Reflective practice is advocated within social work academic literature as a means of improving practice. It is enshrined in requirements for practitioners to achieve qualifying and post qualifying awards. This research explores reflective practice with individuals who contribute to social work education as students, academics, practice teachers and practitioners. The study considers factors which have influenced the adoption of Schön’s theories and analyses respondents’ perceptions of relationships between reflective practice, development and social work practice. Through reflexive research methodology it emerges that reflective practice has a more fundamental link with people who are engaged with social work than previously considered. However, rather than being primarily utilised as a process for written assessment and addressed through social work theory, it is regarded by respondents as a useful and honest method of problem-solving and sharing concerns with others. The research demonstrates respondents’ deep commitment to self-development and improvement to enhance the lives of users of social work services, which motivated their entry into the profession. Reflective practice offers emotional support and a safeguard for social workers. The research leads on to explore how it is used as a personal process, as well as how it connects with feelings and emotions generated by the role. Reflective practice is used not just to present written work for assessment; it is a phenomenon which primarily takes place informally and spontaneously and in formal supervision. It is used as professional socialisation, to develop and maintain good and safe practice, emotional self-protection and to reinforce professional values. This research explores how the concept is linked to emotional labour and personal identity for social workers. The overall perception is that social work is not just a job; being a social worker permeates all aspects of respondents’ lives
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