WHAT IS SELF-REFLECTION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Self-reflection (n). careful thought about your own behavior and beliefs. —Merriam-Webster dictionary
Self-reflection is a common activity for most people. Someone might meditate when faced with a challenging decision; another person might take an interest inventory when considering a career change to figure out what might be a best fit. The degree to which individuals engage in self-reflection varies drastically depending on the person and situation. One of the biggest factors in this variance is whether the individual is passively or purposefully engaging in self-reflection. Passive self-reflection happens quite frequently, though this often goes unnoticed since it happens without specifically thinking about it. Have you ever left a meeting and on the way home you automatically started thinking about events that occurred during the meeting, how you spoke or interacted with others at the meeting, how you felt about the outcome of the meeting, or maybe even what you could have done differently? This is passive self-reflection.
Purposeful self-reflection is a little different. While the actual process may be similar, purposeful self-reflection happens as the result of a conscious decision to personally reflect on a particular experience, topic, or situation, and is largely focused on one’s own related thoughts and/or behaviors. Purposeful self-reflection occurs during a specific period of time that is set aside for reflecting, and can often involve goals or desired outcomes after a sufficient amount of introspection has passed. Our example of a person meditating over a decision, let’s say applying to graduate programs in counseling, would fall into the purposeful self-reflection realm.
Whether passive, purposeful, or initiated by an outside force (such as the authors of this book), self-reflection is an important activity that helps you gain awareness about your thoughts and behaviors within the context of your unique situation. Some people refer to this as self-awareness. Selfawareness, a cornerstone counselor characteristic that you will learn about in your graduate preparation, is a unique concept that has many far-reaching effects. Self-reflection is key in developing greater self-awareness. Greater self-awareness leads to increased mindfulness of one’s role in situations and relationships. Increased mindfulness thereby leads to being better prepared to make informed and meaningful decisions, whether they are career decisions or choosing how to navigate personal relationships.
The counseling profession has explored this concept in other capacities specific to counselors-in-training and practicing counselors. Some research shows that people who self-reflect are likely to be more effective counselors because they can clarify their own values and perspectives and separate them from the values and beliefs a client/student/consumer may hold. Even more, self-reflection can help you navigate important personal decisions and situations with clarity. When you have a clear understanding of your personal values and beliefs, you are well equipped to explore and easily identify what you want out of a personal (or professional) situation or relationship and can be more intentional about your thoughts and behaviors. Connect this concept with your consideration of a future career as a counselor and trying to find a graduate program that is right for you: What are your values when it comes to education? Where does attending graduate school fall on your list of priorities? What do you believe about your abilities to be a successful student? How important is becoming a professional counselor to you?
Counselors learn the importance of self-reflection by regularly engaging in reflective activities through their graduate training. By gaining firsthand experience, counselors also learn the importance of helping others to self-reflect. Sometimes this happens passively—by using the "tell me more” method—to encourage clients to think. Other times, counselors teach clients the concept of self-reflection and help them understand the benefits of purposefully self-reflecting on a regular basis. As you progress through this chapter, we encourage you to engage in purposeful selfreflection and remember that this practice raises self-awareness, fosters self-empowerment, and contributes to personal development and future success.