What is a Reflective Journal?
In a career that not only requires you to look at things scientifically and critically, but reflectively(1)(2)(*) too, it can often be helpful in terms of career and personal development, to keep some kind of journal of your thoughts and reflections, ideas and new bits of knowledge gained. This can be used throughout your career – from that first Support Worker job, to working as an Assistant Psychologist, to Clinical training and beyond.
A reflective journal may include what you have done, what you have learnt and how you have found your day or week. Maybe you can include the thoughts of the experiences that you are having, the things that you have enjoyed, the things that you have done well and the things that you could have done better - which you can then reflect on.
How to go about writing a reflective journal:
Your journal is your own private space to write whatever you want, so it is hard for someone else to give you guidance because it is about what works for you – which only you know. Perhaps you need to think about why you are writing it in the first place – or maybe you just need to start writing and you’ll figure out what your motivation is along the way (which you can reflect on and write in your journal!).
If you are really struggling to know where to start, you might benefit from a little bit of structure and some ideas, to help you begin:
•You might want to set a time slot free everyday (or week) with the sole purpose of making a journal entry.
•You may want to start of with specific categories which can be used to organise your thoughts, then expand on these, generating new categories as you get the hang of it.
•You may want to start out being more descriptive (merely noting things like what you are doing in your new role and how it makes you feel – without trying to interpret it), until you get into the reflective flow.
•Instead of, or as well as writing, you could draw - scrapbook style, if you find this easier (and you don’t have to be an artist, to do so!).
•It may be worth establishing boundaries to what you want to write: Are you going to write in your journal just for work related stuff, or for life in general (or perhaps both, since the two can often interrelate and affect each other).
•You might want to ask yourself:
-What characteristics do I have that could prevent me from making the most out of this job/course/interview etc?
-What do I want from the course/job?
-How do I feel right now?
-What do I expect?
-What do I fear?
-What is the worse that could happen to me?
-What Strengths (or skills, such as: Mindfulness, Reflexivity…) do I have that could prevent me from sabotaging myself?
-What qualities do I possess that which will help me in my goals?
-If reflecting on something that someone else said or did – towards you or someone else (say, if you’ve read something worth a closer look), you might want to reserve your immediate judgments or reactions, by trying to gain some perspective on yourself and others and how you interact with one another. Ask yourself why you/another person might be saying/thinking/feeling that…? This of course can be done reflexively (at the time) or later, on reflection (which can help your reflexivity skills.
-What have I learnt, today – what knowledge (academic or otherwise) have I gained?
One suggestion, from someone's experience:
“I always start with the date, time and place I am writing. Then I start with the first thing that comes to mind. Or if nothing springs to mind start with the highlight of the week and the lowlight. That usually sparks off loads "Dance like no one is watching!" "Write like no one is going to read it"! (Other than perhaps you) It's yours. That's what's important.
I set aside a 1-2 hour session once a week, usually in a cafe somewhere, assisted by a coffee or red wine. I usually go to the gym before hand to get work out of my system (experience has shown me that my mind goes blank if I write fresh out of work) and then I rant away. By the end of the session I feel more informed about my emotional state (I have a rule where I am not allowed to cross anything out, which can be quite insightful) which I can then take with me to supervision and explore how I can put this use etc. And I usually have one or two potential research questions about work from my thoughts. So I find it VERY useful.”
How about using a reflective model to structure your reflection? They provide you with some prompts that allow you to explore the situation that you are reflecting on, in detail.
There is no right or wrong way to write a reflective journal – It should become easier to do, once you start actually doing it!
Why Write a Reflective Journal at all?
A description by Kkerr, illustrates this well:
“I had been toying with starting a journal for a while, when it all came to a head. and I realised I needed to do something about it!
At my AP job in brain injury, I was punched in the chest by a patient also lobbed a football at me in close range, which hurt a lot more! Neither were serious assults. But it was unexpected because the patient is normally a gentle giant (later transpired he was becoming manic). So unexpected, it was as though I hadn't really registered it. I continued work without an emotional response. Then I went to job number 2 (mental health support group) and got home exhausted (13 hour working day!) giving myself no time to reflect on the days events.
The next I went to work as normal and again no emotional reaction to the previous days events. Then I went home and as I walked through the door my house mate said "God you look tired" and I promptly burst into tears The sitaution of the guy who hit me came crashing down in all its tragedy (his situation, not that he hit me)
I went into the garden to get a grip. Part of me was thinking "this is what I need, to recognise that many of the situations I face at work are difficult and depressing, and I must recognise the emotional impact this has" the other part of me was saying "pull yourself together woman! you're feeling sorry for yourself. You're not helping any one!" and then I'd counter argue. I had started to reflect before I'd even started feeling! And I felt I hadn't resolved anything emotionally. Other than scaring my housemate
I realised I needed to set aside time to allow myself to have emotional reaction and explore it. And supervision was only part of the answer, for me anyway.”
Writing a reflective journal can be a great way to let of steam and work through issues that you might ordinarily ignore – either because you are not aware of them or because of time constraints. Journals like this are a great way of getting to know your self better. Furthermore, in years to come, you might well be glad of it. Looking back, you will be able to reflect on the cases you have worked with and what role Clinical Psychology played in these cases. You will also be able to see where you ‘were’ and have a clear picture in your head what happened and where you, personally, have come from (and what you have achieved – personally and career wise).
Writing a journal such as this, is good preparation for a career where you are expected to be a ‘reflective practitioner’. Assistant Psychologist supervisors often expect it, as well as many clinical courses. In fact, often on some courses, a reflective journal is a requirement for clinical placements, and which your supervisormay ask to see. (Which of course may limit the amount that you wish to disclose – so in this case, perhaps a personal journal along side a course one, might be more appropriate?).
Reflective Journals are really good for clinical interviews, Assistant Psychologist posts/interviews and for supervision preparation. (This is especially true for those posts/courses/supervisions that are more reflective) If you are already practiced in writing a reflective journal, then when it comes to supervisions or those interviews, it will prove to be extremely helpful!
Another comment from experience
“The main reason I started [writing a reflective journal], was that in the formal setting of supervision I felt unable to explore the raw aspects of my emotional reactions. I could reflect - as we psychologists types are encouraged to do, but I felt I was missing out on the real feeling part of it all. Does that make sense? So I use my journal to explore how I feel.”
Reflective Journals Related to Supervision*/Interviews:
Evidently, when writing a reflective journal for a specific purpose or where others may see, you may not want to divulge quite as much than if it was for your eyes only.
You may want to just keep a record of what you have done, clients you have worked with and theories behind it; but of course remembering to keep things, like names, anonymous – particularly if you take the journal out of work (as long as this is ok with your supervisor/university).
Try and be critical about your work. Note what you have been up to, thoughts about your client, thoughts about the work you have done with them and ideas for the next time. You may want to mention what these experiences teaches about yourself, your preferred way of working and those people you do/do not like to work with and why… Basically, it is your reflection, so it cannot really be wrong – whatever you put in it.
Supervisors/Interviewers want you to be able to reflect, so whether it is personal stuff or clinical work, they will love it if you can say things like “X happened, I felt…, I did… Afterwards, I thought… and felt… If I were to face this again I would… I learned… …about myself”
Also, try and consider how you might deal with a situation that was particularly pertinent to you – for example being asked to assess someone who has abused their children, if you have (or had) children of the same age.
Of course, you don’t have to keep a journal if you don’t want to or feel you don’t have the motivation to do so. There are other ways to reflect on your work (for example,‘clinical supervision’ and Personal Psychotherapy - which is often offered on Clinical and Counselling Psychology courses), so don’t feel obliged to do one, if you don’t want to.
Some related Clinpsy links that you may find useful in relation to Reflective Journal writing (in addition to the links imbedded (blue) in the text):
- Reflective questions at interview: how much to reveal.
Reflecting: the impact of your own mental health on clients.
Strength and weaknesses and questions for interview panel.
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Content checked by a moderator on 01/03/12