Supervision auprès d'une équipe multiculturelle, d' accueil parents-enfants


Experience of supervision of the pre-schooling team, in a gypsy area in Perpignan, France, Spain border: From vertical to horizontal, changing the viewpoint


Ecarte, PARIS 2013, September 11-14


Kathleen OLIVIER, dramatherapist, psychologist


  1. Introduction: The invitation


When I started thinking about what topic I could reflect on for the purpose of this Consortium, I immediately thought of that experience I was living which was at the same time very motivating to me and an entire discovery. I felt I shall use the opportunity to give it time, analysis and wondering. So what I am doing is to propose we reflect on the situation together having in mind it may have an effect on the ongoing process.


The experience is one of supervising the educational team that is responsible for a place created in the middle of a gypsy square south of France, in Perpignan: le “centre de pré-scolarisation”. The objective of this place is to become the first opportunity for gypsy kids to be in touch with a social dynamic different from that of their family and prepare them to going to school when they are six: some call it “cultural mediation”.


I was contacted in December 2011 by the psychologist who had taught me about intercultural issues as part of continuing education at my workplace, a psychiatric home specialized in kids up to 12. She had heard I and a colleague were proposing supervision through dramatherapy processes. The educational team had been receiving supervision for some time, but they had a demand for change with some specific requests. The former approach was psychoanalytically oriented and the team members who had not such cultural background said they didn’t understand the language. In addition, the previous supervisor was requesting they come to his place that was in another city. Recently only 2 of the 6 members were regularly going to supervision. Because of my high motivation to work with that population I said yes without thinking too much. When they asked if their director should participate also, I replied that for me it was evident that he was part of the team. Up to now, I am not sure who was more resistant to him coming, but he has been coming for each session.




From that demand on, three questions appear to be most relevant to the work we have been doing so far:

  1. The issue of power: dynamics of power, feeling of powerlessness and possibilities of empowerment.

  2. The issue of language: need to be understood and recognition of understanding, beyond words

  3. The issue of frontiers and limits: between in and out, at a social, inter-individual and intra-psychic level


  1. A bit of history about this gypsy population


The area where I was invited to come in is in the suburb area of the city (there is another gypsy area downtown, and other small groupings). It was constructed in 1963 in emergency to respond to the situation of around 200 gypsies who had settled in two locations, the Bellus city and an emergency camp where living conditions could not be accepted by the city. There are around 600 people declared living there now and the limits of the place are very visible. When one enters, it almost feels like entering another country: there are many bumps on the way for cars to reduce speed and people live in the streets which are a mix of soil and roads, clothes dry outside, and one can meet young kids going naked feet, animals or people with psychiatric disorders who stay near their homes without the treatments one would receive if coming from another area. They tend to be recognized for holding ultra conservatory traditions where women have few rights, have to stay home and wait for the man to come. However, they often explain their troubles by the fact that the old ones who were making the law being respected are gone and small boys are “already considered as kings” being offered all what their is asking for by the father (even when this last one has no job) while mistreating his mum without any punishment. Some researchers understand that this people have lost the internal solidarity and family bound due to the disappearance of traditions and ancesters and combined with the influence of individualism coming from the external society (the “payous”). Their language is derived from romani like other gypsy languages but is specific to this part of France and northern catalunya, it is called calo Gitano which can be understood by others talking catalan but has its specificities and define their group.


What did I “know” about them before coming in.


Even if I felt I was entering in the world of the unknown, my desire to know was fed by the tales I had heard before. Tales always tell something of a truth. I was meeting boys and girls with sucks in the mouth and sometimes in a stroller up to an age much older than expected. Women are seen in the streets and supermarkets with slippers and housecoats. It seems as if they are tending to make prolongations of their homes to the streets. I had also heard about the issue to have gypsy kids go to school. For social or political reasons, the city have organized that buses come to take them directly from home to school. Schools are supposed to be mixes of all kids living around it, but some get called ‘gypsy schools’ since the educational atmosphere is very different for the adaptations that are made: kids get late, miss a lot, come sometimes with alcohol to school, feel there is no interest in learning since they have no future. In their square, police doesn’t enter much, however, it is known for having drugs, weapons, cars are robbed and stay there, burnt. Women recognize cheating is frequent for men; but a woman cannot marry one from another origin. Incest seems to have become generalized. This tale seems a quite freaky one. However, this is the one that I, an outsider, had heard about. It seems the outside world may appear even more dangerous since as well as they fear getting out for school or even social activities, it is very difficult to have them get to the psychiatric little home located very near their area.


  1. 9 encounters between January 2012 and June 2013


  1. The team


The first meeting happened to be in the downtown (St-Jacques) team, but for different reasons, the supervision could not start there at this time. I then met the Nouveau Logis team. 3 members are working on both teams (Payou), the others belong to the place where they live and where the center for the kids has been built (they were all born in the area, 2 are from north Africa origins and one is a “Gitana”). 2 members came in later. I shall name then based on the characteristics I noted:


Cautious hippie Director/ Young Mum Psychologist / Daring Doubtful Social Worker/ Old Wise Man/ Constricted Hopeful Sister /Sick Feeling Woman/ Young Open Woman/ Experienced Observer




  1. A look at the creative supervision process


I am presenting here the creative processes interacting with the themes, questions and learning that appeared in our collaborative experience.




Creative processes



Questions and learning


C.H.D/YMP/DDSW/2 gypsies women

Sociometry/ individual Boat drawing


I didn’t know you were feeling like that” “I am not sure I understand”

Need for trust building/ Can we communicate/need to take some distance from emotions




Roles over time


I feel a rope around my neck”

It was hard when we were young, we have known misery” “I haven’t seen my kids grow old”

I hope I can go around the world for humanitary missions”

Self disclosure/ recognition of sameness



Personal play sculpt of an “issue”

Being useful to others/ fear to do bad

I feel people are always deciding on my behalf” “I feel I am at the interconnection between all the people I care about”

Interaction of personal and professional lives/ human bounds



Collective drawing of their “working home”

Life/walls and pathways/

It is hard to get out” “

In and out, viewpoints



Spontaneous discussion on traditions/ collective “vehicle”


I don’t need you to pull me” “Where shall I place myself?” “I am all around” “There is movement between us” “I am following”

Power and places



Fluid sculpt and reverse roles


It is hard to communicate, I feel tension”

Need for resources



Story telling

Hope/ transmission

And when they believed there was still food inside, they abandoned the attack” “This is a story my mum was telling me and I told my kids”

Trust in the process



Community game

Time/realistic vs fantasy/ inter-individual differences/

I don’t understand other languages” “I go through the hole she has made” “I don’t open the door but if I am concerned, I break it” “you don’t want us to work together” “If it is a game, I want to win” “I feel there is no end”




Playback theater

Justice/ Places of the parents and of the kids/ responsibilities/

Tell me what should I say in your role?” “we cannot really act it was only symbolic” “The action was to call someone from outside” “For my own son I couldn’t defend myself”

call to the law/question of empowerement/




Discussion: supervision of a multicultural team through dramatherapy


Looking at a retrospective of these 18 months, I can see how we co-created a group dynamic where creative processes interacted smoothly with the themes and questions emerging. At the beginning I was confronted to a quite high level of defenses. Resistance was coming from gypsy members wondering if we could understand each other; Calish describes “client anger and resistance related to past experiences of racism and discrimination”, but also from members of the team who had been trying for a long time to understand the gypsy people and for whom “counter-transferences and over-identifications” may impact the supervision relationship (in Dokter, 1998). From the first meeting on, I felt people were quite hypersensitive and how much we needed the frame of projection to take some distance through the use of metaphors. One shall keep in mind that staying with the metaphor as I have been doing in the different sessions is different from using metaphors as unconscious material to be brought into consciousness. As a dramatherapist I am using this tool with the objective to “transcend into the fantastic reality where time and space are suspended and where impossible is made possible and can help the supervisee observe a situation from new perspectives and broaden alternatives.” (Lahad, 2010). Have in mind the example of the story of the people saving their city when almost no hope was remaining or all the solutions that were proposed for each issue in the collective game they created.

Different approaches in supervision have been compared in intercultural work, all having some interest and some risks. Psychodynamic approaches can be too rigid when a structure of interpretation and a lack of attention to societal influences can exclude the possibility of considering differing cultural perceptions. Humanistic approaches when people are confronted or proposed to self disclose can provide difficulties cross culturally. Developmental approaches take the supervisor to expectations of developmental stages which may be different. Finally, an approach that allows for more mutuality and joint problem solving can help overcome the ethnocentric assumptions (Dokter). This is what could be observed in the community game or the playback theater experience where each member could offer solutions and the issue was not the one of one person but of the social group.

Also, this approach leads to consider that “members of various ethnic and cultural groups differ from each other in psychologically meaningful ways. Calish, (1998) relates particularly to values and developmental or family experience that may be different and explain why members may encounter difficulties in identifying problems and goals - which is what we could observe in the boat drawing or the clay sculpt. Assessment of the world view to start the process (and all along) is seen as a crucial part of the process. Calish recommends use of art and Cohn (1997) body movement based approaches (sociometry, machines and fluid sculpts). The difference in how others identify us tends to create tensions within the individual and in their relationships to others, offering creative tools to help members present themselves to the group is a crucial step in the process (i.e: roles in personal life, important stories and successes, reverse roles).


One shall not forget its own cultural background. Different researches have been studying the question of cultural experience of the art-therapist, and tell that the understanding of efficacy of dramatherapy affects the therapist being able to translate to a different context. However, I want to insist on the fact that the over-riding issue is therapist's awareness of their own ethnocentric perspective. I had actually at first written the article with a “we” and “us” perspective when referring to the external society. Having that in mind, I am trying to travel together with the team without knowing where we are going and discovering questions, hearing answers, remaining with some unknown and having to tolerate, trying to let any point of view possible.


Question of understanding has been reminente with some members wanting me to tell them what I saw and understood and others clearly saying they couldn’t enter the process if they felt I knew. These differences in expectations about the role of the supervisor as a 'teacher', provider of directive advice (Hanna, 1990, Case 1998) or as a facilitator, a non-directive guide (Lahad, 2000) have been explored and remind us how much the differences in any group of people. The question of choice with whom one works is bound to how we identify ourselves and crucial for the relationship and its effect.




This is not really a conclusion and I will quote a member of the team who said: “it seems the game will never end”, but an opportunity to reflect on the ongoing process.

The issue of power seems to have been quite evolving and growing trust enables almost each member to have its turns for being at the center of one session. The repertory of roles has raised (particularly in the playback theater session) and illustrates of empowerment is permitted through experiencing new ways of being (Landy). Actually it feels like the issue of power was transformed into one of responsibility. Responsibility of the parent and place of the child himself who instead of being put in the position of an object( a symbol to fight for) may have his opinion to voice (The boy wanted to go to high school). Responsability of the law which is made to make sense in the relationship between a country and each of his members and signs for justice.

Language that was mentioned as an issue before we started the supervision was discussed all along with possibilities to communicate that arose spontaneously. It was stricking how the gipsy women who were at first almost silent and signifying their doubt we could communicate were actually the ones who could say their need at the last sessions. Body language appeared to be quite important specifically to Feeling Pain who demonstrated how she could remember body shapes and movements for each other person: “When it touches me, I remember”. She was the one to make language the issue of the collective game where people could propose solutions (translator, mime), but finally the most important moment was when she exchanged with Young Calm Woman on the fact that they both shared the fear not to understand and Feeling Pain reassured Young Calm Woman about the fact that she saw how she could communicate with the kids.

The question of boundaries between inside and outside was evoked at different moments with the paradox that the ones who want to get out of the square as a life goal also describe the outside world as full of dangers (paranoid view). Social research explains how groups have a natural feeling of belonging when they have common origins (been real or mythic). For these gipsy people, having lost some of their history, they try to create force binding together looking for similarities (language or color), but therefore, as a way to reinforce this feeling of community, they reject the others. This may make it difficult for one person to differenciate from the group and have the right for autonomy (Jung). One can recognize that such a binary view of good and bad makes changes difficult. However, with the group I have been working, intermediatory spaces are possible (in the city drawing, in the Train). Calls to the laws and the bigger society were also made, reminding that this area belongs to humanity from which boundaries even symbolic can come. This is exactly where our point is working with those people whose goal is to help families let their kids become more autonome and feel able to travel around without losing their sense of identity but on the contrary gaining some more. It is by taking some distance from our self that we knos better who were are. I have a tendency to believe that through our discussion together, images we may have created in our mind of these people may impact directly the perceptions they may have on each other and on themselves.


Intercultural supervision, the issue of choice (Dokter, D.; Khasnavis R.), p111-129 in Supervision of Dramatherapy, Jones, P. and Dokter, D, Routledge, New York, 2008.

Creative Supervison, the use of expressive arts methods in supervision and self-supervision, Lahad, M. Jessica Kingsley publishers, London and Philadelphia, 2010


Les gitanes de St-Jacques, emission audio, France Culture, Les Pieds sur terre, 11/09/2012