All professionals have a duty of care to enhance their skills and knowledge via a process of continuous reflective practice, as it is an integral part of maintaining professional status. This is especially true for those who work with vulnerable or at risk clients.
Reflective practice refers to a practitioner’s ability to observe their behaviour, feelings, thoughts, skills, attitudes, biases and professional conduct from an objective viewpoint. Being reflective allows a practitioner to be exposed to a variety of perspectives, which in turn can lead to different ways of understanding situations or completing a course of action. Reflective practice assists in meeting challenges that might arise from competing positions with confidence. It offers the practitioner a more thorough understanding of ethical dilemmas in their practice and promotes new ways of thinking (Thompson & Thompson, 2008).
Professional practice is what you bring to your workplace. It is the application of your knowledge, skills and abilities and involves theoretical knowledge, professional skills and self-awareness. As you grow and learn you will find that your professional practice will change over time and evolve every time you have a new experience or obtain new knowledge. The benefit of this evolution is that you will be able to maintain a high standard of service delivery. In order to maintain the right level of empathy, concern and understanding for clients, it is essential that you are aware of how life and work affects the service you provide. If you are unable to resolve an issue yourself, or your focus is on other areas, you will have less ability to concentrate and work with clients who have their own problems.
The engagement in working with vulnerable people can be both a theoretical and an emotional process. The two streams of insight run simultaneously and they may impact each other. Therefore, to be an effective practitioner, it is imperative that these two processes are operating in your mind simultaneously. Reflective practice increases awareness of ourselves as practitioners and can be a very powerful tool, producing a range of positive outcomes including;
- Affirming what we do well
- Becoming aware of aspects of current practices that could be improved
- Identifying areas that require considerable attention
Reflective practice can be used to
- Recognise and continue good practice
- Change and improve what is not working well
- Challenge practices that are taken for granted
- Monitor all aspects of practice on an ongoing basis
- Know when to find more information or support from others
Self-evaluation should not simply be conducted on oneself in isolation but the process should involve your supervisor as you be able to benefit from the complexity, neutrality and insight that can only come when people with varying observations and capabilities offer their insight. The way you see yourself can be quite different to the way that others see you. Being self-aware makes it possible to be aware of these inconsistencies and to assess attitudes and behaviours more objectively. It helps to develop an awareness of your attitudes, beliefs, values, behaviour and assumptions which provides insight into how you might think, act and feel in different situations. Without this insight, it can be difficult to understand the effect you have on others and when, how or why you may need to modify a behaviour. Self-awareness thus allows you to clearly review your strengths and weaknesses honestly and aids in personal growth and development (Zimmerman, 2002).
For practitioners, the purpose and process of reflective practice is to personally reflect and review what occurred in a session with a client. It involves evaluating the strengths and areas for improvement and to learn from both the successes and mistakes. Over time the skills of reflective practice become the professional pathway to becoming an effective practitioner. The skills of reflection help the practitioner to reflect with depth and flexibility and to consider a broader range of meanings and possible options that may assist clients to make positive changes in their lives.
Bernard, J.M., & Goodyear, R.K. (1992). Fundamentals of Clinical Supervision. (2nd Ed). Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon.
Corey, G., Corey, M.S., & Callanan, P. (2007). Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions. (7th Ed.). Belmont: Thompson Brooks/Cole.
Pockett, R., Napier L., & Giles, R. (2013). Critical Reflection for Practice. In A. O’Hara & R. Pockett (2nd Ed.). Skills for Human Service Practice (pp. 9). South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford.
Thompson, S., & Thompson, N. (2008). The critically reflective practitioner. Basingstoke [England]; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Zimmerman, B. J. (2002) – Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview. Theory into Practice, 41(2), 64-70.
Article by Wendy Webber
Head of Faculty
Community Services and Counselling