Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Doctoral Student Perceptions of Learning to Be Reflective Practitioners

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Doctoral Student Perceptions of Learning to Be Reflective Practitioners

Article excerpt


Reflectivity is integral to therapist development across the life span and differentiates therapists who continue to grow and develop throughout their career from therapists who stagnate (Skovholt and Ronnestad, 1995; Neufeldt et al., 1997). Grounded in ethnographic research methodology, the study sought to describe the role reflectivity plays in the developmental processes of doctoral students, and the ways in which a training context that used a Reflecting Team Format (Andersen, 1987) and Solution-Focused Supervision (Selekman and Todd, 1995; Wetchler, 1990) facilitated or hindered the learning and use of reflectivity. Barriers and facilitators were identified as including the context in which supervision occurs, the peers with whom a student interacts, and personal factors a student brings to the supervisory experience.

Therapist Development and Reflectivity

The development of competent, ethical therapists and the clinical supervision that best facilitates optimum development are complex processes. Researchers have attempted to understand the many components of these processes with regard to individual, environmental and relational factors that contribute to the personal and professional development of therapists and counselors.

A research-based conceptualization of therapist and counselor development formulated by Skovholt and Ronnestad (1995) shares the basic assumptions of the developmental perspective, such as the idea that therapists-in-training progress through sequential stages toward increased competency and autonomy, and that the supervisory relationship changes over time, as do the needs of the trainees. The core assumption of this conceptual model is that therapists either stagnate or develop depending upon the use of a central mediating process they term continuous professional reflection, as well as other individual factors and structuring factors in the supervision or working environment (Skovholt & Ronnestad, 1995). Personal and professional interactions play a key role in therapist development, as does time to oneself to reflect, an open and supportive environment, and a reflective stance. This third, and most important, component of continuous reflection, is the reflective stance. A reflective stance is defined as:

   the individual is consciously giving time and energy to processing, alone
   and with others, impactful experiences. An active, exploratory, searching,
   and open attitude is of extreme importance. Asking for and receiving
   feedback is crucial. (Skovholt & Ronnestad, 1995, p. 107)

Neufeldt, Karno, and Nelson (1996) have also highlighted the prepotent role that reflectivity plays in therapist development. These authors asserted that reflectivity improves supervisees' work and professional judgment. They argue that an important supervisory responsibility is to "facilitate the process of reflectivity" (Neufeldt et al., 1996, p. 3). In fact, Holloway argues that a critical role of the educator is to "teach supervisees in a systematic way to reflect ... and that the learning of reflective processes (i.e., to think in that way of critical inquiry) is half the activity of supervision" (Neufeldt et al., 1996, p. 7).

Purpose of the Study

Given the importance of reflectivity to therapist development, the primary research goal was to understand and describe student perceptions of the ways in which this particular training context facilitated and/or hindered the learning and use of reflectivity.

Supervision and Training Context

Our training facility provided a unique opportunity to explore doctoral students' perceptions of a learning context designed to teach and encourage the use of reflectivity. The clinic is equipped with one-way mirrors that allows for live supervision of students' work, and the practicum instructor is an experienced supervisor with expertise in the reflecting team format (Andersen, 1987) and the solution-focused models of therapy (Walter & Peller, 1992) and supervision (Wetchler, 1990; Thomas, 1994). …

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