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‘Which aspects of social GGRRAAACCEEESSS grab you most?’ The social GGRRAAACCEEESSS exercise for a supervision group to promote therapists' self-reflexivity


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Promoting supervisees' self-reflexivity is an integral component of systemic family therapy supervision. This includes facilitating thinking about the influences of social differences. The article describes an exercise designed to facilitate exploration of participants' relationships with different aspects of social GGRRAAACCEEESSS (SG). The exercise consists of mapping the influences of different aspects of SG and ascertaining how some of them come to be more privileged than others. It is proposed that the exercise is used in the context of a supervision group, where the supervisees and supervisor share their personal and family of origin stories related to SG. Team members' reflection offers a further opportunity for learning. Feedback from supervisees has been sought on how this exercise impacted on their practice. The potential benefits and caveats are discussed. Practitioner pointsPromote self-reflexivity on issues of differencesExplore supervisees' relationships with aspects of social GGRRAAACCEEESSS
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‘Which aspects of social GGRRAAACCEEESSS
grab you most?’ The social GGRRAAACCEEESSS
exercise for a supervision group to promote
therapists’ self-reflexivity
Yoko Totsukaa
Promoting supervisees’ self-reflexivity is an integral component of sys-
temic family therapy supervision. This includes facilitating thinking
about the influences of social differences. The article describes an exercise
designed to facilitate exploration of participants’ relationships with dif-
ferent aspects of social GGRRAAACCEEESSS (SG). The exercise consists
of mapping the influences of different aspects of SG and ascertaining how
some of them come to be more privileged than others. It is proposed that
the exercise is used in the context of a supervision group, where the
supervisees and supervisor share their personal and family of origin
stories related to SG. Team members’ reflection offers a further oppor-
tunity for learning. Feedback from supervisees has been sought on how
this exercise impacted on their practice. The potential benefits and
caveats are discussed.
Practitioner points
Promote self-reflexivity on issues of differences
Explore supervisees’ relationships with aspects of social
Keywords: supervision; gender issues; culture; race.
There is an increasing recognition that promoting supervisees’ self-
reflexivity and addressing the self of the therapist are integral com-
ponents of systemic family therapy supervision (for example, Haber,
1990; Mason, 2010, 2012). In this article I present an exercise using
social GGRRAAACCEEESSS, standing for gender, geography, race,
religion, age, ability, appearance, class, culture, ethnicity, education,
aFamily and Systemic Psychotherapist, Counselling Psychologist, Newham Child and
Family Consultation Service, East London NHS Foundation Trust, York House, 411 Barking
Road, Plaistow, London E13 8AL, UK. E-mail:
Journal of Family Therapy (2014) 36 (Suppl. 1): 86–106
doi: 10.1111/1467-6427.12026
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
employment, sexuality, sexual orientation and spirituality (Burnham,
2012), and here abbreviated to SG. The exercise is designed to facili-
tate the exploration of therapists’ relationships with different aspects
of SG. I describe how it was developed and used in supervision
groups, the themes that emerged, supervisees’ feedback and its ben-
efits and caveats.
One of the major developments in the systemic family therapy field
in the 1980s was a shift from the first-order to the second-order
perspective. Therapists were no longer assumed to be objective
observers and were encouraged to adopt an ‘observing system’ stance
(Hoffman, 1985, p. 393). In this perspective, therapists include them-
selves in their thinking, for example, how they are influenced within
the therapeutic system, their own personal, familial and societal con-
texts and how these impact on their practice. Self-reflexivity and the
therapist’s use of the self have become essential components of sys-
temic practice. This includes the therapist’s ability to reflect on their
own beliefs and emotions and use them in therapy (for example,
Flaskas, 2005; Pote et al. 1999) and the use of self-disclosure to
enhance the therapeutic relationship (Roberts, 2005). Pote et al.
(1999) state:
Self-reflexivity focuses especially on the effect of the therapy process on
the therapist and the way that this is a source of (resource for) change in
the family. In order to use self-reflexivity it will be necessary for the
therapist to be alert to their own constructions, functioning and preju-
dices so that they can use their self effectively with the family. (p. 11)
Such shifts in systemic theory and practice mean that addressing the
therapist’s self is now considered to be an integral part of systemic
training and supervision. Mason (2010), observing that supervisors
often focus discussion on the client family, encourages them to pay
attention to six aspects in supervision: the clients, the clients’ relation-
ship to help, the therapeutic relationship, the self of the therapist, the
supervisory relationship and the self of the supervisor.
Theorists in the field of systemic family therapy in the past few
decades have been grappling with issues of power and difference.
There is now an expectation that therapists be aware of how social
contexts impact on clients and themselves. The literature on systemic
training and supervision reflects this. Supervisors are expected to be
context-aware and integrate issues of difference and social context
such as gender, culture, race and sexuality in supervisory practice (for
example, Burck and Daniel, 1995; Burnham and Harris, 2002; Hardy
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 87
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
and Laszloffy, 1995; Gorrell Barnes et al., 2000; Lappin and Hardy,
1997; Long, 1997; Turner and Fine, 1997). There is an increasing
awareness that diversity should be an issue relevant to all. Nolte
(2007) argues that ‘white is a colour too, thus challenging ‘white’
therapists not to leave thinking about and addressing cross-cultural
issues in family therapy to their colleagues ‘of colour’, but to actively
engage with the risks and uncertainties of cross-cultural learning and
practice’ (p. 378). Hernández et al. (2009)’s qualitative research on
how supervisors with an ethnic minority background experienced
their training as supervisees highlighted themes including the lack of
acknowledgement of social location and diversity issues, the misuse of
power by supervisors and the lack of mentorship, indicating the need
for improvements in supervisory practice.
SG is my abbreviation of an acronym developed by Roper-Hall (1998)
and Burnham (1992, 1993, 2012) designed to ‘assist practitioners in
being mindful about a range of differences, and generating a desire to
extend their practice beyond their current abilities’ (Burnham et al.,
2008, p. 530). Burnham (2012) describes the history of the acronym
and how it changed over time. I use the most recent version,
described above (Burnham 2012) here. (The original version of the
exercise did not include the recent additions, geography, appearance,
employment and sexual orientation).
Burnham (2012) describes SG as a kaleidoscope or a ‘collide-
scope’, which is ‘non-symmetrical, sometimes colliding vision of rela-
tions between socially produced differences’ (p. 144). Aspects of SG
are interwoven, in flux and moving, with some aspects coming to the
foreground or going into the background at different times and in
different contexts. Some are more privileged than others by each
therapist, who may have different levels of comfort and skills in
thinking about them. The aspects of SG may vary in the way they are
visible or invisible (whether it is visually present and obvious) and
voiced or unvoiced (whether it can be named or discussed) and they
may move between quadrants, as shown in Figure 1 (Burnham,
SG has been applied to training and supervision. Divac and Heaphy
(2005) describe a training session ‘Space for GRRAACCES’ to promote
cultural competence in supervision and training by ‘creating an experi-
ential space where the scrutiny of trainees’ culturally determined
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© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
beliefs, values and attitudes is facilitated’ (p. 281). For example, in the
exercise ‘line of privilege’ (p. 281), participants are asked to position
themselves according to how privileged they feel in relation to aspects
of SG. Karamat Ali (2007) uses SG as part of teaching in intercultural
working, for example, as part of hypothesizing in a context where
the participants are mostly white and middle class. Mills-Powell and
Worthington (2007)’s exercise encourages students to make explicit
connections between their hypotheses and their self issues. Students
are invited to choose one letter from SG and say something about
themselves and how the identity it represents informed their life. They
are then asked to hypothesize about a presented family, connecting
their own story with the case, and ask the family a question. Burnham
et al. (2008) used SG to deconstruct the differences within the group to
facilitate reflexive discussion. The authors propose that SG should be
practised at all levels of approach, method and technique (Burnham,
1992) in training and argue that ‘it is important to create changes both
within a broad philosophy and within the small and ordinary practices
of training’ (p. 532, italics in the original).
Development of the exercise: personal and professional contexts
The idea initially developed following a conversation with my
supervisee, Ellen. We first met at an interview for a training
Visible and unvoiced
Invisible and unvoiced
Visible and voiced
Invisible and voiced
Figure 1. Visible and invisible, voiced and unvoiced (Burnham 2012, p. 146).
Reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 89
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
placement in my supervision group. I work as a family and systemic
psychotherapist at a child and adolescent mental health service of an
National Health Service trust in a London borough with one of the
most diverse populations in the UK in terms of race, ethnicity and
culture. I always ask candidates about their experience of working
with diversity and their understanding of the systemic literature on
this issue. When I asked this question, Ellen said ‘I have read about
gender, I have read Goldner, but gender doesn’t grab me’. She
repeated that gender has never really grabbed her and said she
didn’t know why, and that race meant more to her, as a black
African woman.
I was struck and intrigued by Ellen’s comment. I was impressed
with her candour, given the emphasis on gender on training courses
in recent years and the context of the interview. In my observation,
while many candidates and supervisees commented on the impor-
tance of diversity issues, they were not always able to articulate their
personal connection with these issues and make active use of them in
practice. Ellen’s comment was also striking because gender has always
been the most important type of difference for me. As I am of the
ethnic and racial minority background in the UK context (although I
belong to the majority group in my country of origin, Japan, where I
grew up), race, culture and ethnicity have been important to my
personal and professional life. I often wonder what clients and other
professionals make of me and if they have any prejudices or assump-
tions. However, the influence of gender and feminism has never
receded into the background. This continued throughout my family
therapy training and I remember the excitement of reading articles
such as Goldner (1988). I have always known even since childhood
that some girls and women seemed less bothered about gender
inequality than I was. However, Ellen was one of few people I met in
a work context who openly acknowledged that gender had little
meaning for them. My immediate reaction was, ‘How is that possible?’
reflecting my prejudice that gender should be important to all.
However, Ellen’s candid and thoughtful response made me curious
about the difference between us. For example, I could not imagine
thinking about gender and culture separately but this conversation
reminded me that this was not the case for all. Around the same time,
I read a book about child poverty in Japan (Abe, 2008) and realized
there were aspects of SG such as class and education, in relation to
which I was relatively privileged and therefore took my opportunities
for granted.
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I was undertaking supervision training at the time and initially
found it challenging to focus on therapists’ self issues. The training
made me reflect on my training of origin experience as a supervisee
in family therapy and psychology, where there was little emphasis on
issues of my own self as a therapist. In terms of SG, whereas I had
an opportunity to learn about sexual orientation from gay and
lesbian supervisors, I have never had a supervisor of non-white
background. I felt I had to teach myself issues of culture, ethnicity
and race and my experience was that addressing the self belonged
to personal therapy rather than supervision. I also remembered
numerous occasions during training where people turned to me as
one of the few members of an ethnic minority background when
culture and race were discussed and I found myself in the position
of ‘a native informant’ (hooks, 1994, p. 43). Hernández et al. (2009)’s
research findings, mentioned above, resonated with me. These
experiences led to my belief that differences should not be an issue
for the members of the minority background only, which could be
described as my corrective script (Byng-Hall, 1995) as a supervisor.
The exercise was developed through reflections on these experi-
ences. How do we come to privilege certain aspects of SG more than
others? How do our relationships with particular aspects of SG
impact on our thinking and practice? How can supervisors help
supervisees to think about the less influential aspects of SG?
The SG exercise
The supervisees were given a written instruction (Appendix 1). They
were asked to think about two aspects of SG that ‘grabbed’ them and
two that did not (for example; which ones mean more/less to you?
Which ones influenced your life most/least?) and describe significant
personal and family of origin stories or images that influenced their
relationship with SG. They were asked to think about how their
relationship with SG impacted on their work as a therapist (for
example, How do they help/hinder your practice?). After mapping
influences of SG individually, each person, including the supervisor,
was interviewed by another, while the rest of the group observed.
Each interview was followed by reflections by the observers and the
interviewee. Reflection on reflection was added to the procedure in
response to the first group’s feedback.
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 91
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
Context of the supervision group
At the time when I developed this exercise, I was supervising three
trainees in an agency as described above. All supervisees were on
placement to meet family therapy course requirements. The group
included Ruth, a white British-born Jewish woman, Patrick, a white
Australian man and Ellen, a black African woman.
Stories and themes that emerged
I describe several themes that emerged, using examples of personal
A powerful experience, a powerful connection with SG. Personal stories
helped the group to understand how some aspects of SG came to be
more influential in our lives. For Ellen, race is the most important
overriding influence. She grew up in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia)
under white minority rule and racial segregation. In this context,
black people had to be united in their struggle, leaving little room for
other differences to emerge between them. Ellen commented that ‘it
(race) is too heightened, I put it too much at the top’, resulting in her
not seeing other aspects of SG such as gender. When Ellen felt dis-
criminated against at work, she always put it down to race and was
surprised when her friend asked ‘Don’t you think it could be because
you are a woman?’
Interwoven aspects of SG. The exercise demonstrated complex and varied
ways in which aspects of SG are interwoven (Burnham, 2012). None of
us could say simply which two aspects grabbed us most and all of us
talked about the major ones to which a few others were related. For
example, in my background, race, ethnicity, culture were bunched up
together. The relationships between these aspects were different for the
others. For Ruth, her ethnicity, culture and religion were inseparable.
Her Jewish religion was closely related to her culture, the shared
history of her ethnic group and the family tradition of handing down
the history to her children. However, for her, religion had nothing to do
with spirituality, on which she commented ‘I just don’t get it’. Patrick,
as a gay man, had experienced the religion of his family of origin as
oppressive because of its views on homosexuality. Spirituality later
helped him build his identity and confidence but, in his experience, it
had nothing to do with religion.
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© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
Visible and invisible, voiced and unvoiced differences. The issues of visible
and invisible, voiced and unvoiced differences and their movements
over time (Burnham, 2012) came up spontaneously. Some talked
about dilemmas in their personal and professional lives and the
choices to make differences voiced or not. Ruth thinks her clients
assume she belongs to the majority white group in the UK, based on
her appearance. This poses a dilemma when she works with clients
from an ethnic minority background. She wonders if they assume
she belongs to the dominant group and therefore cannot relate to
their experience. When she works with clients of the white UK
background, her dilemma is that they may assume she is the same,
but she is ‘feeling different inside’. When her client did not
return, she wondered if it was because of a Jewish symbol in her
Patrick talked about hidden aspects of his self and the contexts in
which he may or may not choose to make his invisible aspects voiced.
He always tells people he is gay at job interviews, because he does not
want to work in a homophobic environment. The observers were
struck by his courage in making the invisible aspect voiced and
acknowledged that some aspects of personal selves are harder to
disclose in some contexts. They wondered how Patrick manages the
invisible aspects of his self in a child and adolescent mental health
services’ context. Roberts (2005) points out that opportunities for
self-disclosure may be more limited for some therapists due to their
background and their work contexts, for example, for gay and lesbian
Movements over time. Most of us talked about changes and movements
over time and how some aspects of SG go in and out of focus at
different times in our lives. Some described changing influences of
different aspects along life cycle stages, with some being resolved
and going into the background and others coming into the fore-
ground. For example, Patrick said ‘certain things used to grab me,
but resolved, and changed’, describing how religion and spirituality,
having had major impact on his life, receded into the background.
Emotions. Some stories were associated with strong emotions, such as
pain, anger, irritation and passion. I shared a story about registrations
in Japanese schools, where boys were called before girls. I did not
realize how strange this practice was until I went to a liberal school at
the age of 15 where registrations were done in an alphabetical order.
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 93
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
Many stories about grabbing aspects were related to experiences of
oppression, unfairness and injustice but there were positive stories,
too. Ruth talked about the influence of strong women in her family
and how this enabled her to achieve in her life. Despite my negative
family of origin experiences in relation to gender, a different story was
brought forth by another aspect of SG. In a cultural context where
some parents do not value it for their daughters, my parents both
encouraged me to have an education.
Risk taking. The supervision group provided an opportunity to discuss
differences in a safe context and to take risks in sharing personal
stories and prejudices. The supervisees thought the discussion
allowed them to share politically incorrect views that they would
hesitate to discuss elsewhere. We discovered aspects of each other we
did not know about, despite the fact that some of us had worked
together for some years.
Non-grabbing aspects of SG. ‘Non-grabbing’ aspects seemed to relate not
only to lack of personal experiences but also to distancing due to
negative experience or out of fear. For me, religion and spirituality
were both non-grabbing, with little distinction between them due to
my lack of experience of them. I also distanced myself from religion
due to the negative association with it I developed in my childhood. I
grew up without a religion but my grandmother was a devout Catho-
lic. I was weary of her eccentricity, which at the time I associated with
her religion but which, I later learned, may have been related to
mental illness. Patrick talked about the lack of personal experience
with disability and wondered if his uncertainty about and fear of how
he might respond to disability may contribute to this aspect staying in
the background for him. We noted that ability and disability and class
did not feature in our stories.
None of us had a personal experience of disability and we
were economically privileged enough to pursue an education and
professional training. We thought these were aspects we could
potentially overlook due to our lack of personal experience in these
areas. Ruth commented that her family story of strong women who
believe they ‘can do it’ might be different for those who are less
economically privileged. We thought that financial privilege was not
precisely synonymous with class and education and it was not
covered by the acronym. Burnham (2012) has since added another
‘E’, employment.
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© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
Supervisees’ feedback
I sought feedback from the supervisees on the day and 4 months
later (See Appendix 2 for questions used at the follow-up interview).
They found it helpful to explore what did not grab them ‘because
then we have to ask why don’t they?’ (Ruth). The group felt hearing
personal stories made a difference to their understanding. Ellen
It was very thought provoking and made me think outside the box. Your
(supervisor’s) talk about gender was so vivid. Now I can see how women
sit on the one side and men sit on the other side (at school). And I kind
of take it for granted.
Kolb (1984)’s model describes different aspects of learning styles, how
one relates to experience (visceral or abstract) and how we transform
our experience into learning (reflection or active experimentation).
Hearing each other’s personal stories and reflecting on our reaction
seemed to have more visceral impact and help to bring less familiar
aspects (for example, gender, which Ellen could not relate to in an
abstract way through theoretical study) into the foreground.
Hearing Ellen’s story about race helped the group understand why
gender does not grab her. Ruth commented:
It [gender] didn’t strike you, so it didn’t become an issue, but for you,
Yoko, or for me actually, this isn’t fair, this isn’t right ... You [Ellen] were
challenging in a different way. Because of the significant racial piece, you
can’t challenge everything, so you challenge what’s organizing you.
Ellen said at the follow-up interview that, although her relationship
with gender did not change, she became more aware that she tends to
overlook its influence. For her, the most significant realization was
how strong her assumptions and prejudices were about other reli-
gious groups:
It helped me to start the conversation, which I have been doing. All my
prejudices were assumptions that I wasn’t checking out with the people
who practise that religion. Following the exercise, I was lucky to be
working with two colleagues from that religion, and I have been talking
to them, and it’s amazing. One of them is a young British Muslim doctor,
who’s very religious, and she helped me dispel the myth that I had. I had
this idea that maybe women are forced into it, but it’s her choice, she’s
more religious than her parents. She chose to wear a head scarf and she
was the leader in her family. Her openness to Christianity ... she’s not
focusing on differences but she has so much knowledge of similarities, it’s
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 95
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
amazing. It was such an eye opener to me, and I wouldn’t have done that
without that exercise.
At the follow-up interview, Ruth said the exercise was timely as she had
been trying to think more about differences within training and since
received feedback that she has made progress in this area. She com-
mented that the exercise enabled her to ask questions such as ‘What
lens do I naturally orient myself to? What lens would I find harder?’
She identified disability as less grabbing and this influenced her deci-
sion to conduct research on learning disability. Some disabilities are
invisible and may or may not be voiced, and she has been thinking
about this ‘hidden stuff’, such as learning disability and the decision to
share. The fact that one of her own children was recently diagnosed
with diabetes also impacted on her experience of ability and disability.
Ruth used the exercise with her other supervision group. They
thought it was thought-provoking and found it helpful to discuss what
did not grab them to explore their blind spots. When Ruth introduced
the exercise to the group, she did not use the word grab and asked
‘which aspects of SG are important to you?’ The group said ‘of course
they are all important!’ and this made Ruth realize that the word grab
was helpful to tap into people’s personal relationships with and reac-
tion to SG. The word important did not have the same effect but
seemed to be connected to the notion that contextual issues are, of
course, important in their systemic practice. It may be that, to our
professional selves as systemic therapists, trainees or supervisors, all
aspects of SG are important but the purpose of this exercise is to access
personal selves.
The exercise had a profound impact on my practice. It helped me
understand further why some aspects of SG mean more to me and
some drop out of my view. Hearing others’ stories about different
relationships with their religion and spirituality made me curious about
what they mean to my clients. For example, I worked with a client who
decided to give up Christianity due to her negative experiences at
church. However, she maintained her spirituality and her decision
enabled her to have an even stronger relationship with her god.
Benefits and caveats
This exercise responds to the need for therapists and supervisors to
be context-aware by promoting self-awareness and self-reflexivity on
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differences. Although the exercise could be helpful with a single
supervisee, a supervision group provides a learning context where
multiple perspectives, similarities and differences facilitate a reflexive
process and foster curiosity (Burnham, 1993; Burnham et al., 2008).
(The exercise may also be useful for peer practitioners as a personal
and professional development activity). For example, when I said I
avoid certain Japanese clients who may not respect me as a woman
living in the UK, Ruth said ‘I wonder what it would take for Yoko to
shift and say it’s not a problem’. This made me reflect on my fear of
being disrespected and vulnerable and triggered curiosity about the
possibility of change.
There are potential ethical issues in this approach. Haber (1990)
warns that experiential methods of training could ‘tread the fine line
between therapy and training’ (p. 3). It is important for supervisors to
be mindful of the fact that participants, including the supervisors
themselves, are expected to share their personal stories, which may
evoke strong views and feelings. I believe that it is the supervisor’s
ethical responsibility to remain sensitive to the supervisees’ emotional
reactions and their impact on the group. It is important for the
supervisees and supervisors to be clear about the mandate of the
supervision group and what to expect. Preparatory work is necessary
to establish safety and trust in the group. Aponte (1994) offers useful
guidelines on personal aspects of family therapy training and empha-
sizes the importance of a contract. I had met each supervisee when
they started their placements to draw up a supervision contract and
discussed their views, their experience and history of exploring issues
of self in supervision. The group had previously discussed the ground
rules, including respecting differences and confidentiality and taking
responsibility about what to share, and had also done other exercises.
Supervisees who are not used to exploring personal influences as
part of their training or practice may find this exercise challenging or
even threatening. The supervisor may need to warm the context
(Burnham, 2005) before introducing this exercise, for example, by
routinely including the self of the therapist in team discussions.
Supervisor’s self-disclosure
The exercise gives supervisors an opportunity to share their stories
and model self-disclosure. Roberts (2005) discusses how therapist’s
transparency and self-disclosure can enhance therapeutic work, but
also encourages practitioners to be mindful of potential dilemmas and
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 97
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
pitfalls. Similarly, supervisors need to think about the potential impact
of their self-disclosure on the supervisees and supervisory relation-
ships. I shared my thought that ‘I am the wrong colour and sex’ to
progress in the field, where proportionately more male and white
people seem to be found in senior positions. This disclosure was not
planned and I later wondered if it was appropriate. On the one hand,
I thought that if I was sharing only what felt safe (in other words, a
sanitized version of myself), it would not be congruent with the
purpose of this exercise, and such relational risk-taking (Mason, 2005)
is necessary and important to model self-disclosure and build super-
visory relationships. In the literature on adult education and learning,
some authors emphasize the importance of risk-taking on the part of
the teachers in modelling what they expect students to do. Brookfield
(1993) discusses the benefits of the leader of small group activity
modelling ‘qualities of openness and honesty he or she hopes will
characterise small group interactions’ (p. 29). hooks (1994) suggests
that teachers also grow and are empowered by the process of learning:
That empowerment cannot happen if we refuse to be vulnerable while
encouraging students to take risks. Professors who expect students to
share confessional narratives but who are themselves unwilling to share
are exercising power in a way that could be coercive. In my classrooms,
I do not expect students to take any risks that I would not take, to share
in any way that I would not share. When professors bring narratives of
their experiences into classroom discussions it eliminates the possibility
that we can function as all-knowing, silent interrogators. (p. 21)
On the other hand, on reflection, I think it would have been helpful
to ask how the supervisees felt about my self-disclosure and what it
may have meant to them to facilitate discussion in a way that promotes
relational reflexivity (Burnham, 2005). When I asked them at a later
date, Ellen commented:
I saw it as role modelling – that the supervision space is safe for one to
disclose without any comeback. I believe that it encouraged me to take
risks and say things I would not have been comfortable to say had you
not made the disclosure. This ability to take risks in supervision later
extended beyond that exercise; for example, I felt able to talk about
what the clients evoked in me without fear of being judged as
While my self-disclosure had a positive impact on Ellen on this occa-
sion, it might have had different meanings and impact on others.
Ellen, as a black woman, may have found my comment helpful as it
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implied our shared dilemmas and the existence of an alliance between
us. However, the same comment could potentially cause awkwardness
or discomfort to others. For example, white or male supervisees (in
this case, Ruth as a white woman and Patrick as a white man) might
have felt challenged (or even attacked) as members of the majority
group. Supervisors are in a position of power in relation to
supervisees, who may find it difficult to voice their views. There may
be occasions when other supervisees’ stories may have a similar impact
on the others and supervisors need to be mindful of such dynamics.
When SG doesn’t grab supervisees
When I used this exercise with another group consisting of
supervisees from different backgrounds (most had no previous family
therapy training), one of them expressed a view that these differences
‘should not matter’ and did not seem able to think about the personal
relevance of SG. This supervisee was challenged by a team member,
who had experience of being in a minority position and felt that his
life was different, and not thinking about differences would mean that
his experiences, both positive and negative, were not being acknowl-
edged. I could see that the first supervisee’s position was based on
beliefs about equality and anti-discriminatory practice, but this experi-
ence made me realize that I had assumed that supervisees could think
about SG in relation to their own experiences. In the first group,
everyone had the experience of being in minority positions and this
made me wonder if this exercise is harder for those who had few
previous opportunities to think about differences.
In individual supervision with another trainee from a different
discipline, I asked about her experience as a white therapist of
working with a young black client. Heidi said I think I have to be
careful because I am just white British’. When asked what she meant
by ‘just’, she said ‘I am white English and the majority, and don’t have
a culture like people of minority cultures do’. When I expressed my
view that everyone has a culture and asked about hers, she told me a
story she heard on the radio about a town that proposed to ban
church bell ringing because it might offend people of other religions.
Heidi said, ‘If someone said something like that about a minority
culture, all hell would break loose. I thought, “But it is my culture!” I
felt my culture was not respected’. I learned that most of her training
group was white and the course reading focused on how white major-
ity therapists should understand the minority clients’ needs rather
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 99
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
than exploring their own experiences and beliefs. When asked if there
was space for this kind of conversation on her training, Heidi said she
felt apprehensive because she does not want to be seen as a racist. I
appreciated Heidi’s courage in sharing this story with me, when she
was aware of my background.
As a result of these experiences, I added a section for those who do
not feel grabbed by aspects of SG, focusing on privileges, similarly to
Divac and Heaphy (2005)’s exercise. The following questions are
based on McIntosh (1998)’s article on white privilege. She states:
As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as some-
thing which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see
one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advan-
tage. (pp. 147–148)
If none of these aspects of SG ‘grab’ you, please choose a few of them and
think about your experience of privileges/lack of privileges
1. What is your experience of privileges/lack of privileges in relation
to the aspects of GGRRAAACCEEESSS you chose?
2. What are the things you may take for granted?
3. What are the daily effects of your privileges/lack of privileges on
your life and on your relationship with others? (This question is
based on McIntosh (1998), who states ‘I decided to try to work on
myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white
privilege in my life’ [p. 148]).
These questions helped me think more about my own experience of
privileges, which the ‘non-grabbing’ aspects of SG highlighted, but in
a more focused and explicit way.
Keeping the learning alive
One of the potential pitfalls may be that this exercise is used in
isolation and links to practice are not developed in subsequent super-
vision. In my experience of some training courses, issues of differ-
ences were taught separately rather than being woven into the whole
course, giving an impression that lip service was being paid to diver-
sity issues. Current family therapy training courses seem to incorpo-
rate diversity issues in all aspects of training, and the supervision
literature reflects this. Supervisors need to keep issues of differences
alive and actively and continuously encourage supervisees to tap into
their learning from this exercise and apply it to their practice. In
100 Yoko Totsuka
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
subsequent supervision, I started to ask supervisees to state their
hypothesis and link it with their relationship with SG and their self
issues, similarly to the exercise by Mills-Powell and Worthington
(2007). For example, during a pre-session discussion, Ellen talked
about the influence of her own migration experience on her hypoth-
esis about a client family. Patrick focused on the meaning for a boy of
growing up and coping in the family’s cultural context. I shared my
hypothesis about the tension between the family’s aspirations and
stable family life and linked it to my own background where education
and hard work were highly valued but sometimes at the expense of
family life.
The supervisees often referred to their personal stories in subse-
quent sessions and they were encouraged to think how these stories
may help or hinder their work. Making explicit links between their
hypotheses and personal experiences seemed to enable them to own
their views, which Proctor (1997) encourages in group supervision in
order to avoid overwhelming therapists or making them feel incom-
petent and deskilled. Proctor (1997) proposes a method for a group
supervision discussion where supervisees are asked ‘what bells ring for
you, either from your personal or your professional life that you
would like to share with the presenter (and the group)’ (p. 218):
Interestingly, it is the ‘Bells that Ring’ stories that supervisees, and
particularly Presenters, consistently say have been the most useful feed-
back for them. The Observers ‘own’ the feedback as theirs, and the fact
that the stories are both personal and one-step removed reflections
appears to allow Presenters to explore alternative narratives and
descriptions with their autonomy and self respect intact (p. 220).
Our complex relationship with SG is always influencing us, whether
we are conscious of it or not. This exercise is an attempt to explore it
and bring the taken-for-granted ideas into the foreground. The exe-
rcise’s aim is not necessarily to change our beliefs about aspects of SG
but to foster curiosity and self-reflexivity. As Ellen said, her relation-
ship with gender did not change but her curiosity led to a conversa-
tion with people with different religious beliefs. The hope is that
increased curiosity and self-reflexivity will aid our work with our client
families by bringing more flexibility to our thinking and actions.
I would like to thank Patrick, Nomazwe Sibanda, Sylvia Metzer, Julia
Clark, Barry Mason, Viv Gross, Percy Aggett and Jo Bownas for their
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 101
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
comments and input. I thank my supervisees for their kind permis-
sion to use the examples and extracts from the exercise and follow-up
interviews. I am grateful to Ellen, who gave me permission to cite her
original comment that inspired me to develop this exercise. I thank
John Burnham for his generosity in sharing his ideas on SG.
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Appendix 1. Social GGRRAAACCEEESSS exercise
Exercise: ‘Which aspects of Social GGRRAAACCEEESSS grab you
Summary. The exercise is designed to facilitate the exploration
of participants’ relationships with different aspects of Social
GGRRAAACCEEESSS (SG) (e.g. Roper-Hall, 1998; Burnham, 2012).
It consists of mapping influences of different aspects of SG and how
some aspects come to be more privileged than others. It is proposed
that the exercise is used in the context of a supervision group, where
the supervisees and supervisor share their personal and family of
origin stories related to SG. Team members’ reflection offers a further
opportunity for learning.
Mapping of influences
Each group member writes down ideas individually, including the
1. Which aspects of SG grab you most and why?
(i): Focus on the two most influential ones, but feel free to comment
on other related aspects.
Which aspects of SG mean more to you? Which ones are more
important to you?
Which are you more preoccupied with?
Which influenced you or organized your life most?
(ii): How did these influences develop? Think about significant experi-
ences (for example, stories and images) in your life/family of origin/
other relationship contexts which influenced you.
(iii): How do different aspects of SG relate to each other?
Social GGRRAAACCEEESSS (SG) stands for
Gender Class
Geography Culture
Race Ethnicity
Religion Education
Age Employment
Ability Sexuality
Appearance Sexual orientation
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© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
2. Which aspects of SG do not grab you and why?
Which ones mean less to you? Which ones are less important to
Which ones influenced you or organised your life least? What
does it say about you/your family of origin?
3. How do these influence your practice?
How do they relate to your beliefs/prejudices/values?
• How do these influences relate to your strengths, weaknesses
and blind spots?
How do they impact on your practice? How do they help/hinder
your practice?
If none of these aspects of SG grabs you, please choose a few of them
and think about your experience of privileges/lack of privileges.
Our experience of privileges/lack of privileges (based on McIntosh,
What is your experience of privileges/lack of privileges in relation
to the aspects of SG you chose?
What are the things you may take for granted?
What are the daily effects of your privileges/lack of privileges on
your life and on your relationship with others?
Interviews and reflection (allow minimum 30 minutes for each
One team member interviews another (20 minutes).
The rest of the team reflect on the conversation (5 minutes).
What struck you most?
• What are the similarities and differences between you and your
What did you learn from the conversation?
The interviewee reflects on the reflection (5 minutes).
All team members, including the supervisor should be interviewed.
Whole group discussion and feedback
The supervisor may wish to facilitate discussion on the following
What learning needs did this exercise highlight for you?
What support/help would you like from the team and the
• Which aspects of SG featured more/less in the interviews? What
implications might this have on our practice?
SG exercise to promote self-reflexivity 105
© 2014 The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice
Appendix 2. SG exercise: the follow-up interview
1. When you look back on the exercise, what stood out for you?
2. Did the exercise have an impact on your practice and your life in
any way? If so how? Do you have examples of situations or cases
where it helped you in any way? What do you think your supervi-
sor and the team may have seen you do more or less?
3. Have your relationships with different aspects of SG changed? If so
how? If I ask you now which ones grab you more/less what would
you say?
References to Appendix 1
Burnham, J. (1992) Approach – method – technique: making distinctions and
creating connections. Human Systems, 3: 3–27.
Burnham, J. (2012) Developments in Social GRRRAAACCEEESSS: visible – invis-
ible and voiced – unvoiced. In I.-B. Krause (ed.) Culture and Reflexivity in
Systemic Psychotherapy: Mutual Perspectives (pp. 139–160). London: Karnac.
Roper-Hall, A. (1998) Working systemically with older people and their families
who have ‘come to grief ’. In P. Sutcliffe, G. Tufnell and U. Cornish (eds)
Working with the Dying and Bereaved: Systemic Approaches to Therapeutic Work (pp.
177–207). London: Macmillan.
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