SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.51 issue4 author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Services on Demand



Related links

  • On index processCited by Google
  • On index processSimilars in Google


Social Work

On-line version ISSN 2312-7198
Print version ISSN 0037-8054

Social work (Stellenbosch. Online) vol.51 n.4 Stellenbosch  2015 



Reflective learning in social work education in the field of substance abuse



Ilze Slabbert

Department of Social Work, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa.




After introduction of democracy in South Africa in 1994 social work education changed from norm- to outcomes-based education. This entailed the development of certain learning outcomes which social work students need to acquire before they could qualify as social workers. Challenges to meaningful assimilation of knowledge are posed by passive learning, where students merely repeat or reproduce others' ideas, parrot-fashion, to pass a module, or strategic learning where students only learn "enough" to obtain a pass mark. There are also a significant number of students who struggle to engage with their study material, failing to make it their own. To qualify as a social worker and achieve the required learning outcomes, it is important that students engage meaningfully and deeply with their studies rather than just attempt passive or strategic learning (Collins, 2014:2).

To quote Aristotle (384-322 BC): "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." Social work education is very much about "learning by doing" and demands a deeper or more thorough kind of learning than passive or strategic learning. Deep learning implies that the student attempts to make sense of big ideas. Deep learning is an essential part of preparing for the social work profession where theory and practice are integrated and where social work values and ethics should be internalised (Biggs, 2003; Collins, 2014). In the social work profession one's own connectedness to certain issues such as substance abuse could enhance a sense of self and one's approach to practice (Heron, 2005).

In professions such as social work it is vital to have a greater insight into one's own identity (including one's own personal life experiences and values) as well as into one's clients' identities. Reflective learning is a valuable way to achieve relevant learning outcomes and to develop insight into and knowledge of one's own identity as well as of clients' identities and challenges. Critical reflection can be viewed as deep learning and is crucial for a greater connectedness to social work issues. Specific learning outcomes will be more meaningful and contribute to preparation for social work practice if students learn by doing, thus through critically reflecting on an issue at hand (Davys & Beddoe, 2009; Herrington, Parker & Boase-Jelinek, 2014).

Critical reflection can be viewed as a core element of, and a highly effective and powerful tool in, social work education. It is during training that social work students have the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences and develop relevant skills for use in the future. Toporek and Worthington (2014) value reflective learning as a useful technique where students need to show sensitivity and humility in dealing with vulnerable clients. Clients who abuse substances are one of the vulnerable groups of clients social workers have to engage with. Stein (2008) argues that in the field of substance abuse it is important that social workers have insight into the complexity of addiction and the challenges an addicted person has to cope with. Social workers have to guard against having and fostering negative thoughts around substance abuse and addiction.




Dewey (1933) introduced the concept of reflection as an important component of learning and added that it was necessary to incorporate experiences into an existing framework of knowledge, taking into consideration a student's life experiences as well as current observations. White, Fook and Gardner (2006) observe that the journey of reflection is not easy and often uncomfortable. This journey could, however, also be liberating if one's shackles of complacency and ritualised patterns could be removed. Clarity is needed on what reflection entails, while those who claim to practise it should ensure that they indeed do so and are not merely analysing a learning experience. It is also important to ensure that students know and understand what is expected of them regarding reflection work, as this is nowadays very much part of tertiary students' curricula (Bellefeuille, 2006; Beytell, 2014; Cowan, 2014; Johns, 2010; Jones, 2009; Van den Heuvel, Au, Levin, Bernstein, Ford-Jones & Martimianakis, 2014).

Reflective learning

Reflective learning occurs in several fields such as teaching, nursing, paediatrics and social work. Some overlapping terms - namely reflexivity, critical reflection, transformative learning and action research - are also used to describe reflective learning. Reflective learning can be defined as "the process of internally examining and exploring an issue of concern, triggered by an experience, which creates and clarifies meaning in terms of self, and which results in a changed conceptual perspective" (Lam, Wong & Leung, 2007:93). Learning is thus an active and developmental process and is the responsibility of the individual. What one learns becomes part of a body of knowledge that is drawn upon in future reflective observations. Reflective learning can be viewed as a cumulative process during which past experiences and reflections will shape and construct future learning (Boyd & Fales, 1985 cited in Lam et al., 2007:93).

Reflective learning is more concerned with "who am I" and linking this with "what I do". It thus means being mindful of oneself during a learning experience. Several authors (Bozalek, Carolissen, Leibowitz, Nicholls, Rohleder & Swartz, 2010; Dyment & O' Connel, 2011; Johns, 2010; Lam et al., 2007) maintain that reflective learning is a very effective approach as students learn to discover themselves and are enabled to personally engage with their studies. Teater (2011) identified four steps educators could take in order to underpin successful learning in social work, namely to revisit the learning outcomes; to determine teaching methods and learning activities; to design assessment; and lastly to provide feedback and evaluate. These steps encourage students to reflect and assess critically what they have learned and how they can apply this knowledge. At the same time passive or strategic learning would be reduced.

Herrington, Reeves and Olivier (2010) identified three stages of reflection that students should apply in their studies (closely linked to the steps mentioned above): first by returning to the experience, indicating that the experience is understood and internalised; second, by attending to the feelings around this experience; and lastly re-evaluating the experience through integrating new knowledge into their conceptual framework. It is thus the mutual responsibility of educator and the student to ensure successful learning. The educator has the task of designing learning outcomes in such a way that students should meaningfully engage with their studies and also make what they have learned their own. Evaluation is also a dual, continuous process for educator and student. Reflective learning can be summed up as learning that involves active and successful intellectual and affective activities in which students engage to explore their experiences to lead them to new understandings and appreciations (Herrington et al., 2010).

Herrington et al. (2010) also note the value of critical reflection in e-learning courses, where students are granted the opportunity to engage in meaningful reflection regarding relevant learning outcomes. Teräs and Herrington (2014) indicated how blogs could be useful for students for reflection during e-learning. Some authors (Heron, 2005; Herrington et al., 2010; Teater, 2011) also describe reflection as a form of debriefing which could assist the students to deal with certain issues in their lives in order to grow and develop. Nilvarankul, McCann, Rungreangkuljih and Wongprom (2011) and Yip (2006) add that reflection is a process of self-analysis and self-evaluation that could lead to self-enhancement.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse poses a major threat to the wellbeing of society, communities, families and individuals. The escalating problems and negative effects associated with alcohol and other drugs (AOD) are evident worldwide, in South Africa and specifically in the Western Cape (Department of Social Development, 2013). A variety of drugs can affect the wellbeing of people. Drugs are classified into categories according to their legal status, their chemical composition or the route of taking the drug (orally, intravenously, smoking, inhaling or snorting). According to Hitzeroth and Kramer (2010), there are broadly seven main groups of drugs, namely stimulants (such as coffee and tobacco), depressants (such as alcohol), hallucinogens (such as LSD), opioids (such as pain-killers), cannabis (such as dagga), inhalants (such as thinners) and anabolic steroids (such as depo-testosterone).

Non-drug addictions commonly referred to as process addictions are also evident in society. Addiction to gambling, the internet, sex or eating could all be viewed as process addictions. Interestingly, the neurobiological features, antecedents, symptoms and treatment are similar for both drug addiction and non-drug addiction. With any addiction dopamine floods the brain and the brain chemicals ultimately change the make-up of the brain, resulting in an increased appetite for the drug or non-drug (Carlson, Matto, Smith & Eversman, 2006; Fisher & Harris, 2013).

It is inevitable that social workers will deal with the devastating consequences of AOD abuse. Addressing substance abuse is a specialised field in social work and social workers need knowledge and insight into the complexity of AOD. The aim at most of the rehabilitation centres is to aid life-long abstinence. Life skills and coping skills are taught in order to help clients to cope without AOD outside the rehabilitation centre. Social workers need an understanding of how difficult it is to never use AOD again and why relapses often happen when triggers and cravings arise (Fisher & Harris, 2013; Stein, 2008).

Social work intervention will be required when social workers are directly working in the field of substance abuse, but most social workers in other fields will also encounter challenges relating to substance abuse, as discussed below. Social work intervention could be indicated where children are neglected or abused as a result of parents who abuse substances. Teenagers who clash with the law often experience substance dependence problems that will require social work intervention. A link has been found between domestic violence and substance abuse, and social workers intervening with domestic violence cases often need to deal with substance abuse as well. In the field of gerontology, social workers often deal with clients who have become addicted to prescribed or other medicine (Drabble, 2007; Gardner & Poole, 2009; Mallow & Ward, 2009; Riger & Bennett, 2014). It is thus clear that social workers in all fields need some level of knowledge and skills for intervention in the area of substance abuse.

In dealing with substance abuse, reflective learning is of the utmost importance as students' attitudes in this regard could influence their dealings with their future clients. Fisher and Harris (2013:7) stress the value of a reflective exercise in substance abuse modules where students need to abstain from a certain substance or aspect for a certain period. This exercise allows them to examine their own inner journey of having a chance to change certain aspects of their own lives. The main purpose of such an exercise is to reflect on any harmful patterns they themselves exhibit and which might need change, but also to gain insight into the field of substance abuse and how difficult it is for an addictive person to abstain from AOD for a lifetime.

Reflective learning may thus enhance students' learning experience regarding substance abuse. This journey of getting to know oneself better is an important one for social workers who work in the field of substance abuse, as it would enhance their ability to help others. As mentioned before, people who seek help for their addiction are often vulnerable and it might be beneficial to receive help from social workers who can identify with them and respond effectively. Reflective learning provides one way through which social work students in the field of substance abuse can effectively combine the "who I am" with the "what I do". This entails taking a closer look at their own lives and experiencing the difficulty in abstaining from something for a period of time, as their potential substance abuse clients need to abstain from AOD for a lifetime (Fisher & Harris, 2013; Hall, Amodeo, Shaffer & Vander Bilt, 2000; Stein, 2008).



From the discussion above it is clear that reflective learning should form an integral part of social work education. Although a significant number of studies (Bozalek & Biersteker, 2009; Dyment & O'Connel, 2011; Stein, 2008) have been done on reflective learning in social work, not much has been done on reflective learning in the field of substance abuse. In the light of the views of Herrington et al. (2010) as discussed earlier, it would benefit the social work profession to explore how reflective learning can be utilised so that students could engage with activities and explore their own experiences in order to gain new understandings and appreciations, in the field of substance abuse and specifically life-long abstinence.

The research question for this study was: What are the experiences of final-year social work students when abstaining from a certain aspect/habit/substance in their lives for three weeks in order to reflect on possibly harmful patterns in their own lives, and to gain new understanding and appreciation of lifelong abstinence?



The goal of this study was to explore the experiences of final-year social work students at a selected university in South Africa when they abstained from any aspect/habit/substance for three weeks in order to reflect on possibly harmful patterns in their own lives and to gain new understanding and appreciation of lifelong abstinence.

A qualitative research approach was adopted (De Vos, Strydom, Fouché & Delport, 2011; Kamler & Thomson, 2006; Maxwell, 2009) with movement between deductive and inductive logic of reasoning (Southern & Devlin, 2010).

A descriptive design was used to present a picture of specific details of the reflective journey of the students. In addition an exploratory design was used to gain insight into the students' experiences of this reflective process they were engaged in (De Vos et al., 2011).

Criteria for inclusion were that all participants had to be final-year social work students at a selected university in South Africa. Non-probability, purposive sampling was done from a population consisting of final-year social work students. The whole population, namely all final-year social work students at a selected university in South Africa, participated in the study, thus total population sampling applied (Amrein-Beardsley, Zambo, Moore, Bus, Perry, Painter, Carlson, Foulgor, Olson & Pucket, 2012; De Vos et al., 2011; Kamler & Thomson, 2006; Maxwell, 2009:36).

Ethical clearance was obtained from the ethical committee of the university where the study was conducted. The research can be regarded as low risk regarding whether participants might have experienced discomfort or inconvenience. The goal of the research was explained to the participants and their informed consent was obtained. The identifying details of the participants were not supplied in the research and pseudonyms were used. Confidentiality was maintained throughout and the data were kept in a safe place (De Vos et al., 2011).

Data collection and analysis

Students were required to keep a journal for a period of three weeks with the purpose of encouraging critical thinking about dependency and to experience how challenging it is to abstain from something that is part of one's daily life, as can be seen from the assignment below:



  • Identify an aspect/habit/substance in your life which you feel you can't do without, but would like to give up. Try to abstain from it for 3 weeks.
  • Keep a journal of this experience in order to give written feedback at the end of this period.
  • Explain how you managed/did not manage to abstain from this aspect/habit/substance for three weeks.
  • Explain what you found challenging in this exercise.
  • Explain how this exercise helped you to gain a better understanding of the field of substance abuse.

The data that were collected presented a "thick description". Data analysis was done by categorising the data (the completed reflection exercise) into different themes or categories. These observations were developed into certain themes. (The journal was for the students' own use and they were not required to hand it in.)



Demographic details

Table 1 provides some of the demographic details of the participants.

Forty-nine final-year social work students at a selected university in South Africa took part in the study. The age of the students varied between 21 and 35 years. Forty-six (94%) of the students were female and three (6%) male. The fact that the majority were female correlates with the tendency worldwide that most social workers are female (Dahle, 2012). Seven (14%) of the students were Black, 28 (57%) were White and 14 (29%) were Coloured.


Six themes emerged from the data, namely abstinence from depressants such as alcohol; stimulants such as tobacco; opioids such as pain-killers; food such as bread and sugar; social media such as Facebook; and bad habits such as excessive sleeping.

Theme 1: Depressants

Two of the participants (4%) indicated that they wanted to stop drinking excessively as illustrated by the following excerpts.

"I am going to try to leave binge drinking. This happens over week-ends and also at nights when I work as a bartender. I did a pregnancy test a couple of days ago which came out positive... This helped me to stop the binge drinking, as I want the best for my baby. This is however not easy, as my body still craves after the alcohol. I also quit my job as bartender, but this means I do not have any income... " (Laura)

" I decided to give up alcohol for three weeks. I chose alcohol because it is something that I have become quite dependent on for fun, socialising and to relax. I managed to refrain from alcohol for only a few days before drinking again. I work at a bar......Although I managed to abstain from binge drinking episodes for three weeks, I did feel disappointed in myselffor not being able to completely abstain from alcohol. From my experience, I feel that if an addict is surrounded by people and an environment which advocate the use of a substance, they will really struggle to give up that substance. I gained better understanding of what it is like to try to live with something that I am used to having. Therefore I have more appreciation towards recovering addicts and I am able to empathise more effectively with addicts. " (Sophie)

It is significant that these students seemed to have developed insight into the consequences of excessive use of alcohol. Laura could identify with experiencing cravings, as was discussed during lectures. A craving refers to a person's longing to use a certain drug again after he or she has stopped using it (Fisher & Harris, 2013). Laura also realised the danger of the alcohol for the unborn baby. This was also discussed during lectures. Sophie pointed out the people and environment that play a role in an addictive person's life (Fisher & Harris; 2013; Hitzeroth & Kramer, 2010). It is noteworthy that 4% of the sample admitted that they experienced problems with alcohol. What is significant is that these are young adults and, if they do not attempt to control excessive drinking, it might lead to dependency. Although this was not a representative sample, alcohol abuse poses a health risk to students who engage in excessive drinking.

Theme 2: Stimulants

Fifteen of the 49 participants (31%) indicated that they wanted to reduce their intake of stimulants. Eight of the 15 students (53%) wanted to reduce their caffeine intake. Seven (47%) wanted to quit smoking or reduce their smoking.


"I drank between eight and ten cups of coffee per day. I am so used to coffee that it doesn't affect my sleep pattern. I tried to give it up. The first day was not too bad. I substituted tea for coffee. Towards the evening I developed a headache. The second day was more difficult. I missed the smell and taste of coffee. Smelling the coffee was a trigger for me. The third day I relapsed. The first sip of coffee was wonderful! Although coffee cannot be compared with other substances such as heroin or alcohol, I could still identify with the process of inner conflict and physical withdrawal of an addictive person. This exercise gave me new respect for person who struggle with addiction." (Dawn)

"I have an addiction. My addiction is caffeine. I cannot start or end my day without a cup of coffee. Coffee also helps me to concentrate while I am studying. I could only leave my coffee for two days and then I started to drink it again. The two days without coffee was the most difficult time in my life. I felt depressed and had a severe headache. I craved after the coffee. Just the thought of coffee was also a trigger. I realise now how difficult it must be for an addicted person to give up his drug." (Celeste)

Dawn indicated that she substituted tea for coffee. A substitute drug is often used to replace the current drug of choice (although it is evident that this participant did not use harmful drugs). Both Dawn and Celeste indicated how difficult it was to give up coffee, although caffeine is not as harmful as other more dangerous substances. They also indicated what triggers played a role during this exercise. A trigger might be any stressful situation or painful memory that might lead to use of the drug again (Fisher & Harris, 2013). West and Roderique-Davies (2008) affirmed that caffeine withdrawal symptoms included headaches. Both participants also mentioned that they developed insight into the difficulty of abstaining totally from a substance. It is meaningful that these students, although they did not use harmful stimulants, indicated that they experienced a small portion of the difficulty substance abuse clients face should they go for rehabilitation (Fisher & Harris, 2013).


" When I was still at school my friends and I decided to experiment with the hookah pipe. It was fun to see how the water bubbles... Little did I kn ow of the dangers of the hookah pipe. I want to give up this bad habit. It was very difficult, as most of my friends still use it. I managed to abstain from it for three weeks and it helped me to gain insight in the field of substance abuse. " (Judy)

"I decided to give up smoking for three weeks. I have tried before, but relapsed and did not succeed. I didn't smoke for four days. When I met with my friend, in a social setting, I smoked again. I do not smoke so much anymore. I am disappointed in myself and see now how difficult it is to give up an addiction. " (Maxine)

Both Judy and Maxine indicated the difficulty of giving up an addiction. Addiction is regarded as a disorder in which a person become intensely preoccupied with behaviour or an act that provides an appetitive effect. This appetitive effect affects the brain and occurs in several behavioural patterns in order to maintain the addictive habit. Part of an addiction disorder is the inability to choose to alter or stop the addictive pattern (Fisher & Harris, 2013). Judy also referred to the influence of friends and how difficult it is to give up something while your friends are still doing it. This correlates with literature that friends can cause an addictive person to relapse. A relapse is a return to uncontrolled drug or non-drug use, following a period of abstinence. Relapses are regarded as normal and most substance abuse clients have relapses (Dodge, Krantz & Kenny, 2010; Fisher & Harris, 2013). Both students mentioned how this exercise helped them to gain a better understanding of the challenges an addicted person has to face.

Theme 3: Opioids

Three participants (6%) indicated and acknowledged that they experienced problems with opioids as reflected by the following excerpts.

"There is something in my personal life that has a huge impact on me, and that is pain-killers. I developed headaches a couple of years ago. The medicine I used also calmed me down. I don't need a prescription for it. I realised that I am addicted. The first week was the most difficult. My friend was a huge support. I have managed to leave the pills for three weeks and am very proud of myself." (Leila)

"I have problems in my personal life and as a result I struggle to sleep at night. I started to take sleeping tablets. I got addicted and started to use them as soon as I feel stressed. The first couple of days were the most difficult and I had headaches and longed and craved for my pills. I stayed awake at night and felt depressed. I was ashamed of myself. I have learned not to judge people who are addicted." (Rita)

It is noteworthy that all three participants indicated that they were addicted to pain-killers. One of the respondents did go for treatment before she completed this reflective exercise. Leila indicated the supportive role of her friend. Rita mentioned her initial physical difficulty without the pills and also her craving. The literature (King, 2014; Stannard, 2012) points out the increase of addiction to pain-killers and sleeping tablets. It is a known fact that a significant number of people take medication to manage stress levels or pain. The role of medication in student's life should not be underestimated, as they do experience some levels of stress and anxiety regarding their studies. The danger of getting addicted to opioids if not managed properly should be noted.

Theme 4: Food

Eighteen of the participants (37%) mentioned that they wanted to change some or other eating habit. The food they wanted to reduce or eliminate varied from sugar

"I am going to try to give up sugar for three weeks. Only when I tried to give it up, I realised I was far more dependent on it than I had assumed. I realised that most foods contain sugar, even my favourite: a glass of wine at night. I only managed to abstain from sugar for three days and realise how difficult it is to break a bad habit." (Zelda)

to junk food

"I am going to give up junk food. This was a challenging experience. The first two weeks were difficult as I experienced cravings. At the end of the second week it was my friend's birthday party and I relapsed. My roommate was a great support as she also decided to stop eating junk food. This experience helped me to realise how difficult it is to stop an addiction, especially if you have been doing it for years." (Christine)

to bread

"I am going to try to give up bread. I am totally dependent on it. I replaced (substituted) bread with "Matzos". The first week was the most difficult... The third week was easier. I have gained better insight how difficult it must be for an addictive person to break his harmful habit. I have also learned that one needs a strong self-control." (Cathy).

Although the 18 students who completed their reflective journey did not suffer from any serious eating disorders such as anorexia, they all indicated the difficulty trying to abstain from certain foods and also indicated that they had gained insight into how difficult it is to break destructive habits. Research (Fisher & Harris, 2013; Matusek & Knudson, 2009) emphasises the hard road to recovery from an eating disorder. Recovery in many ways is more complicated than the eating disorder itself. Yiend, Parnes, Shepherd, Ross and Cooper (2014) also indicated the correlation between negative self-beliefs and eating disorders. It is significant to note that 37% of the participants made use of this reflective exercise in trying to develop healthier eating habits. Most of these participants could not abstain from the food they wanted to give up.

Theme 5: Social media

Eight of the 49 participants (16%) indicated that they wanted to abstain from the social media as shown below:

" The thing I decided to give up for three weeks is Facebook. During the three weeks, I did not go on Facebook once. I removed the application from my cell phone and removed the bookmark in the web browsers. I did find it difficult, but then substituted Facebook with Twitter and Instagram. This could also happen with substance abusers, replacing a previous addiction with a different one." (Melody)

"A personal addiction of mine is Facebook. Other people's lives look more interesting and better than my own. Facebook brought emotions in me such as jealousy, discontent, self-pity and depression. I realised that most of the photos on Facebook look better than in real life. As a substitute I decided to rather read News24. This exercise was very difficult for me. I realise how difficult it must be for someone with a dependency to give up a drug for the rest of his life." (Anny)

Both Melody and Anny tried to substitute other social media for Facebook and realised the difficulties persons with addictions face with lifelong abstinence. It is insightful to read Anny's grasp of the negative feelings she experienced with Facebook and that Facebook is not real life. This correlates with research into internet addiction and specifically Facebook (Orchard, Fullwood, Morris & Galbraith, 2014). Some other participants mentioned that they wanted to give up watching Internet movies and listening to music while studying. Only a small number of the nine participants managed to abstain from social media for the whole three weeks and all of them indicated how difficult it would be to give up something for the rest of their lives.

Theme 6: Bad habits

Three of the 49 participants (6%) identified bad habits such as excessive sleeping and procrastination as aspects they wanted to change.

"My procrastination is most destructive. I gained more insight into how difficult it is to stop destructive patterns. I did not manage to give up procrastination completely. I lacked the necessary self-control. I tried some focusing activities to help me with my destructive habit. I also gained insight into the multifaceted nature of a problem or an addiction." (Leah)

"I have chosen to give up excess sleep, I have developed this habit and it affects my social and academic life. I sleep more than 12 hours a day. I managed to abstain from excessive sleep for three weeks. I needed other activities to fill my time. I also needed to make the mental and physical adjustment in order to remain steadfast. This exercise helped me to gain more insight into the field of substance abuse. I was able to see how dependency becomes a way of life and how challenging it is to break free from something that had become a natural part of your life. I have experienced how tempting and convenient it is to fall back into a state of dependency." (Sue)

Quinn, Pascoe, Wood and Neal (2010) point out that temptations present different challenges to good intentions and some adjustments and behaviour modification need to take place in order to break a bad habit as both Leah and Sue mentioned. Although bad habits are not as harmful as substance abuse, it is meaningful that three participants wanted to change what they perceived as bad habits. The also indicate their struggle to give up their bad habits.



  • The participants in this study all indicated that they had developed new understanding and appreciation of the difficulties of lifelong abstinence and hopefully this will help them to realise the struggle their prospective substance abuse clients would face if they go for rehabilitation.
  • A significant number of them also pointed out that they needed to change some harmful patterns in their own lives. It is significant that five participants (10%) indicated that they struggled with dangerous substances. Two of them (4%) remarked their struggle with alcohol, while three (6%) revealed their addiction to opioids.
  • It can be concluded that reflective learning is a valuable component of teaching social work students, specifically in the field of substance abuse, as they could reflect on the challenges prospective clients will have to face in their efforts at rehabilitation as they themselves experienced a small glimpse of the difficult road of total abstinence.
  • The nature and scope of substance abuse should not be underestimated and social workers should collaborate to render the most cost-effective, efficient services, with the necessary empathy. This empathy could be gained through reflective exercises.



Recommendations for social work practice:

  • Social workers who work in the substance abuse field should be afforded the opportunity to reflect on their own lives and possible harmful habits they might need to change;
  • Social workers in the field of substance abuse should also be given the opportunity to reflect on how they view their clients. A non-judgemental attitude could create a safe environment for clients where they feel safe to deal with their addiction problem;
  • All social workers, regardless of where they practice, should have knowledge and insight into the different kinds of addiction as well as how to deal effectively and empathically with clients who experience an addiction problem.

Recommendations for education:

It is recommended that:

  • Reflective learning be utilised optimally in order to help students engage with deep learning;
  • E-learning also be utilised at residential universities where students could engage with a certain topic or learning outcome by means of the Internet;
  • Students be enabled to reflect on any possible harmful or addictive patterns in their own lives in order to render effective services to their clients;
  • Reflection on the difficulties of life-long abstinence be encouraged in order for students to grasp the complexity of addiction.

Recommendations for further research:

  • More research be conducted on the reflective learning of students, specifically in the field of substance abuse.
  • Research into the nature and scope and challenges of substance abuse in combination with reflective learning be conducted with social workers.



AMREIN-BEARDSLEY, A., ZAMBO, D., MOORE, D.W., BUS, R.R., PERRY, N.J., PAINTER, S.R., CARLSON, D.L., FOULGOR, T.S., OLSON, K. & PUCKET, K.S. 2012. Graduates' responds to an innovative educational doctorate programme. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 7(1):98-122.         [ Links ]

ARISTOTLE, 0384-322 B.C. Goodreads: Aristotle quotes. [Online] Available: [Accessed: 28/01/2015].         [ Links ]

BELLEFEUILLE, G.L. 2006. Rethinking reflective practice education in social work education: a blended constructivist and objectivist instructional design strategy for a web-based child welfare practice. Journal of Social Work Education, 42(1):85-103.         [ Links ]

BEYTELL, A. 2014. Fieldwork education in health contexts: experiences of fourth-year BSW students. Maatskaplike Werk/Social Work, 50(2):170-192.         [ Links ]

BIGGS, J. 2003. Teaching for quality learning at University. Buckingham: Open University Press.         [ Links ]

BOZALEK, V. & BIERSTEKER, L. 2009. Exploring power and privilege using participatory learning and action techniques. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 29(5):551-672.         [ Links ]

BOZALEK, V., CAROLISSEN, R., LEIBOWITZ, B., NICHOLLS, L., ROHLEDER, P. & SWARTZ, L. 2010. Engaging with difference in higher education through collaborative inter-institutional pedagogical practices. South African Journal of Higher Education, 24(6):1021-1035.         [ Links ]

CARLSON, B.E., MATTO, H., SMITH, C.A. & EVERSMAN, M. 2006. A pilot study of reunification following drug abuse treatment: Recovering the mother role. Journal of Drug Issues, 36(4):877-902.         [ Links ]

COLLINS, K.C. 2014. Outcomes-based education and deep learning in first year social work in South Africa: two case examples. International Social Work [Online] Available: [Accessed: 14/02/2015].         [ Links ]

COWAN, J. 2014. Noteworthy matters for attention in reflective journal writing. Active Learning in Higher Education, 15(1):53-64.         [ Links ]

DAHLE, R. 2012. Social work: a history of gender and class in the profession. [Online] Available: [Accessed: 14/02/2015].         [ Links ]

DAVYS, A.M. & BEDDOE, L. 2009. The reflective learning model: supervision of social work students. Social Work Education, 28(8):919-913.         [ Links ]

DE VOS, A.S., STRYDOM, H., FOUCHÉ, C.B. & DELPORT, C.S.L. 2011. Research at grassroots: for the social sciences and human service professions (4th ed). Pretoria: Van Schaik Publishers.         [ Links ]

DEWEY, J. 1933. How we think: a restatement of the relation to reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.         [ Links ]

DRABBLE, L, 2007. Pathway to collaboration: exploring values and collaborative practice between child welfare and substance abuse treatment fields. Child Maltreatment, 12(1):31-42.         [ Links ]

DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT. 2013. National Drug Master Plan 2013-2017. Pretoria: Government Printers.         [ Links ]

DODGE, K., KRANTZ, B. & KENNY, P.J. 2010. How can we begin to measure recovery? Substance abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy, 5(1):31-38.         [ Links ]

DYMENT, J.E. & O'CONNEL, T.S. 2011. Assessing the quality of reflection in student journals: A review of the research. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(1):81-97.         [ Links ]

FISHER, G.L. & HARRIS, T.C. 2013. Substance abuse. Information for school counselors, social workers, therapists and counselors. Boston: Pearson.         [ Links ]

GARDNER, P.J. & POOLE, J.M. 2009. One story at a time: narrative therapy, older adults and substance abuse. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 18(5):600-620.         [ Links ]

GOULD, N. & BALDWIN, M. 2004. Social work, critical reflection and the learning organisation. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company.         [ Links ]

HALL, M.N., AMODEO, M., SHAFFER, H.J. & VANDER BILT, J. 2000. Social workers employed in substance abuse treatment agencies: a training need assessment. Social Work, 45(2):141-154.         [ Links ]

HERON, B. 2005. Self-reflection in critical social work practice: subjectivity and the possibilities of resistance. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 6(3):341-351.         [ Links ]

HERRINGTON, J., PARKER, J. & BOASE-JELINEK, B. 2014. Connected authentic learning: reflection and intentional learning. Australian Journal of Education, 58(1):23-35.         [ Links ]

HERRINGTON, J., REEVES, T.C. & OLIVIER, R. 2010. A guide to authentic e-learning. New York: Routledge.         [ Links ]

HITZEROTH, V. & KRAMER, L. 2010. Die einde van verslawing. 'n Volledige Suid-Afrikaanse gids. Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.         [ Links ]

JONES, P. 2009. Teaching for change in social work: a disciplined based argument for the use of transformative approaches to teaching and learning. Journal of Transformative Education, 7(1):8-25.         [ Links ]

JOHNS, C. 2010. Guided reflection: a narrative approach to advancing professional practice. Sussex: Blackwell Publishing.         [ Links ]

KAMLER, B. & THOMSON, P. 2006. Helping doctoral students write: pedagogies for supervision. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis group.         [ Links ]

KELCH, B.P. & DEMMIT, A. 2010. Incorporating the stages of change model in solution focused brief therapy with non-substance abusing families: a novel and integrative approach. The Family Journal: Counselling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 18(2):184-188.         [ Links ]

KING, S. 2014. Beyond the war on drugs? Notes on prescription opioids and the NFL. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 38(2):184-193.         [ Links ]

LAM, C.M., WONG, H. & LEUNG, T.T.F. 2007. An unfinished reflexive journey: social work students' reflection on their placement experiences. British Journal of Social Work, 37:91-105.         [ Links ]

MAXWELL, J.A. 2009. The Sage handbook of applied social research methods. Designing a qualitative study. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.         [ Links ]

MALLOW, A. & WARD, K. 2009. Helping students to understand the link between substance abuse and intimate partner violence. Journal of Teaching in the Addictions, 8(1-2):51-64.         [ Links ]

MATUSEK, J.A. & KNUDSON, R.M. 2009. Rethinking recovery from eating disorders. Qualitative Health Research, 19(5):697-707.         [ Links ]

NILVARANKUL, K., McCANN, T.V., RUNGREANGKULJIH, S. & WONGPROM, J. 2011. Enhancing a health-related quality-of-life model for Laotian migrant workers in Thailand. Qualitative Health Research, 21(3):312-323.         [ Links ]

ORCHARD, L.J., FULLWOOD, C., MORRIS, N. & GALBRAITH, N. 2014. Investigating the Facebook experience through Q methodology: collective investment and a "Borg" mentality. New Media and Society, 1-19.         [ Links ]

QUINN, J.M., PASCOE, A., WOOD, W. & NEAL, T.D. 2010. Can't control yourself? Monitor those bad habits. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(4):499-511.         [ Links ]

RIGER, S. & BENNETT, L.W. 2014. Barriers to addressing substance abuse in domestic violence court. Society for Community Research and Action, 53:208-217.         [ Links ]

SOUTHERN, S. & DEVLIN, J. 2010. Theory development: a bridge between practice and research. The Family Journal: Counselling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 18(1):84-87.         [ Links ]

STANNARD, C. 2012. Opioid prescribing in the UK: can we avert a public disaster? The British Pain Society, 6(1):7-8.         [ Links ]

STEIN, J.B. 2008. Attitudes of social work students about substance abuse: can a brief educational programme make a difference? Journal of Social Work Practice and Addictions, 3(1):77-89.         [ Links ]

SUSSMAN, S., LISHA, N. & GRIFFITHS, M. 2011. Prevalence of the addictions: a problem of the minority or the majority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34(1):3-56.         [ Links ]

TEATER, B.A. 2011. Maximizing student learning: a case example of applying learning theory on social work education. Social Work Education: The International Journal, 30(5):571-585.         [ Links ]

TERäS, H. & HERRINGTON, J. 2014. Neither the frying pan, nor the fire: in search of a balanced authentic e-learning design through an educational design research process. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(2):232-253.         [ Links ]

TOPOREK, R.L. & WORTHINGTON, R.L. 2014. Integrating service learning and difficult dialogues pedagogy to advance social justice training. The Counselling Psychologist, 42(7):919-945.         [ Links ]

VAN DEN HEUVEL, M., AU, H., LEVIN, L., BERNSTEIN, S., FORD-JONES, E. & MARTIMIANAKIS, M.A. 2014. Evaluation of a social paediatrics elective: transforming students' perspective through reflection. Clinical Paediatrics, 3(6):549-555.         [ Links ]

WEST, O. & RODERIQU-DAVIS, G. 2008. Development and initial validation of a caffeine craving questionnaire. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 22(1):80-91.         [ Links ]

WHITE, S., FOOK, J. & GARDNER, F. 2006. Critical reflection in health and social care. Berkshire: Open University Press.         [ Links ]

YIEND, J., PARNES, C., SHEPHERD, K., ROSS & COOPER. M. 2014. Negative self-beliefs in eating disorders: a cognitive-bias-modification study. Clinical Psychological Science, 2(6):756-766.         [ Links ]

YIP, K. 2006. Self-reflection. A note of caution. British Journal of Social Work, 36:777-788.         [ Links ]

Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License