Two o'clock on a warm May afternoon; the small, silent, newly painted room is a little too hot. No one moves to open the window wider, everyone is sitting bent in concentration. From the corridor outside, we can hear voices, the telephone, a carpet cleaner, and occasionally a door handle being rattled. Inside, the atmosphere is calm and expectant. It seems that for this brief time, the six people in here with me are not distracted by noisy demands, but relish the peace in the room. They are nursing and therapy assistants, who work on Woodside Ward. Some are weary after an early shift; others have done almost a full day's work at home before coming on duty. This is their time: one hour, once a month, when they can shut the door of the little room and stay together, because it's time for their reflective practice group. They are engaged in a piece of writing about someone they enjoy caring for, and are describing the ways they think that they may be like that person. Some find this writing easy, bringing a poetry and unselfconscious lyricism to their words. Others regard it in the same light as other writing that they do, as useful and functional, but hardly enjoyable. But together, they are bringing their work to life in a way that simply talking about it had never done previously.
This chapter explores the experience of a reflective practice group for unqualified staff from a hospital ward. The nursing and therapy assistants face the challenge of being alongside vulnerable people, whose disability from dementia is severe. The experience of those they care for may be painful, hurtful and frustrating. A reflective practice group was established to help unqualified staff develop their skills, empathy and practice, and become increasingly 'person-centred' in their work. The group started writing after a period of using other group-work techniques. After some time, the group had become 'stuck'. The use of reflective writing enabled significant amounts of self-reflection to happen and facilitated honesty and openness. Writing also helped group members to improve their ability to understand and support each other in their work.