What is reflective practice?

Are you seeking to improve your skills and decision-making skills? Reflective practice may be the tool you’re looking for! In this blog, we’ll delve into the benefits of self-examination, helping you learn from past experiences and become more self-aware. 

While reflective practice is a necessary component of most (if not all!) healthcare training programs, it can also be easily applied to your daily life. 

Through regular consideration of how our experiences affect us, we can skillfully enhance our understanding of ourselves, set and meet future goals, and improve our relationships with others. 

With 30+ years of accumulated experience in mental health care working with the NHS, the University of Birmingham and many Addiction Recovery programmes across the country, we will explore everything from handling unconscious biases to delivering client-focused care and ethical decision-making. We consistently use tools like group supervision and critical incident reporting and want to share that with you. 

Truly embracing reflective practice can have a transformative impact on your career, ultimately leading to better services and improved client outcomes. With that in mind, let’s start reflecting!

What is reflective practice?

What is the meaning of reflective practice?

Reflective practice refers to a continuous process of self-examination, aiming to gain valuable insights from past experiences. It involves looking back and considering past events and the thoughts/feelings you had at the time. 

Through this process, we can evaluate how we reacted to specific situations and what we could have done differently. This reflection allows us to become more self-aware and improve future decision-making. 

By regularly checking in with how we are experiencing events in our lives, we can identify potential areas for change and avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. 

Reflective practice in healthcare allows practitioners to review and learn from interactions with clients, ensuring effective and ethical care is provided regardless of context.

Benefits of reflective practice

Self-awareness

Despite typically having excellent observational skills, healthcare practitioners are just as likely to be affected by unconscious biases as anyone else! Making assumptions, relying on automatic thinking during stressful situations, and occasionally saying the wrong things are part of what makes us human. This is one of the reasons why reflective practice is essential for those working with other people. 

By becoming more self-aware and learning from our mistakes, we can be more prepared to tackle future challenges and enhance our personal and professional development. By identifying our own unconscious biases, we can respond more effectively to stressful or complex interactions and ensure effective and ethical care is provided.

Improving the quality of services

People are complex, and what works for one session may not work for another. By analysing our past interactions with clients, we can identify particularly successful techniques and improve the quality of service that we provide. Although it may not seem like it at the time, every interaction with a client, positive or negative, can improve our therapeutic skills.

Client-focused care 

Through reflection, healthcare professionals can have a greater understanding of how their actions affect clients. A therapeutic relationship is inherently two-way, with both clients and practitioners constantly affecting each other through how they express themselves. 

Understanding how clients may respond to us promotes more empathetic and client-focused care through reminding ourselves of the dynamic relationship of our interactions.

Ethical decision-making

Healthcare professionals must ensure they abide by strict codes of ethical practice in every interaction with clients. By examining potential ethical dilemmas and challenges, practitioners can continue to make morally sound and informed decisions.

CPD – Continued Professional Development 

Regular reflective practice is essential for improving the development of practitioner knowledge and skills. Clinicians can keep up to date with current research practices and developments within the field, ensuring care is up to current standards.

Client outcomes 

Through the improved understanding of oneself, clinicians can provide more attentive, empathetic, and informed care to clients. Ultimately, reflective practice allows for improved client outcomes by improving the quality of care we are capable of providing.

What is reflective practice?

Types of reflective practice

Individual 

Self-examination and evaluation of our thoughts and feelings are essential to successful reflective practice. As such, one component of reflective practice involves analysing our personal experiences and considering how we might be feeling after an event. Even better, you don’t need an expensive course, qualification, or training to begin reflecting! 

To get started with reflective practice, you may begin by simply considering how a recent event affected your thoughts and feelings, and how these experiences may have influenced how you responded at the time.

Group 

Collaborative reflection with peers may involve sharing experiences, promoting collective learning, as well as providing unique insights and alternative perspectives. For example, some teams provide weekly reflective meetings as an opportunity to share any problems that may have come up while providing a service. 

Group reflection can be an extremely useful practice, promoting a sense of support within a service and fostering better team relationships.

Clinical supervision 

Regular clinical supervision is crucial to provide continued support for those working in healthcare settings. Reflective practice facilitated through clinical supervision may involve guidance on client cases, the administration of techniques, as well as professional development. 

A benefit of using clinical supervision for reflective practice is that a qualified practitioner may provide expert guidance and alternative perspectives/solutions to any problems brought up during reflection. Additionally, through supervision, we may be better able to set targets for continued professional development, identifying specific areas for improvement and ensuring clear steps are in place to help us achieve our goals.

What are examples of reflective practice?

Critical incident reflection 

After a critical incident, it is important that all aspects of the event are considered to ensure both practitioner well-being and future safeguarding to avoid similar events in the future. 

Here, a focused analysis on a challenging situation is used, considering how those involved may have felt, acted, or responded to events. Critical incident reflection is usually performed under clinical supervision.

Reflective journaling 

Through journaling, a written record of our experiences, emotions, and insights can be kept to facilitate ongoing self-awareness and professional development.

Video/audio recording 

For those working within a team, reviewing recorded sessions with clients can be extremely beneficial, allowing practitioners to observe and review past interactions. 

Recordings can be extremely useful to analyse our non-verbal responses, as we can often be completely unaware of how we move during interactions! This self-examination ensures we appear empathetic and interested throughout every session.

Your next steps to implementing reflective practice

In this article, you learned that reflective practice is an invaluable tool for both personal and professional development. We defined and discussed reflective practice, exploring the importance of self-awareness, improving service quality, and ensuring ethical decision-making. 

Now you’ve learned the benefits of reflective practice: the next step is to incorporate this process into your routine. By regularly analysing your past interactions, keeping reflective journals, or participating in clinical supervision, you can enhance your own well-being and may ultimately improve client treatment outcomes.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like to read about What is Compassionate Leadership Training? or CBT vs 12-Step Programme?

MSc Jake Whitehouse-Muir is an Assistant Psychologist and Research Lead at The RESET Health Group.

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