Applying Reflective Practice as a tool for Health, Well-being & Resilience in the Workplace & Beyond

I’ve been asked to do a workshop at the Social & Health Education Project’s (SHEP) upcoming event entitled ‘Reflective Practice as Fuel for Professional Development’.  Having completed their ‘Critical Reflective Practice’ programme in 2017 & 2018 under the superb stewardship of Jim Sheehan & Beatrice Barry-Murphy, I agreed to facilitate this workshop as it both gives me an opportunity to revisit my learnings from that experience and to share them with others for the benefit of their own learning.  So once again, I am posting them here as an offering …

First lets consider the word ‘Resilience’ …

I love it and I am energised by and deeply admire resilient people.  There are many definitions which all organise around the central concept of one’s capacity to recover from adversity/trauma OR adjust to misfortune/change (relatively quickly).   I believe that we are better able to recover or adjust IF WE ACCEPT THE REALITY OF WHAT IS and work with it, rather than RESIST OR FIGHT IT.  Accepting and surrendering to what is, isn’t about giving up or stopping to care, it’s about finding peace of mind.  And a mind at peace has a greater capacity to make decisions that are right for us and will serve us well in our lives. If you want to read more about this check out this short video of Eckhart Tolle’s speaking on the subject.

So developing resilience is a key part of being healthy and well in our workplaces (and beyond!!) and, for me, learning to CRITICALLY REFLECT on my experience of ‘what is’ has been fundamental to becoming more resilient.

And when critically reflecting, these are my ‘to dos’ or things to consider:

 Recognise that I bring the totality of myself to my work:

Ever notice that your reaction to an event differed significantly to that of a colleague and you simply couldn’t’ understand where they were coming from?

The many, many parts that combine to make the whole of who we are (even the parts that we are not consciously aware of yet!) come to work every day with us and contribute to our reactions to the events which we experience. We bring all our ‘unfinished business’ from childhood to date, all our introjects, our capacity to retroflect and our capacity for transference and confluence with and projection onto others. If you are anything like me, you interrupt contact with yourself and others frequently in work and subsequently are triggered by events in work above and beyond the reality of the event.

Staying curious about yourself and critically reflecting on what YOU might be contributing to your experience of an event is central to the reflective process.

Recognise and stay with a difficult event and give it time SOON AFTER IT HAPPENS:

Most likely as a result of my ABSOLUTE HATRED for conflict, this is not something I find easy to do which is why, usually, much time passes, before I allow myself to sit and critically reflect on a difficult experience.

Expressions like ‘get over it, get on with it’, ‘its not worth it’ ‘what’s done is done’ ‘what difference will it make’ or variations of these ultimately encourage me to avoid difficult feelings. However, feelings don’t dissipate because we choose to avoid them. We push them down on top of all the other suppressed feelings in our lives and numb ourselves. Allowing ourselves to honour our feelings by simply feeling (not dumping them on someone else!) them can bring great insight to our reflective process. Check out Dr Gloria Wilcox’s feeling wheel to help identify and own your feelings.

Developing emotional literacy and allowing your felt experience to guide you to understanding, acceptance and (possibly) resolution is absolutely necessary for critical reflection.

Journal as a therapeutic process to understand the difficult event:

In my ‘About Me’ section to this blog I named that writing is my most natural way to be creative so its no surprise that I turn to the pen when I need to reflective creatively (critically!).

At its most basic, taking time to journal creates space for ‘staying with the difficult event’ which I probably would otherwise avoid (creatively!). Allowing the words to flow through my pen literally takes me out of my head (where I can rationalise and argue all day) and brings me into my body and in touch with my felt experience. Also seeing the words on the page can help me to see the experience differently and bring further insight.

Take time to discover YOUR creative process that you can turn to when you need to make time to critically reflect

Draw upon the four “Critical Reflective” perspectives:

I was introduced to the book ‘Practising Critical Reflection’ by Jan Fook & Fiona Gardener while doing the Critical Reflective Practice course. Fook & Gardener have developed a process of critical reflection for individuals within organisations and/or independent working environments.

In essence their approach to critical reflection involves the unsettling and examination of fundamental (socially dominant and often hidden) individually held assumptions about the social world, in order to enable a reworking of these, and associated actions, for changed professional practice. These four perspectives with which you are prompted to look at an event are a) the reflective perspective, b) the reflexivity perspective, c) postmodernism – deconstruction perspective and d) the critical social theory perspective. I found some statements and questions particularly powerful:

  1. There is always more than one truth, and
  2. Who has the power?’ OR ‘what have I done with my power in this?’
  3. How might I have acted differently so as to influence the situation the way I wanted to?
  4. What values are at play here for you and others?
  5. How has my personal story shaped/influenced my understanding of the incident?

And I could go on….

Draw upon the four perspectives and the specific questions they each post to support your discovery of the many truths that underpin the event.

Don’t do a solo run – find your TRIBE:

Reflecting in isolation can be challenging on so many levels …. and we are social beings who need one another for (literally) our survival. Dealing with a difficult event does not require the skill, dexterity and charisma of a solo run. It requires the REAL COURAGE it takes to be vulnerable and to allow yourself to be seen by others whom you trust.

We all need a tribe. Not a gang, a crew or a rat pack. A good old fashioned TRIBE. A tribe is not necessarily a large gathering or even one that gathers frequently. However, members of a tribe are individuals who are prepared to stay with you in a painful place, to listen with an open heart and mind, to not judge you and to supportively challenge you to explore the event and your part in it from all four perspectives (if needs be). Find these people in your life, gather them and form your tribe.

Find your tribe, explicitly name the group as such and establish a mechanism(s) for meeting and getting support.

So while many use the expression ‘we learn from experience’ I am with John Dewey. We learn from reflecting on our experience and there is so much to be learned if we give that reflection sufficient space in our lives, bring a critical perspective to it and allow our heart, gut and soul to inform the process.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s