Developing professional practice is an undertaking that should be considered an ongoing endeavor to continually grow and remain relevant and up to date in a person’s area of interest and/or expertise. Planning for assessment and evaluation is good practice. It will hopefully keep one abreast of new practices/ideas and understandings as well as aware of any areas of misunderstanding and/or lack of knowledge. It is also important to have a firm foundation regarding the importance of reflection on practice to enhance professionalism. This reflective ability is integral to focusing on client/counselor change and progress. The following essay will argue the value of reflection on practice in the workplace, discuss various reflective techniques expected to be employed in a placement setting and any challenges that may occur. It will also look at the importance of supervision, a summary of key learning goals, and plans for developing professional practice over the course of the placement. This process will set the scene for future best practices in my career pathway.
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Recently while researching I came upon a model for reflection that makes sense and can be a useful tool in regards to my ongoing learning. The Centre for Collaborative Action Research describes reflection as, “a process of deep inquiry into one’s professional practices in service of moving towards an envisioned future, aligned with values” (Riel, 2010, Introductory section, para. 1). It looks systematically and reflectively at one’s actions, and the effects of these actions, in a workplace context. It involves examining one’s work and seeking opportunities for improvement. Over time, following the cycle (a type of reflective continuum) which is provided below allows progression and adaption of practice which translates into the process of living one’s theory into practice/reality (Riel, 2010).
Another method, which can be perceived more as a guideline for directing reflective practice, is called the ERA (experience- reflection-action). The generic nature of such a model is useful for the application in any context. The reflective part can utilize different frameworks, which depend on the value base chosen, i.e. practice basis, personal basis, and professional developmental basis (Jasper, 2006, p. 56). The choice of perspective is merely a matter of asking the right questions to direct experiential learning. There are an advantage of pre-determined models which nevertheless, might impose restrictions on the direction that should be followed, limiting my imagination and creativity. Using the model creatively means that the reflector will formulate the questions to ask, or in the case of using a predetermined framework will modify the questions if necessary. The guideline for selecting a framework might stem from the main aim of the module, which is developing professional practice, and accordingly, the framework for reflexive practice by Ralfe, Freshwater, and Jasper (2001), cited in Jasper (2006), might be used. The framework’s perspective is practice development in which several theories are combined into a single developmental framework (Jasper, 2006, p. 61). The incorporation of the framework can be seen in building Kim’s (1999) three levels of reflection, descriptive, theoretical and knowledge building, and action-oriented. All of those levels will be structured through Barton’s cue questions, what, so what, and know what, all of which can be added to (p. 61). Cue questions, just as their title implies, merely provide examples of what questions should be asked, and what outcome should be expected from the reflection process.
The reflective techniques I intend to use during placement to assess practice will include using progressive problem solving with action research, previously mentioned, and incorporating different cue questions adopted from different frameworks to guide the inquiry process. Such a process will include journaling my experiences, questioning, seeking feedback, and managing a learning contract with my supervisor. Truly reflective counselors are empathetic and better able to relate to clients on a level that fosters mutual respect and understanding. In their everyday duties, expert counselors show how their reflective practices are interrelated to the lives of their clients. When clients see empathy as an accurate manifestation of what he/she is feeling, bonds of trust are formed with the counseling profession. Communicating with empathy is a non-invasive way of communicating with the client, who will not view it as in any way threatening and can then open up in a supportive atmosphere.
Ongoing reflection also involves a discussion of the importance of supervision in the reflection process. The importance of supervision cannot be overrated, especially when reflection involves ethical considerations and new situations which require creative approaches (Mann, Gordon, & MacLeod, 2009, p. 601). The use of reflection as learning is constantly repeated in literature, in connection with supervision and guidance. A review of reflective practice in health professions found out that the success of reflective practices is associated with such key factors as facilitating context, a safe atmosphere, mentorship and supervision, peer support and time to reflect” (Mann, et al., 2009, p. 614). In another study on supervision in the social work field, the supervision in the relation between the student and the supervisor was paralleled to the way a secure base between a parent and a child promotes optimal development (Bennett, 2008, p. 103). The role of the supervisor and the supervisory relationship shape the way the student will develop over time. These relationships add up to the importance of previously developed capacities students bring into the field, where such capacities include self-reflection, empathy, and intuition (Mann, et al., 2009, p. 103). In that regard, I do believe that the emphasis on the supervisory relationship should not overshadow the role of the student-practitioner. My role in practice learning should take the major lead, while the role of a supervisor is in providing reflective space (Lefevre, Tanner, & Luckock, 2008, p. 172), helping in forming the right inquires, and assisting in the decision-making process, specifically in those situations in which neither learned theory not experience provide an apparent solution to choose.
Focusing on reflection as a learning process, I have specific learning goals which incorporate attaining program development skills, case management skills, information and referral skills, and individual counseling skills. The focus on individual counseling skills can be specifically seen through various addiction and substance abuse programs in which they are largely required. Focusing on a counseling practice, the importance of basic counseling skills surpasses the counselling format and/or any specific school of thought to which the counsellor subscribes (Myers & Salt, 2007, p. 74). Being able to involve the client in recovery, maintaining good relationships, gaining insights, and others, involve individual counseling skills, the development of which is one of my learning goals. One of the skills that I see important in counseling is engagement skills, which are crucial to establishing a positive counseling relationship. The importance of reflection in learning engagement skills can be seen through assessing the methods used in counseling, and revising the strategies selected for different types of clients. Other important counseling skills related to engagement can be seen through reinforcing, which is affirming, supporting, and praising clients. According to Miller and Rollnick, (1991), cited in Myers and Salt (2007), such technique is important for counsellors to develop. I intend to develop those skills through practicing counselling sessions, during the counselling process. The importance of reflection in developing such skills can be also emphasized, where cue questions at the end of each practice session can help identifying reinforcing approaches that can be used with different clients.
Another goal I have is translating theory into reality. An example of this would be using existential therapy as a counsellor. Existential therapy confronts the big questions, so in this paradigm the client might be asked to give a general view on his/her impression on what fulfilment means to them or how they envision their future without alcohol or substance abuse. In this theory, there is little focus on exact techniques and more focus on general philosophical imperatives to be followed by the therapist. In the existential view, “humans may be thrown by circumstance beyond their control into certain conditions of life, but how they value, interpret, and respond to those conditions is a matter of personal choice… it is you who gives conditions or experiences whatever meaning they might have for you” (Hergenhahn and Olson, 2003). The implementation of existential theory includes various models, each of which illustrate practical steps to follow. The description of steps such as “making connection to the past”, integrating the felt experience into the primary relationships”, and others, although bearing practical instructions, are highly theoretical (Coombs, 2005, p. 325). The essence of those instructions can be learned only through real counselling sessions.
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I also want to improve my interview and case management skills. For the case manager, the social work client interview takes place on many systemic levels, including the ability of the social worker professional to show core values of empathy and understanding for client populations while maintaining a sense of authority. Trust must be established with such type of clients before overtures toward empowerment are made effectively. From this point, treatment can proceed. In the case of addiction counselling, case management ensures that “chemically dependent persons will receive the therapeutic services they need and transition effectively from one level of care to another (e.g., residential treatment to outpatient services) as their recovery proceeds” (Coombs, 2005, p. 386). Accordingly, case management can be seen as a practice in which other counselling techniques are employed and individual counselling skills are needed. It is about a client-centred intervention, in which the case manager makes the services fit the need of a client, and “not vice versa”. Interview skills, in that regard, are one of the aspects the development of which is essential in different parts of the counselling process. The importance of interviewing skills can be seen the place communication takes in social work in general. Interviewing, in that sense, is only one part of the micro-skills in communication, in addition to listening, and information exchange (Lefevre, et al., 2008, p.167). As a part of case management, the interviewing skills will largely depend on individual counselling skills, and the experience built in varying intervening techniques with different customers. The application of reflection in case management can be seen through the way I will be able to reflect on the intervention process, and amend, revise and modify the intervention plans according to changes in the progress made and in the situation of a client.
Some people think that when they leave the school doors and enter into practice, they are free to forget what they have learned or that they are no longer compelled to learn. However, I view learning as a lifelong process which does not stop once in the workplace; rather, through reflection, the application of practice and communication, the counsellor can continue to learn and grow. In my opinion the most significant benefit in developing my professional practice is that it will provide a basis that can shift the focus from ‘where I come from’ and translate it into ‘who and how’ I am. Such transition allows utilizing all personal assets built through experience, competencies, and previous knowledge, and using skills’ development, new knowledge, and guidance, transform into an expertise in a selected filed. I hope to use my counselling skills in a real world environment that embraces teamwork, leadership and reflection.
The learning experience in a student placement situation is an opportunity to make mistakes and try techniques within the confines of supervision which helps structure and guide a student. The benefits are increased and better understanding of practices and a working rather than just a theoretical knowledge of skills. Challenges will be faced however; this simply highlights the need for such an endeavour. In conclusion, it has been argued and shown to be beneficial that reflective practice techniques such as questioning and journaling are not just important but essential and will provide a firm foundation for enhancing professional practice in the future. Learning goals, challenges and management principles have been discussed and the value of supervision in regards to this is acknowledged and reinforced as critical in order to keep best practice outcomes for client and counsellor at the forefront.
Bennett, C. S. (2008). Attachment-informed Supervision for Social Work Field Education. CLINICAL SOCIAL WORK JOURNAL, 36(1), 97-107. doi: 10.1007/s10615-007-0135-z.
Coombs, R. H. (2005). Addiction counseling review : preparing for comprehensive, certification, and licensing examinations. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,Publishers.
Jasper, M. (2006). Professional development, reflection and decision-making. Oxford ; Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Lefevre, M., Tanner, K., & Luckock, B. (2008). Developing social work students’ communication skills with children and young people: a model for the qualifying level curriculum. Child & Family Social Work, 13(2), 166-176. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2206.2007.00529.x
Mann, K., Gordon, J., & MacLeod, A. (2009). Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: a systematic review. Advances in health sciences education, 14, 595-621. doi: DOI 10.1007/s10459-007-9090-2
Myers, P. L., & Salt, N. R. (2007). Becoming an addictions counselor : a comprehensive text (2nd ed.). Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Riel, M. (2010). Understanding Action Research. Center For Collaborative Action Research. Web.