Strengthening Your Reflective Practice

At the heart of gaining growth and talent as a health coach, is reflective practice. Reflection has been widely emphasised in disciplines that require an integration of academic study or science and practical application (Lane & Corrie, 2006). Yet for many health practitioners, limited time is spent engaging with their reflective muscle.

Reflection is a cognitive skill that demands a conscious effort to look at a situation. It is done so with an awareness of our own beliefs, values and level of practice. Enabling learning from experiences towards improvement in that practice, and therefore client outcomes. Health coaches uphold the core belief that ‘curiosity’ is the key to unearthing a fixed mindset. It is therefore only natural that the reflective nature and openness of curiosity serves as a precursor to reflective health practices.

Through Donald Schon’s original work on ‘the reflective practitioner (1987)’ we have gained the inspiration for a broadening understanding of how professional practitioners gain their knowledge and skill. His distinction between ‘reflection for action’ ‘reflection-on-action’ & ‘reflection-in-action’ highlights the application of reflection to practice.

At the core of any health coaching session is the coaching mindset. An example of this mindset is the premise that ‘the client is the expert of themselves’. Within this is the opportunity to examine and dissect a particular health coaching conversation or hone in on a particular competency: prior to, during and post the coaching conversation as well as from within (getting in touch with our inner knowing). See an example below of possible reflective questions at different stages of the health coaching conversation.

Reflection for action:

  • What do I want to remember to think about?
  • How do I want to act?
  • What is my health coaching mindset?
  • What will I do to maintain my focus?

Reflection in action:

  • How am I feeling now?
  • What level of listening am I at 1,2,3?
  • Whose agenda am I on?
  • Who is the expert here?

Reflection on action:

  • What can I celebrate?
  • What felt difficult?
  • What can I improve?
  • How will I know when I have improved?

Reflect within:

  • How did I feel as the coach in this session (one word)?
  • What does my inner voice tell me (intuition)?
  • What can I focus on next time (within my power)?

Reflection can be described as letting future behaviour be influenced by an analysis of actions and their consequences. There are many options and frameworks with which to undertake this analysis, for example Gibbs reflective cycle (1988) gives a more comprehensive structure to learning from experiences through journaling and case analysis. The Gibbs cycle works particularly well in cases of repeated experiences; its process works toward an action plan for the future. Atkins & Murphy’s (1994) model of reflection dives deeper into the growth of self- awareness. Built on a combination of many reflective theories Atkins & Murphy analyse feelings and knowledge relevant to the situation:

  • How did I feel?
  • Can I imagine and explore alternatives?
  • What did I already know about the situation?
  • What were my assumptions?
  • How did reality reflect my assumptions?
  • In what type of scenarios would discomfort not occur?

Reflective practice requires the investment of time and energy. Vast literature on the subject of improvement within the field of health practice through reflection exists. Just as health coaches are open to self-experimentation (N = 1) within the lifecycle of lifestyle medicine, so must we be to experiment with different reflection models and cycles. We must find what fits with our growth needs in the moment, be flexible and willing to explore new reflective frontiers.

  • Lane, D.A. & Corrie, S. (2006). The Modern Scientist Practitioner. A Guide to Practice in Psychology. Hove, East Sussex. Routledge.