Nature of vocational rehabilitation counselors' reflective practices
Lightfoot, Brenda Jean, 1940-
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This phenomenological study examined the nature of reflective practice (Schön, 1983) of eight currently practicing vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors who have graduated from or are enrolled in a master's level distance education program in VR. Reflective practice, according to Schön, is an epistemology of practice that is unlike traditional models of practice, which he termed technical rationality, in that reflective practitioners do not see problems as bound by rules or as different examples of the same problem; reflective practitioners frame each problem as similar to others in their repertoire but different enough to require new solutions. In creating solutions for the newly reframed problem, the practitioner draws upon past experiences, modifies them, tests them as solutions for this unique problem, and having tested the solution, maintains openness to continued experimentation or adjustment if needed. For the purposes of this study, reflective practices were defined broadly as a combination of improvisation, creativity, tacit knowledge, critical reflection, and the ability to “think on one’s feet” within the context of a vocational rehabilitation working environment. The research questions for the study were: 1) How do vocational rehabilitation counselors perceive their use of reflective practices in their rehabilitation work? 2) What are factors that VRCs perceive as enhancing or inhibiting their reflective practices? 3) What are VRCs' perceptions of their skills as reflective practitioners? Data was obtained through electronic mail (e-mail) interviews and analyzed using phenomenological methods. Results indicated that participants engaged in both individual and collaborative reflective practices, including collaborative problem solving with coworkers and supervisors, individual research or information-gathering, self-evaluation, and guidance from previous experiences. Findings also suggest factors supporting reflective practices include personal values systems, opportunities for continuing education, and relationships with consumers, coworkers, and family/friends. Factors perceived as hindrances or inhibitors included a lack of time, mandatory non-counseling activities, and systemic factors such as paperwork, policies, and agency bureaucratic structure. All participants except one indicated that they did perceive themselves as being reflective practitioners based upon the working definition described above, and all participants indicated that they felt reflective practices were relevant to their work as VRCs.