Importance of Critical Reflection in Social Work

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Critical Reflection plays a significant role in social work, when practicing social work, it is important to reflect on new but also old experience for present and future learning. In Gardner’s Being Critically Reflective: Engaging in Holistic Practice she writes a section called ‘Theoretical Underpinnings’ which talks about the four theories that both Jan Fook and she ‘use the primary underpinning blocks for critical reflection (Fook and Gardner, 2007). Gardner (2014) also mentions that psychodynamic and narrative approaches are also used to complement critical reflection by practitioners and their organisations. In addition to this Gardner (2014) also talks about ‘the main four theories of critical reflection, including psychodynamic and spirituality theory and their contribution’. The four theories that Gardner (2014) talks about are ‘Reflective Practice, Reflexivity, Postmodernism and Critical social theory’.

Gardner (2014) summarises all 4 theories listed above, to begin she firstly addresses reflective practice which ‘emphasises identifying the feelings, thoughts, values and assumptions that influence practice; valuing experiential or practice knowledge and developing awareness of the differences between espoused theory and theory used in practice.’ She then moves onto talking about reflexivity which ‘generates understanding about the complexities of how workers and their service users/communities perceive themselves and each other, the value of understanding that all of who we are (physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, spiritually) influences how we perceive others and are perceived by them. Postmodernism is summarised next which Gardner (2014) states it ‘challenges modernist thinking that assigns people to limit categories and often to binaries, understanding of the impact of current thinking at a social level including attitudes to and influences of power and how this is embedded in language’. In Gardner’s final summary she talks about critical social theory which ‘Identifies the interrelationships between cultural and social values and expectations and how these are internalized by individuals, often in unhelpful ways; emphasises the importance of social justice approach’.

Reflective practice is perceived to be originated with Schon (1983) where he talks about reorganising values in practice in order to view certain situations differently. Schon (1983) states ‘this learning from experience includes the ability to stand back from what is happening to explore thoughts, reactions and/or assumptions that might influence a situation. Schon (1983) also talks about how his uncertainties act as a learning opportunity and assure the aligning of power imbalances to seek out connections and mutual respect between client and practitioner. Wright (2009) also mentions that ‘focusing on the feelings or emotions is often a gateway to accessing the underlying assumptions or values that are important that each person is reacting from. This too is central to psychodynamic thinking. Gardner (2014) states that ‘a psychodynamic approach can foster understanding of the range of ways we guard against recognising what is painful or what we do not want to be aware of’.

Reflexivity ‘suggests practitioners need ongoing reflection, ‘a self-consciousness that allows us to be reflexive, to consider how we impact others, how we present to others, how we are perceived and that includes that context within which we engage, as well as our role and specific mandate’ (Walsh, 2012, p.192). In this section Gardner (2014) uses an example which talks about how one can perceive themselves differently in a mirror sometimes good and sometimes bad provided this she reminds readers that ‘we may be perceived differently by others from the way we perceive ourselves – they are seeing different views, ones that we are not so conscious of’

Postmodernism ‘emphasises the diversity and complexity of what influences events and a more subjective way of experiencing the world’ (Gardner, 2014). In addition to this Fook (2002), states that ‘postmodernism also raises awareness of dichotomous thinking, that is seeing the world in pairs of opposites, which imply that one group is better than the other. Gardner (2014) concludes the postmodernism section and says that ‘it is important to that post modernists like any other group vary: some would be reluctant to suggest any kind of shared sense of culture, preferring always to ask what the subjective meaning is for a particular person’.

The last theory is mentioned in Gardner’s book is a critical social theory (2014). Ife (2008) states ‘the critical aspect here provides a limit or balance to what might be perceived as a postmodern sense of anything is possible and equally valued. Support for social justice means advocating for principles that relate to human rights that will underpin practice. Brookfield (2005) also ‘suggest that we can’t know exactly what working from a socially just perspective will mean, until we try it in practice’. This is where it is important to try practising in a social perspective manner in order to know if it will be ideal or not.

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In around the fifth week of placement, I attended a home visit with one of the case managers I work with, this home visit took place at the client’s house when we arrived the client opened the door and greeted us to come inside and have a seat. To begin the case manager and I sat down and had a conversation with the client just to set a comfortable space for assessment when a representative from the council will come and perform an assessment for the client. We were also waiting for the client’s daughter who organised this assessment. Some back story of the client, the client is 90 years old and is still currently smoking. The client is currently on level 2 but she is wanting to be upgraded to a higher level to get more funding as both her and her daughter feel like level 2 is not enough for her. The client has mentioned that due to her weak fingers she is unable to use the microwave to heat up her food, which is where the services from my agency provide. Due to being on level two there are limited hours for care workers to come and help warm up food for her as the other hours are spent for home help and personal care such as bathing and clothing the client.

When the assessor arrived, I was excited to see what sort of assessment this council representative will do. As per usual the casual greeting ‘hello how are you’ to myself, the case managers I attended with and to the client and the client’s daughter. We outlined the problem to the council representative making sure she knows that the funding the client is currently on is not enough and we require this reassessment to apply for a higher level. The council representative starts to take down details and starts to talk about what are the current services she is receiving as we started to outline what she is receiving and who from the council representative started to change the way she spoke, during the time I did not want to judge on how she was speaking but I found it difficult not to.

The council representative used a lot of ‘In my opinion’ and ‘I think you should do this’ during this time and come from a social work background I thought this was not right. As I kept listening I realised that the council also provides home care packages for their clients and her goal was to get this client to change service providers to the council, this is because I remember her saying ‘AVWA’ (where my agency is) ‘Always give out ensure milk to the client as a nutritional supplement even when they don’t need it’. I sat there hearing that and felt so annoyed especially when I looked over at the case manager, he was speechless. I felt like the council representative meant well but still had a capitalist view on things.

In applying Gardner’s (2014) critical reflection model the first stage of stage one is ‘exploring my reaction and where I was coming from’. To begin Gardner (2014) talks about context and what was the background influenced my experience, personally, I think this affected me because studying social work was the main background where this influenced how I felt, it was not right for the council representative to provide opinions and point fingers as to which way the client should go, I felt like the client had no say into what was happening and the council representative was just coming up with a care plan with no negotiation from both the client and the client’s daughter.

In terms of reactions, I felt like I reacted quite calmly I as a social work student when coming along on home visits with either my supervisor or other case managers I try to keep calm, sit and just observe. But this time around I found it difficult not to show emotion especially when the council representative continuously said ‘In my opinion’ in a very pushy tone. When did the council representative say that I found myself looking over to the case manager giving him a look that meant ‘is what she saying correct or am I crazy to be judging right now? As I gave him this look he looked back at me giving me assurance that this is not right and we both felt uncomfortable.

In terms of meaning, this scenario has really stood out to me because I felt uneasy and at first I did not know why sitting there listening to this lady made me feel this way. But as I sat there I tried to reflect to myself and tried to think about why this is so important to me at the time I just knew that something was not right about the situation but could not pinpoint what was wrong and why it mattered to me. After the home visit and on the way home in the car with the case manager I spoke to him and voiced what I was feeling at the time and asked myself but also him if I was crazy for thinking that the situation was not right, he replies to me and says ‘I don’t know what we got ourselves into, she was pushing our client to leave us a service provider, she was making up stuff about our agency, she was creating a care plan with the client with no negotiation. Of course, you’re not crazy, I felt uncomfortable too’. After the case manager voiced what he had to say everything started to make sense to me, I realised what underlying values and beliefs were there for me, are that studying social work I like to be client centred and use the best interest of the client, on the other hand, this clashed with the council representative as she was quite task centred and just came up with a care plan to ‘get things done’. I felt super conflicted after this home visit and had to tell someone about it.

In Gardner’s second stage of stage one she talks about ‘What other reactions could there be? In this section, I will be talking about the reaction of the case manager I went along with.

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Importance of Critical Reflection in Social Work. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved August 9, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/importance-of-critical-reflection-in-social-work/
“Importance of Critical Reflection in Social Work.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/importance-of-critical-reflection-in-social-work/
Importance of Critical Reflection in Social Work. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/importance-of-critical-reflection-in-social-work/> [Accessed 9 Aug. 2022].
Importance of Critical Reflection in Social Work [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2022 Aug 9]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/importance-of-critical-reflection-in-social-work/
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