Examples of reflective practice

Superficial (= descriptive reflection) non-reflectors

Reflection at this level is very basic – some would say it is not reflection at all, as it is largely descriptive! However the description should not just be of what happened but should include a description of why those things happened.

Reflection at a superficial level makes reference to an existing knowledge base, including differing theories but does not make any comment or critique of them.

Example - superficial reflection

Today I spent time with James (client) and his family on the ward. The family had a lot of questions about the rehabilitation process and wanted to know what was going to happen for James.

I wanted to reassure them that things were OK because I knew this was what they needed to know. I said that while it was difficult for anyone to know the rate of James’ improvement I could be sure that he would improve and that it was important for the family to keep hopeful about his future.

James’ father became angry and after raising his voice at me, telling me I was a “patronising little fool”, he stormed out of the room. James mother sat weeping beside his bed and I felt I had really stuffed things up for this family. I need to get some advice about how to handle angry families.

Medium (= dialogic reflection) reflectors

At this level of reflection, the person takes a step back from what has happened and starts to explore thoughts, feelings, assumptions and gaps in knowledge as part of the problem solving process.
The reflector makes sense of what has been learnt from the experience and what future action might need to take place.

Example - medium reflection

Today I spent time with James (client) and his family on the ward. The family had a lot of questions about the rehabilitation process and wanted to know what was going to happen for James. I wanted to reassure them that things were OK because I remembered from a uni lecture by a carer that carers needed reassurance, information and hope for the future of the person they cared for. I said that while it was difficult for anyone to know the rate of James’ improvement I could be sure that he would improve and that it was important for the family to keep hopeful about his future.

James’ father became angry and after raising his voice at me, telling me I was a “patronising little fool”, he stormed out of the room. James mother sat weeping beside his bed. I felt confused and like I had done the wrong thing. I remembered from the same lecture about the emotional rollercoaster of caring for someone after a brain injury and how families could experience a range of emotional responses as they adjusted to their new reality.

I started thinking about what was happening in this family and how James’ parents were both clearly distressed and may have been having difficulty supporting each other due to their own distress. James’ father’s abuse of me was possibly not a fair reflection on me but said a lot about how he was feeling.

I decided to ask James’ mother how things were going for the family and she started to open up about how she felt. She revealed that James’ accident had opened up longstanding conflict between her and her husband, and that she didn’t feel hopeful about anything. It seemed like a useful conversation.

Deep (= critical reflection) critical reflectors

This level of reflection has the most depth. This level of reflection shows that the experience has created a change in the person – his/her views of self, relationships, community of practice, society and so on. To do so, the writer needs to be aware of the relevance of multiple perspectives from contexts beyond the chosen incident – and how the learning from the chosen incident will impact on other situations.

Example - deep reflection

Today I spent time with James (client) and his family on the ward. The family had a lot of questions about the rehabilitation process and wanted to know what was going to happen for James. I wanted to reassure them that things were OK because I remembered from a uni lecture by a carer that carers needed reassurance, information and hope for the future of the person they cared for. I said that while it was difficult for anyone to know the rate of James’ improvement I could be sure that he would improve and that it was important for the family to keep hopeful about his future.

James’ father became angry and after raising his voice at me, telling me I was a “patronising little fool”, he stormed out of the room. James mother sat weeping beside his bed. I felt confused and like I had done the wrong thing. I remembered from the same lecture about the emotional rollercoaster of caring for someone after a brain injury and how families could experience a range of emotional responses as they adjusted to their new reality.

I started thinking about what was happening in this family and how James’ parents were both clearly distressed and may have been having difficulty supporting each other due to their own distress. James’ father’s abuse of me was possibly not a fair reflection on me but said a lot about how he was feeling. I wondered about his parent’s differing emotional responses and tried to put myself “in their shoes” to consider what it must be like for them. I could see that their questions and behaviours were driven by their extreme emotional states. They both needed an outlet for their emotions.

I also thought about what James needed from his parents to optimise his participation in the rehabilitation program and how I could support them to provide that. I knew I didn’t have the skills or confidence to provide the grief counselling they probably needed but I thought I could provide them with some space to share and acknowledge their grief and to suggest options for them to get further assistance in this area. I sat by his mother and said “This is really hard for you all isn’t it”. She responded with “so hard” and cried some more. We sat without talking for a while and when she was calmer I said “a lot of families find it helpful to talk with our social workers about how they are feeling when things like this have happened”. She agreed it would be good to talk and I helped her organise an appointment for the next day.

From the experience today I have learned that families don’t need superficial reassurance and that this can be perceived as patronising. It will be more helpful if I can acknowledge their emotional distress and fears and reassure them that their response – whatever it is – is normal and expected. If I show that I can cope with their distress I can assist them to get the support they need and this will be critical in getting the best outcome for clients like James.

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