Archive for category Reflective practice

Narrative techniques in reflective practice

Below is an article I wrote for the Journal of the National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling. In it I try to bring together a whole range of narrative approaches to the task of reviewing your practice as a career practitioner. Some of the theories and models here are ones I have already blogged about, but I in this paper I talk about how you apply them to yourself.

(You have to scroll down to page 5 of the document to get to my article.)

I would welcome any comments or questions about the article.

Which techniques appeal to you?

What other techniques do you use in your reflective practice?

 

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Existentialist CPD: professional development in turbulent times

I would like to thank Professor Rachel Mulvey from the University of East London for contributing this post — David
developer applied with my hand - by square eyes

OK, I'm struggling to make a clever link between this picture and the article. The artist made a handprint using photographic developer fluid. I just thought it was pretty cool.

A few months ago I delivered a keynote address on continuing professional development as part of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Seminar Series entitled Re-framing Service Delivery, Professional Practices and Professional Identities in UK Careers Work.   At heart, these seminars bring people together (across professional disciplines) to share ideas about aspects of career work. There are two more still to come, the next is scheduled for November 2011 in Glasgow at the University of the West of Scotland.

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Towards or away from?

push pull by Robert S. Donovan

Sometimes you don't know if you're coming or going

Think about a recent job change that you made by your own initiative (rather than by force of circumstance, such as redundancy).

Why did you change? Had you got so fed up with your previous job that you had to move to preserve your sanity? Or were you tempted away by the opportunities on offer in the new job?

What about changing your mobile phone company, utilities, mortgage deal or internet service provider? Do you switch when you get fed up or do you constantly look for better deals?

What motivates you at work and why is it important to you? When you’re thinking about a job move, do you make a list of what you want or a list of what you don’t want?

When you make a list of pros and cons, which column tends to be most influential in making your mind up about something?

This issue of whether you are moving towards something or moving away from something has been a recurring theme in things I have been reading and in discussions I have been having over the last couple of weeks.

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A matter of perspective

MIstakes Were Made (but not my me)

Can you justify yourself if you don't read this?

Over on Careers Debate we are having an interesting discussion about narrative approaches to career coaching/counselling.

Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book which looks at how we reconstruct our memories and perceptions in order to keep them consistent with our self image.

In Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson explore the various ways in which we delude ourselves in order to maintain a favoured self-perception. They discuss how this desire to avoid cognitive dissonance leads to extremes of self-justification in all areas of life. They provide examples from the realms of politics (obviously!), international relations, law enforcement, psychology, alien abductions, scientific research and marriage guidance.

It is an interesting book, if somewhat depressing. Personally, I think it should be compulsory reading for any politician or business leader. There is enough thought-provoking material in here to sustain several heated discussions. However, one particular set of research studies caught my attention because of their potential link to narrative work with individuals.

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Career theory starter kit

Beam Engine Kit by Phil_Parker

James Watt wasn't really into career theory

Multi-theoretical rather than meta-theoretical

I am highly wary of people who take only one theoretical perspective.

No matter how rich and multi-dimensional your theory is, no matter how many other theories it incorporates and subsumes, it’s still only a theory. It will never account for all of the variety, complexity and general messiness of real live people in real live environments.

The real problem with only taking one theoretical perspective is that you become subject to the Law of the Instrument (or Maslow’s hammer).

Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. (Abraham Kaplan)

It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. (Abraham Maslow)

If you only have one theoretical perspective, you only have one set of concepts by which you interpret a client’s situation. Because of confirmation bias, you will tend to look for things that fit in with those concepts and you may fail to notice things which don’t fit.

It is tempting to force the facts to fit the concepts and limit what you notice to things that you can describe easily in your frame of reference.

That’s why I shy away from big theories which seek to do everything and try to collect lots of simpler theories that look at career decisions from very different angles. Phil McCash from Warwick University has described this as ‘theoretical triangulation‘.

So, if you’re just venturing out into the world of career theory, which theories should you start with? Here are my suggestions, with no sound scientific basis, just my personal preferences.

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In the moment. When is mindfulness most useful?

Free Child Walking on White Round Spheres Balance by D. Sharon Pruitt

Be aware of where you are putting your feet and they'll be less likely to end up in your mouth

Mindfulness is a cultivated state of mind in which you pay attention to the present moment. The modern usage of mindfulness is based on, but differs from, the Buddhist concept of sati (awareness). It is often linked to the practice of meditation but is now being investigated in relation to a number of different areas.

The idea of mindfulness came to prominence as a technique for stress reduction in the 1970s. Since then has been applied to a growing number of areas, such as pain management, education, behaviour management and cognitive therapy. In fact, I’m even going to be referring to it in a workshop on time management this week.

In the dim and distant past, a comment on a post discussing the concept of ‘Flow’ caused me to speculate about the difference between the notions of Flow and mindfulness. Last week, on the Advanced Guidance Skills course, I discussed mindfulness with some of the participants. This was in relation to the need to be acutely aware of what is going on moment-to-moment within a guidance or coaching discussion, where there is a constant danger of getting swept up in thinking about what you will do next with a client.

It was, therefore, interesting to come across an article in the Journal of Management (Dane, 2010) which seeks to clarify the relationship of mindfulness to other states of mind and which tries to identify the types of situation in which mindfulness might be useful and when it might not.

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The costs of reframing

Door and window frames

Some reframing needed here. (Actually, this is how my brain feels right now!)

I have just returned once again from being a tutor on the AGCAS Guidance Skills (Advanced) course in Warwick. We had an intensive four days in which we encouraged a group of higher education careers advisers to deconstruct and rebuild their guidance practices and attitudes.

Reframing is a crucial element of the course. We explore how to help clients reframe their career dilemmas in more constructive ways. However, we also do a lot of reframing with the participants. Through workshop discussions, models, theories, observation and feedback, we encouraged everyone to explore different perspectives on the skills and processes of the guidance discussion as well as their role, assumptions and motivations within it.

It’s rewarding but exhausting!

One thing I noticed was that our ability to resist break-time pastries and dinner-time desserts diminished considerably as the course progressed.

And now I think I know why…

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What a mess

I have just finished reading A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freeman. I have a feeling that this is a marmite book. Some people (like me) will love it and others will hate it. I can even predict who will hate it; the people whom the book refers to as the ‘neat police’ — the people who insist on clean desk policies and colour-coded filing systems.

This book pleads the case for the potential benefits of disorder. It also highlights the hidden costs of an over-emphasis on neatness, from the expense of maintaining rigid categorisation systems to the dangers to health of obsessive cleanliness. It provides much needed support for those of us who are ‘differently-organised’ as we attempt to fend off those who seem intent on decluttering our lives.

The topics range (in a predictably messy way) from office desks to transport systems, from business to science, from education to politics.

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Non-stop action

Savage Chickens - Action MovieI came across the Contextual Action Theory (CAT) of careers and counselling quite a while ago. It was developed in the 1990s by Richard Young and Ladislav Valach.

When I first read about it, my immediate reaction was ‘I like this. It appeals to my penchant for simple, well-constructed, easy to remember theories’. But there was one problem. I couldn’t for the life of me think how it would be useful.

Actually, that’s not quite true. It was quite obvious that this was a useful theory and that it was already being used… by researchers.

Valach and Young have been using CAT as a framework for investigating individual’s career choices and the career counselling interaction for a number of years.

However, I couldn’t work out how it might be used by career practitioners in their work with clients. As usual, it was lack of imagination on my part, rather than lack of potential in the theory.

Now, I have come up with two ways in which thinking about this theory might enhance my practice.

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Solution-focused peer support

I would like to thank Rebecca Valentine from Edinburgh University for contributing this guest posting. — David.
Rubik Cube - What's the solution?

What's the solution?

Here at the University of Edinburgh Careers Service we have regular guidance issues forums where the careers advisers get together to look at new developments and to discuss client case studies.  A while ago I was asked to facilitate a case-study forum using a solution-focused team model.

The model comes from solution focused brief therapy (SFBT), an approach I first came across during my time as a Connexions Adviser South of the border. Instead of concentrating on problems and looking to the past to see how they have come about, SFBT seeks to focus on preferred futures and how they might be realised.

One of the key principles of SFBT is that the client and helper develop a collaborative partnership in which the helper encourages their client to find their own resources and solutions to tackle the problem. Central to SFBT is the belief that the client already has the solutions; they just need help to discover them. It’s also about identifying small steps that can be taken; big problems do not always need a big solution. SFBT often involves the client making small changes in their lives that can have big consequences.

Since being introduced to SFBT, I have continued to use some of the core techniques in my one-to-one practice and I find it to be a particularly useful approach with clients who present as overly negative, or when the discussion gets bogged down in “problem talk”.

A few years ago Bristol Solutions Group developed a reflective practice team model based on the principles of SFBT (see O’Connell & Palmer 2003 for details). It’s this model that I encountered during my time at Connexions. I saw it used very effectively on a number of occasions in multi-agency forums where professionals would come together to discuss difficult cases. I discussed the format with my colleague here at Edinburgh and we decided to give it a go in one of our guidance issues forums.

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