Reflection for self growth and mental health

As it is October, we celebrate Occupational Therapy month in Canada! I had loads of plans to share lots of information this month about OT, but I am on vacation in beautiful BC for a few more days and haven’t had much of a chance to do so.

So My goal is to extend the posts heavily into the winter months! Today I wanted to talk about the practice of reflection to help ourselves and our clients in self growth and with our mental health.

Starting with my youngest kiddos up to my oldest adult clients, I love to incorporate reflection as a practice. Reflection doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to dig deep into your soul, but with some simple prompting, we can reflect (and help our clients reflect) on positive aspects of life, as well as challenges they can grow from.

When working with my clients regarding mental health, I like to focus on two sides of the coin – the positive aspects and the more challenge times.

Each program day, I have my adult clients think of one thing they are grateful for, or one positive in the day. I focus on this with the emphasis on these things being small and attainable so we can remember that even on the hardest day, there is a bit of Sunshine to hold onto. On a harder day, maybe the positive was your breakfast or the warm sun or a cozy blanket. The important thing for my clients is that I ensure they are validated in their emotions in this reflection. “Yes, today is hard, but let’s find one thing we can hold onto” – if you are reflecting with your clients, making sure you’re not using toxic positivity is essential. With my pediatric clients, we focus on something we LOVED about today or something we were proud of! This gives them the opportunity to reflect on enjoying their day and the programming they were in, and also fosters that intrinsic sense of pride and motivation. Many of our clients aren’t celebrated by the community the same way others are, so giving that time for celebration can be so important for self esteem. Also as a therapist, hearing your kiddos share “my favourite thing was climbing the tree, I’m so proud I did it!”, is just so wonderful for our self esteem and motivation 🥰

On the flip side we also reflect on the challenging parts of the day. I try to watch my language in this reflection as often times “hard” means failure to my clients and can be ruminated on a lot. When reflecting on what is challenging, you have the opportunity as a therapist to validate their frustrating moments, and also to help problem solve through them. Often times, I’ll be working through with my clients and ask how they got through their challenging moment, and without even realizing it, they’ve used a strategy! Talking through this with them, I can help them write out some strategies they used, recognize them as something that worked and then create reminders to use them in similar situations in the future. By doing this often and prompting their critical thinking, you can help develop their reflection and problem solving. One of my favourite moments was a reflection an 8 year old told me, that their challenge was climbing a tree but also their favourite thing was climbing a tree because he got to practice and will get better! We were able to expand this to the two strategies he used to climb the tree and now he can try again another time!

Every age group at my work engages in some sort of reflection in their own format, but this is one of my favourites linked below. When volunteering with a camp for children with cancer, we did the rose, bud, thorn reflection each night before bed and it was lovely! Your rose is your positive, your thorn is the challenge and your bud can be either what you’re looking forward to or what strategy you might take away from the challenge for future. I’ve linked the worksheet I use below in case it would be beneficial for anyone!

As a preceptor to college and university students, I also use reflection to help my students grow as therapists, and to recognize what more they need support with. Being able to practice this as a healthcare provider has helped me stay motivated to continue practicing, and remain humble so I don’t stop being open to learning. My students engage in a bit of a different official journal process, but I try to verbally ask their positive and challenging moment at the end of the work day.

What’s your experience with reflection? Do you practice it personally? Do you engage your clients in the practice of reflection? If so how?

Link to my Rose, Thorn, Bud reflection sheet on Teachers Pay Teachers


Published by maiiflowerr

Pronouns She/Her/they/them. I'm a millennial just trying to make a difference in the world, and create space for people to accept themselves and live their best lives. My fiancee, Sydney, and I are mothers to our two goofy cats, and the queens of creative adventures. I am an Occupational therapist, a dancer and a yoga instructor with a passion for supporting people and creating community.

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