Path of Healing  


Reflective Practice (RP)

What is RP?

Basically, reflective practice (also known as "witness consciousness") is an objective and systematic approach to improving the ease (as opposed to dis-ease) and effectiveness of our lifestyle or way of working. RP is a fundamental tool for genuine self-empowerment, as opposed to pseudo-self-empowerment strategies based on self-aggrandizement or deception, exploitation and manipulation of others.

Our ease, experience or skill in any particular sphere of activity, including the fundamental business of living a healthy and fulfilled life, depends not just on how much time we have spent doing the activity, but more particularly on how well we have learned, adapted, innovated and implemented effective patterns of behaviour.

The basic elements of a reflective process as follows:

In practice there are two kinds of reflective activity: Reflection-in-action involves considering how to reshape the activity while it is still in progress.

A willingness to self-criticise is a key part of the reflective process. We must be willing to challenge our own actions, assumptions, beliefs and practices, because therein lies the fundamental power of this approach to increased personal effectiveness.

In being self-critical we risk losing self-confidence or risk losing the confidence and support of others. However, many of us have found that the "solid" people in this world usually value and trust us more for being honest about our failings. Covering up, or "smoothing over" our inadequacies may in time catch up with us, and some people will not forgive us for betraying their trust. As the saying goes "You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time!

In these days of the litigation-prone "compensation culture", healthcare professionals are increasingly adopting "defensive medicine" patterns of practice. For example, on visiting my local accident and emergency department to have a head wound sutured, I was told that a skull radiograph (x-ray) would be taken to rule out any possibility of a fractured skull. There was absolutely no clinical reason to suspect a fracture - the doctor was really "protecting her back" in case an undetected fracture emerged later. "Protecting her back" against professional misconduct or a legal compensation action, meant:

I asked the doctor if she had any clinical evidence that a radiograph was indicated? - "No, but we want to play safe don't we?"
"Is that play safe for me, or play safe for you?"

"Playing safe" is a common healthcare activity, that can often greatly benefit from some Reflective Practice. To what extent are we playing safe for the healthcare professional at the expense of the patient/client and taxpayer (in the case of publically-funded healthcare).

Would all parties be agreable to this situation if they were in full possession of the facts? How long before a government committee or investigative journalist reveals the full facts? Are we striking the right balance between probable costs and probable benefits? Are we striking an equitable balance between the interests of all parties involved?

Reflective Practice draws us into revealing and critically examining the values, assumptions, ideas, theories and strategies supporting our behaviour patterns, lifestyle or professional decisions and skills. It is essentially a process of clarification and sometimes reveals quite alarming discrepancies between our intentions, declared ethical values and our actual actions (Osterman 1990, Schon 1988).

Reflective Practice Index...

What is RP?
What does RP offer?

What does RP look like?

The "Sunflower Health" Reflective Protocol

RP in College & School Education

References & Additional Resources

Personal interest & experience

Author details



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