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Clinical Psychologists' Experiences of Reflective Staff Groups in Inpatient Psychiatric Settings: A Mixed Methods Study




Reflective practice groups have been recommended for improving staff wellbeing and team functioning in inpatient psychiatric services, and clinical psychologists have been identified as potential leaders in this type of work. Research is limited with little information about reflective practice group guidelines, prevalence and effectiveness.


The aims of this study were to describe clinical psychologists' practice in reflective groups for staff in inpatient psychiatric services and to explore how such groups are conceptualized and implemented.


Online questionnaires and follow-up interviews were used to gain broad descriptions of practice and in-depth information about participants' experiences. The sample consisted of 73 clinical psychologists working in the UK, six of whom were interviewed. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics, content analysis and thematic analysis.


Clinical psychologists regularly facilitate reflective staff groups in inpatient psychiatric settings in the UK. Common outcomes related to staff wellbeing, service culture and teamwork. Engagement, group dynamics and lack of management support were common challenges. Group experiences were influenced by the organizational context.


Clinical psychologists' practices regarding reflective staff groups were in line with recent professional developments. Several difficulties were described, which may be indicative of both a difficulty inherent to the task and a training gap in reflective staff group process. The study had methodological limitations but offers a useful contribution to the literature, and enables practice and training implications to be drawn. The need for further research exploring facilitator characteristics, views of group participants and the impact of reflective staff groups on patients is indicated. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Key Practitioner Message

  • The term ‘reflective practice group’ encompasses a range of practices, but a typical group structure was found with common aims, outcomes and challenges.
  • Reflective staff groups are regularly facilitated by clinical psychologists in inpatient psychiatric settings in the UK and are influenced by practitioner experience as well as psychodynamic, systemic and group process theories.
  • The safety required for reflective groups to function is influenced by the organizational context, and groups can contribute to shifts in culture toward including psychosocial perspectives.
  • Reflective staff groups represent one type of contribution to an inpatient psychiatric service and team relationships; other processes to encourage alternative professional perspectives and values might also support change.
  • More research is recommended to explore facilitator characteristics, the views of staff teams on reflective staff groups and the impact of these groups on patients.