Reflective Practice and Learning from Mistakes in Social Work is a daunting title for an engaging book. The tone is thoughtful and practical throughout, seeking to engage with the goal of practising well in difficult situations. To err is human, and Alessandro Sicora wants to help practitioners recognise the inevitability of mistakes in their practice, and the importance of acknowledging and learning from them. He sees reflection as a key strategy to achieve this, in terms of both recognising what it feels like to make mistakes and using mistakes to stimulate learning and develop more effective strategies, in order to realise practice goals. The book is divided into five chapters. In the first, Sicora reviews different theoretical perspectives on reflection, and draws out the issues underlying reflective practice. In this chapter, he also locates the main theoretical underpinning for his approach, which is linking reflective practice to decision making as a defensible and reasonable practice. He draws on Kahneman’s (2011) ‘two systems’ model of thinking—a fast, intuitive, day-to-day system and a slower, more careful, explicit and purposeful process of reasoned decision making. This perspective is also reflected in his discussion, in the second chapter, of what mistakes in social work are. In our day-to-day practice, we often use short cuts—heuristics—to guide our practice; and, while these are generally helpful, situations change and they may no longer work. They fail to be helpful strategies for us in achieving the goals of practice. These two chapters provide the underlying rationale for reflective practice, which is about understanding and using emotions, alongside thoughtful and rational reflection, to improve practice. Sicora emphasises the importance of working with service users in enhancing this process; but also considers the challenges for practitioners of the organisational setting of reflection, particularly the impact of new public management and its emphasis on efficiency over effectiveness as potentially undermining good reflective practice. This sets the scene for the subsequent chapters. He explores the experience of making mistakes as an opportunity to attend to errors in practice and find ways to address these or limit their impact; and also considers the emotional impact of mistakes, and the need to address these in order to be able to engage in learning, emphasising a commitment to the interests of service users as a way of bridging the personal distress and the professional goal. A particular strength of this book is the way in which the author identifies strategies, but does not prescribe them. Reflection is a process of being puzzled by mistakes, learning from them and searching for alternative responses. He acknowledges that this nurturing of a questioning approach can be difficult, not least in the contemporary context of risk-averse organisations; and points to strategies such as reflective writing, the use of critical instance and engaging with critical friends to support reflection. He also encourages the use of images and metaphors to bring forward emotions and inchoate ideas. While the reflexive organisation is a goal—and he sets out conditions such as open and democratic communication and acceptance of error as part of an ecology of effective reflection and error prevention—Sicora recognises that practitioners are often operating in organisations where blame is quickly allocated, and where feedback can be less than positive. He suggests strategies for managing negative feedback and trying to turn it into material that can be more productive. If I were to split hairs, I would criticise this book for a limited engagement with the current international social and political context of welfare retrenchment and its impact of decision making; and the failure, also, to explore the way decision-making science approaches are implicated in managerial strategies. However, I think this is to misunderstand the point of the book, which is to help practitioners understand that mistakes are inevitable and complex, and to help them negotiate this territory as best they can, as thoughtful and creative social workers. This is a book which should stand alongside other key texts on any reflective practice course. Reference Kahneman D. ( 2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow , London, Allen Lane. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
The British Journal of Social Work – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 9, 2018
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