“To be effective learners we must (1) perceive information, (2) reflect on how it will impact some aspect of our life, (3) compare how it fits into our own experiences, and (4) think about how this information offers new ways for us to act. Learning requires more than seeing, hearing, moving, or touching to learn. We integrate what we sense and think with what we feel and how we behave.

Without that integration, we’re just passive participants and passive learning alone doesn’t engage our higher brain functions or stimulate our senses to the point where we integrate our lessons into our existing schemes. We must do something with our knowledge.

Praxis is the Greek word that means action with reflection. (Praxis = Experience + Reflection > Action.) In educational situations, we describe, analyze, apply, and then implement our new learning. When we practice a skill, analyze our practice, and then repeat the practice at a higher level, we move practice to praxis. We learn what we’re doing”. (Marcia L Conner – agelesslearner.com)

Looking for ways to augment your learning? Here are some important steps to keep in mind if you are a counsellor and/or mental health professional:

STEP 1: Reading

Apart from the theoretical information you’ve read (or are reading) during your conventional studies, make sure you are always on the lookout for ‘real life’ stories. Case Studies are a great example of those. Case Studies are excellent training and professional development resources. They provide an overview of a ‘real life’ situation, merging theoretical knowledge and practical elements through a structured narrative. By reading case studies, you can get in touch with real life issues that you may be faced with in the future.

STEP 2: Volunteer

Volunteering in the not-for-profit or community sector is an effective way to learn more about working in a counselling or similar support role. Not only will you have the opportunity to apply your counselling skills and knowledge, but you will also gain the experience of actually working in a community organisation. Volunteering is also a great confidence-booster with the added bonus of feeling positive about contributing to your community. The experience also looks great on your resume and, you never know, you just might score a new job out of it!

STEP 3: Self-Reflection

“As important as methods may be, the most practical thing we can achieve in any kind of work is insight into what is happening inside us as we do it. The more familiar we are with our inner terrain, the more sure footed our [work] – and living – becomes.” P. J. Palmer (cited in Skovholt, T. M., 2001)

The quest for self-awareness or self-understanding is a major component of effective reflective practice. Counsellors need, not only, to be aware of their skills, knowledge and performance as professionals but also mindful of any personal factors that may interfere or impede their ability to provide an effective and objective service. It is likely you have already developed a mechanism for analysing your actions, beliefs, reactions and thoughts. Perhaps you reflect through discussion with your partner, family members or friends. Maybe you spend some time thinking about your actions before undertaking them. You may be a journal writer or perhaps utilise Blogs. Counselling professionals in their everyday practice face unique and complex situations which may be unsolvable by only technical rationale approaches.

Reflective practice is an important learning strategy by which professionals become aware of their implicit knowledge base and learn from their experience. Some important reflective strategies include evaluating own performance, developing self-awareness, monitoring potential for burnout and ensuring adequate self-care.

What are you doing for your career’s ongoing learning needs right now? Take action!