The goal of this analogy is to help supervisees understand that life successes or failures for racial minorities can often be determined by their race and not their competence or ability. The most effective way to use this analogy is by sharing it in sections, as shown in the following paragraphs.
   Jake and John were two siblings born to the same affluent
   family. John was able to convince their father to leave the family
   inheritance to him and to disown Jake by sharing horrible lies
   about Jake's character. As soon as the father died, John came to
   inherit a total of $3.7 million and Jake did not get a penny. As a
   result, John was able to provide a comfortable life for himself and
   his family. Jake, however, was not able to find a good job because
   John, who "owned" the town, made sure of that.

At this point, the supervisor can ask the supervisee to imagine Jake's and John's lifestyles. Specifically, the supervisee may think about where Jake and John lived, how they traveled, restaurants they ate in, who their friends were, and anything else the supervisee can add to the description. The point here is to make it very clear to the supervisee that all things being equal, having resources can make a big difference in the way a person lives his or her life, before the supervisor continues with the analogy.
   John's children were able to go to prestigious schools to get the
   best education, which gave them their pick of high-status and
   well-paying jobs. The opposite was true of Jake's children, who had
   to be content with attending public schools and going to community
   colleges. Jake's children worked in menial jobs and struggled to
   provide food and shelter for their families. The differences in the
   quality of life were also evident in the next generation with
   John's grandchildren, regardless of their natural intellect or work
   ethic, being able to attend the best schools as "legacy" candidates
   and getting prestigious and well-paying jobs, and Jake's children
   settling for substandard education and menial work. This trend has
   continued to the present generation with John's side of the family
   enjoying a much higher quality of life than Jake's.

Right after sharing this analogy, the supervisor may want to get the supervisee to think about the impact of the lies that were told by John several generations ago and how this event still has an impact on the present generation. It is important for the supervisor to get the supervisee to affectively empathize with Jake's family by pointing out how a person's life circumstances can be determined by factors beyond his or her control and not necessarily by his or her abilities. When it is clear that the supervisee is able to "feel" Jake's experience of unfair discrimination (relational predicate), the supervisor can gently suggest that Jake's experiences are analogous to the life experiences of most Blacks who are descendants of slaves in this country. John's experiences, however, are analogous to the experiences of most Whites in this country who have directly or indirectly benefited from slavery. It may be important to remind the supervisee at this point that to be a slave means to have or own nothing, like Jake. Finally, the supervisor can share the point of this analogy by noting that successes and failures in life, especially for racial minorities, are not necessarily determined by ability or merit alone. Often, being in an economically and politically disadvantaged position, just like Jake, can hinder one's progress in achieving success in life. Furthermore, one has to be cognizant of the fact that traumatic events (e.g., slavery) from the remote past can still have a profound impact on the experiences of the current generation.


The goal of this analogy is to highlight the true purpose of affirmative action. The effectiveness of this analogy will be greatly enhanced if it is presented right after the Jake and John analogy, because the supervisee will have an awareness of how the experiences of racial minorities are not the same as those of Whites in this country. Furthermore, according to Epstein (1994), messages presented visually are experientially more appealing than those communicated through the use of words alone. Thus, the supervisor can present this analogy by drawing a stick figure standing on a table and another stick figure standing on the floor with a carrot dangling over their heads.
   There are two guys, one standing on a table and another standing on
   the floor. They are both after the same carrot that is hanging over
   their heads. The guy on the table, realizing that he has an unfair
   advantage, decides to provide the guy on the floor with a stool so
   he can climb on the table with him. As a result, both guys have an
   equal chance of reaching for the carrot.

The supervisor can begin by using the Jake and John analogy to point out to the supervisee that the guy on the table is John and that the guy standing on the floor is Jake. The supervisor can remind the supervisee the point of the Jake and John analogy is that because of differences in life experiences, racial minorities are not on equal footing with Whites in terms of economic and political resources. Thus, just as the guy on the floor (Jake) does not stand much of a chance in getting the carrot, it is difficult for racial minorities to compete with Whites who have more resources than they have. Finally, the supervisor can share with the supervisee the goal of this analogy by making it explicit that the "stool" in the analogy symbolizes affirmative action policies that are meant to provide the resources (relational predicate) necessary for racial minorities to compete with Whites. For even deeper processing of this analogy, the supervisor can share with the supervisee that it is the prerogative of Whites, just as the guy on the table provided the stool and was willing to have the guy on the floor with him on the table, to endorse the need for the continued existence of affirmative action policies for the sake of leveling the "playing field" for racial minorities.


This is a very powerful analogy that highlights the concept of power differential and the ability to define reality. It is suggested that the supervisor use this analogy once good rapport has been established with the supervisee. Again, the effectiveness of this analogy is greatly enhanced by visually presenting it to the supervisee. The supervisor can start describing the analogy by simply drawing two circles and writing the word "ALICE" in one circle and the word "BREAST" in the other.
   Alice worked in an office where most of the employees and almost
   all of the administrators were men. Overall, Alice had a very good
   relationship with most of the employees and usually joined in
   whatever revelry that took place during office hours, usually on a
   Friday afternoon. During one of the office festivities, when she
   was part of a game that involved close contact with other
   employees, she thought she felt someone grope her breasts. She
   didn't think much of it at work, but once home, she could not think
   about anything else. She wanted to discuss it with her manager but
   was apprehensive about how he might react to her concern. She
   decided to tell him anyway, but he reacted by saying that she was
   making a "mountain out of a molehill" and said that her coworkers
   are too nice to do something like that. Furthermore, he told her
   that he would have taken it as a compliment if somebody had done
   something similar to him and suggested that she just forget about
   it. Alice left his office without saying a word.

The supervisor can start by discussing how Alice might have felt after her meeting with the manager. It is important for the supervisor to get the supervisee, especially if the supervisee is male, to empathize with Alice's experience of feeling disempowered (relational predicate), because it is this vicarious experience that will allow the supervisee to affectively empathize with racial minorities. The supervisor can explore why Alice felt disempowered with the supervisee by introducing the notion of power differential and explaining how the manager's power over Alice allows him to define reality for her. In Alice's case, her manager had the power to ignore her perception of reality (i.e., possibly being groped) and have her ascribe to his perception of reality (i.e., Alice was exaggerating the severity of the matter; she should treat the incident as a compliment). When it is clear the supervisee understands why Alice feels disempowered and can affectively empathize with her, the supervisor can erase the word "ALICE" and replace it with the word "AMERICAN INDIANS" and replace the word "BREAST" with the word "MASCOTS/CULTURAL SYMBOLS." At this point, the supervisor can ask if the supervisee can now understand how American Indians must feel disempowered (relational predicate) when Whites use their cultural symbols as sports mascots and expect American Indians to ascribe to Whites' perception of reality surrounding the issue (i.e., American Indians are too sensitive and unnecessarily make a big deal about mascots; they should feel honored that their cultural symbols are being used as mascots). Finally, the supervisor can share the purpose of the analogy by discussing with the supervisee that just like Alice felt disempowered with her manager, racial minority groups often feel disempowered when Whites do not take into consideration the power differential that exists when they impose their biased perception of reality regarding racial matters onto racial minorities.

discussion and conclusion

Experiential learning, compared with traditional didactic learning, has more capacity to promote a transformation in one's attitudes and beliefs (Tyler & Guth, 1999). Using analogies as an experiential learning tool in supervision to enhance self-awareness and cultural empathy has the potential to be helpful in a number of ways. Analogies provide an effective means of processing multicultural issues with supervisees who have had limited exposure to members of diverse cultures by allowing them to take on the perspective of the "other." By generalizing the relational predicate (sameness) between the supervisee's subjective experience and the experiences of the characters in the analogies, it makes it possible for White supervisees to culturally empathize with those from diverse backgrounds in counseling. Furthermore, the use of analogies can provide a safe strategy to process topics that can be confusing or anxiety-provoking. As suggested by Nelson and Neufeldt (1998), supervisors need to create a safe environment that is conducive for supervisees to stretch and grow.

Analogies can be used in both individual and group supervision. The potential use of analogies in supervision to experientially explore cultural topics is essentially limited by the creative ability of the supervisor to generate new analogies. However, further investigation into the use of analogies and multicultural competency is needed. Future researchers could focus on conducting in-depth interviews with supervisees to explore the effectiveness of using analogies in individual supervision. They could also incorporate analogies in group supervision and analyze data from group discussions to assess the effectiveness of using analogies to enhance self-awareness and cultural empathy in a group setting.


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V. Suthakaran, Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Fredonia. The author is grateful to Andrea Zevenbergen for her feedback on an earlier version of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to V. Suthakaran, Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Fredonia, W353 Thompson Hall, Fredonia, NY 14063 (e-mail:
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Author:Suthakaran, V.
Publication:Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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