The reflective process requires a practitioner to stand back and consciously analyse the decision making process in which they are involved with clients or on their behalf. It is the process of internally examining and exploring an issue of concern, triggered by an experience that encourages clarification of meaning in terms of self and which may result in a changed perspective of that event.
Reflection involves taking time to deconstruct the essence of an issue and make sense of what has occurred. Often the event is messy and confusing and may raise a range of emotional responses in the worker. The process of reflection assists in identifying why the helper has responded in a particular way and help to find a better way that is more helpful for the client and a healthier approach for the helper.
The diagram illustrates the process of reflective practice. Skilled helpers are involved in a continuous cycle of self-observation and self-evaluation in order to understand their own actions and the reactions they prompt in themselves and in others. Rather than being a means to address a specific problem it is to observe and refine practice in general on an ongoing basis.
As skilled helpers embrace reflective practice those they help will better be served. When the helper understands the values and core beliefs from which they make decisions they are more likely to have awareness of why they respond in certain ways in some circumstances and not in others. The rate of burn out in the community sector is currently at an all time high.
Welfare workers deliver a broad range of vital services and, thus, play a critical role in ensuring the health and well-being of society’s most vulnerable members. However, the high demand for their services – coupled with increasingly diminishing resources – can present significant challenges. Welfare workers are faced with increased demands of their time in managing administration tasks relating to budget and funding reports which takes them away from the people they are meant to be serving. Workers carry increased case loads with minimal supervision, again due to inadequate funding allocated to vital services.
Beset by chronic staff shortages and turnover, welfare workers tend to be overworked and are often asked to take on large client caseloads. Given the heavy demands placed on them, it is not surprising that they often experience psychological distress and, eventually, high levels of burnout.
Burnout is the prolonged psychological response to chronic workplace stressors. Three dimensions are included in the diagnosis:
- emotional exhaustion
- depersonalisation or cynicism
- diminished personal accomplishment
Reflective practice is no guarantee that workers will not burn out. However, undertaken on a daily basis, and sometimes after each face-to-face encounter with a client, it does guarantee an opportunity to debrief, analyse and seek either peer or clinical support if needed.
The welfare landscape in Australia is dotted with the usual issues but in recent times social policies have been amended to attend to the worldwide refugee crisis. Those arriving from war torn countries have experienced trauma, torture and rape and require specialist skills; they need more time to process the psychological and emotional harms they experience.
The work is emotionally charged and extremely demanding on workers. If consideration is given to the multicultural aspects embedded in such cases the problem triples or quadruples in complexity and that is when we can communicate in the same language. We must care of ourselves so we can continue to care for others. Reflective practice is one of the ways we can take care of our mental and emotional wellbeing.