Reflective Practice

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By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest”. Confucius.

I recently wrote about reflection in visual terms, examining various ways in which we reflect our life experiences and how they influence the way we display ourselves to the world.

Still on the topic of reflection, some years ago, I encountered the term “reflective practice” in the workplace and I believe that this kind of introspective examination may be applied to many everyday situations – including the grieving process.   Reflective practice is beneficial in increasing self-awareness, and this in turn expands one’s knowledge in how best to move forward in life.

But what exactly is reflective practice?

In its simplest form, reflective practice is mindfully considering the ways in which you react to a particular event.   There is a great difference between casually thinking about an occurrence and applying the principles of reflective practice to it.

Reflective practice is insightful; it is very beneficial in increasing self-awareness and through focused consideration, gaining a broader set of thinking skills. Whilst it is usually taught as part of a course or in the workplace by a suitably qualified professional, there is no reason why individuals cannot use the principles of reflective practice without supervision, adapting them to their own particular needs.

There are many reflective practice models easily accessed on the net.

Reflective practice is a common training tool – for example, when I was studying complementary therapies, I had to assess my progress as I worked through the numerous treatments given to my ‘guinea pig’ case studies.

After carrying out each reflexology treatment I had to consider a number of given points, such as: how effective was I as a practitioner, were there things I could have done better, was the client entirely satisfied with the treatment etc.

Reflective practice requires conscious effort to carefully consider events and develop your own insights into them. With training and practice it can become almost second nature to analyse your actions and reactions and it is a positive thing to do.

Thus it may not be surprising that having gained some experience in reflective practice for complementary therapies, I decided to adapt and apply the principles to the grieving process. I first did this around six years after losing James.

As an exercise, over a period of time, I considered the six suggested steps in Neil Thompson’s book, People Skills, which are:

  • Read
  • Ask
  • Watch
  • Feel
  • Talk
  • Think

The main conclusion I reached after exploring the grief journey in this way is that I could not have reached the point where I am today, without considerable interaction with others. I can read, feel and think in solitude, but the other three steps- ask, watch, talk require input with, to and from others. In particular, I feel that those who are treading the same path can make the most useful contribution to the expansion of understanding through reflecting on what has happened, ie in this case, our individual losses.

I would add a seventh and final step and that is to share because I believe that by sharing, we reciprocally teach each other much that is useful to apply in the future. The greatest pleasure in a learning experience is derived from sharing it with others. When I have learned something and I impart it, I feel satisfied to have passed it on; equally I hope the recipient then does the same; thus spreading knowledge and understanding. This element of reflective practice is a pleasingly altruistic activity.

I find it helpful to document my reflective practice, even if it is only in the form of short notes. That way, when I repeat the exercise, I can look back and see where I was then, compared to where I am now. This is a satisfying exercise in the main as progress can be seen.

Any form of journal keeping or diary writing is never wasted!

Overall, elements of reflective practice – as applied to grief – allow me to consciously, steadily and calmly evaluate and analyse my responses to my loss. This is something which would be very difficult to do rationally in the early days of grief, but I feel that the fulfilment of progress through my own reflective practice is something valuable which is cumulatively gained over time.

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