Process recording is a time-honored vehicle for reflection in schools of social work, especially in the United States (Urdang, 1975). Process recording calls upon interns’ capacity for observation and recall, requiring verbatim reporting of an interview with a client or clients. It also encourages analysis: it begins with a description of the purpose and goals of the intervention, as well as the setting and participants; it allows for a description of the rationale for intervention and the skills utilized; and it ends with impressions, plans for the future, and questions for the student’s supervisors. Most importantly for reflection, the process recording has space for interns to record their thoughts and feelings in a column or columns parallel to the dialogue of the transcript (Fox & Gutheil, 2000; Graybeal & Ruff, 1995; Neuman & Friedman, 1997; Urdang, 1979).
Process recording is an example of “reflection-on-action, the process of looking back on a practice event or episode to review the experience, including subjective reactions, ways of understanding, and some evaluation of what transpired and what one might learn to improve or change in the next interaction” (Bogo, Katz, Regehr, Logie, Mylopoulos, & Tufford, 2013, p. 261). A process recording is not an academic exercise in which students illustrate their expert competency and knowledge; it is about “exploration, understanding, questioning and probing discrepancies” (Boud in Rai, p. 787) of “ill-structured problems” (King, in Deal, 2003, p. 7) in the “swampy lowlands” of practice (Schön, 1984, p. 42).
What, exactly, is reflection? The original aim of focusing on reflection in the process recording was based on psychodynamic theory, which emphasized “the inner world, including emotions, inner conflicts, internalizations, loss and separation issues, and […] the power of past relationships and experiences, often repeated in therapeutic encounters” (Urdang, 2010, p. 528). More recent theory includes the concept of intersubjectivity: the “ongoing transactional exchange of feelings between the clinician and client” (Urdang, 2010, p. 531). The current, broader definition of reflection is based on the idea that our understanding is affected by our perspectives, which are in turn affected by our context. In reflection, “the tacit knowing—the intuitive know-how—which guides professional skill is brought to consciousness […] when the practitioner is faced with a unique, puzzling situation” (Papell & Skolnik, 1992, p. 19). For example, in reflecting on their interactions with clients, interns can become aware of their assumptions based on age, gender, class, culture, religion, race, and sexual orientation ( Brookfield, 2012—see link in Resources section).
A process recording is only as valuable as the effort that the field instructor and intern put into it. Orientation to process recording is essential to explain that, whereas an academic paper seeks to move from the personal to the objective in order to showcase the student’s competency, a process recording moves from the objective to the personal (Rai, 2006, p. 793). Process recordings showcase students’ questions and dilemmas in their interactions with an individual client, a group or family, and/or other team members or providers. The expectation of regular process recording can encourage interns to become more adept at remembering dialogue and accessing their own reactions. Timing is essential; for example, if the field instructor has not had time to read the process recording and make some written response before the supervision meeting, then the student may feel that the practice is not worth his or her time. The field instructor’s role is crucial in “processing issues, incidents and emotions; making sense and developing meaning from experience; applying theory to practice […]; documenting and effectively expressing learning; and provision of formative assessment and feedback” (Coulson, p. 409).