Reflective practice is the ability to constantly monitor one’s own performance in a given role and make adjustments where necessary. For a social worker, reflective practice is particularly important because no two cases will ever be the same and it is vitally important to remain reactive and reflective at all times.
Reflective practice has been demonstrated to have significant benefits when it comes to the delivery of client-centred care, and can help a social worker to ensure that he is able to accurately assess the needs of each client as an individual rather than as a case number to be merely assigned to a particular program of action.
With reflective practice widely regarded as one of the most important elements of modern social work, it is essential that all social work students become familiar with reflective practice methods.
One of the reasons why reflective practice is so important for social workers is that no amount of training can completely prepare a social worker for the requirements of their profession over the course of their entire career.
For example, the context of a client’s problem in one decade will almost certainly be very different in another, which means that the client will need to have access to a social worker whose particular experience can take into account this new context.
Meanwhile the social worker might be stuck in a set of processes and routines from a decade ago (or further back), which means that the social worker will either be unable to help the client or, worse, will attempt to impose an outdated and ultimately useless set of rules that might even cause more damage than they resolve.
Reflective practice also helps a social worker to stay abreast of changes to the way that social work practice manifests. Every year there are new theories and new approaches that can, if correctly incorporated into each social worker’s repertoire, result in genuine benefits for the social worker and for clients. New theories are not an automatic route to success or improvement, so it is necessary for the social worker to be selective and to be able to match new developments to their own skills.
In cases where the social worker is able to do this, the result is that new developments in social work theory are able to dramatically improve the social worker’s ability to absorb changes to the social work profession and selectively and constructively improve personal and professional performance in a way that is ongoing and dynamic.
Because of the need to reflect on personal performance and practice, self-reflective practice is strongly linked to the need to be able to develop skills for self criticism. Constructive criticism is established as a means by which a social worker can address personal and professional failings and find ways to deal with them. Since it is widely accepted that no social worker can be entirely perfect, this type of constructive criticism can be used to identify weaknesses and either neutralise them or deal with them.
This can also help the social worker to identify personal strengths. While some social workers regard all forms of criticism, even constructive criticism, as negative and dispiriting, it is generally the case that constructive criticism should be taken as an opportunity to improve rather than simply as an attack on the social worker’s professionalism and skills.
As a form of critical theory, reflective practice is one of the most important parts of modern social work and is the primary means by which any social worker can improve his overall performance. Reflective practice can not only make social work more relevant to the particular needs of each client, it can also genuinely improve the social worker’s understanding of theory and how to apply that theory to practical situations.
In general it is often argued by experts that reflective practice is a strong sign of a social worker (or other professional) who views their job not just as a way of getting paid but as a real vocation, and as a role for which they have a high degree of passion. While this generalisation might not always be true, it does seem to be true that in general reflective practice is a sign of both passion and commitment.