The role of self-awareness and reflection in social care practice.
The aim of this study was to explore the role of self-awareness and reflection in social care practice. In order to do this, the study examined social care practitioners’ understanding of self-awareness and reflection, the models which they use and how they use them, the impact of reflection on their practice, and the factors which support and/ or impede reflection. Given the poor evidence base in general on the use of reflection in social care practice in Ireland, this study attempted to contribute to the existing body of knowledge by trying to determine the role of self-awareness and reflection in social care practice among a small group of social care practitioners in Ireland.The study was a qualitative study involving interviews with social care practitioners who were pursuing a Masters in Advanced Social Care Practice in Athlone Institute of Technology. Qualitative research was chosen because it could provide a more in-depth understanding of the participant’s experiences. One-to-one interviews were carried out asself-awareness and reflection are individual processes. The sample group was specifically chosen to ensure that the participants had a degree in social care and at least three years’ work experience in social care. These inclusion criteria were employed to ensure that participants had the opportunity to learn about self- awareness and reflection and to practice it in the workplace.The main findings of the study indicated that the participants had a general understanding of self-awareness and how to reflect on practice. They were critical of their educational programmes reporting little input in relation to their understanding of self-awareness and reflection. Three models of reflection were referred to throughout the interviews by different participants. Only one participant described a model of reflection. However, the size of the sample for this study was small. Another finding was that critical incident reports were found to be the most common tool used to reflect. Reports of other methods of reflection included supervision, team reflectionsand reflecting on the way home from work. The participants reported that time constraint was a concern for the practitioner’s ability to reflect. The implication of this was that the participants did not have opportunities to reflect and only reflected in a structured way following a significant incident. The reports on the factors which supported and/or impeded reflections fluctuated between hypothetical assumptions and actual experiences. The reports on the factors believed to be supportive included: a manager that supports reflection, training, knowledge of the skills of self-awareness and reflection and good supervision. The factors which impeded reflectionswhich were based on the participants’ actual experiences included: a lack of time, a non-reflective organisational culture, a lack of supervision, and a limited understanding of self-awareness and reflection. This suggested that if organisations could create a more reflective culture, which demonstrated a value in reflecting by providing the training, the time and the supervision, practitioners would perhaps feel more supported to reflect and to develop their self-awareness. The participants reported hypothetical benefits for the impact of self-awareness and reflection on practice. They did not report on actual benefits based on their experiences. The participants suggested that self-awareness and reflection had positive outcomes for practice which included: professional development, an increase in the positive interactions with service users, a decrease in the likelihood that practitioners are emotionally burdened by their work when they are at home and practitioners would be less likely to burn out. This implied that in practice, if social care practitioners reflected and developed their self-awareness, their professional development would progress and their work practices would continually improve which could improve the quality of services. These suggested positive outcomes proposed that further, more extensive research could be carried out on the impacts of reflective practice with a view to incorporate them into national practice standards for social care practitioners.Overall, the role of self-awareness and reflection in social care practice for this study’ sample appeared to be an ideological concept which the participants believed to be an essential professional skill, but in fact it was not exclusively employed to their everyday practice.
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