Atkins and Murphy model of reflection

Atkins and Murphy model of reflection theory - toolshero

This article explains the Atkins and Murphy model of reflection in a practical way. After reading it you will understand the basics of this personal development and self-reflection tool.

What is the Atkins and Murphy model of reflection?

The Atkins and Murphy model of reflection is, as the name suggests, created by Atkins S. and Murphy K. in 1994. The model was created with the intent to study an individual’s experience in order to identify points for improvement, also referred to as reflective practice. It is many times used by professionals who want to learn continually. It is believed that a proactive attitude towards reflective practice will help improve professional competencies and abilities because it forces people to look at discomforts and next to learn from these experiences.

According to Atkins and Murphy model of reflection, discomforts are essential to make improvements. However, individuals rather avoid confronting previous behaviors and actions because it can be seen as an uncomfortable practice. It requires a proactive attitude to assess things that did not go well, and therefore, reflective practice is preferably avoided. It is however suggested by various researchers who have studied reflective practice models that it will become easier for individuals to perform reflective practice when they continual think about discomforts. The utilization of these model has shown that by performing reflective practice, a learning effect occurs. This means that it will become easier for reflective practice participants to reflect on past discomforts.

Finally, since Atkins and Murphy model of reflection is a model that can be used to learn from past experiences, it is many times used for critical and in-depth reflections. Therefore, it is also used to assess the long-term goals of individuals.

Atkins and Murphy model of reflection components

The Atkins and Murphy reflection model identified the following essential elements for a thorough reflection. The components are arranged in a circular cycle that goes in a clockwise direction. It starts at awareness and goes to describe, analyze, evaluate, and identify. All elements of the Atkins and Murphy model of reflection are explained in more detail below:

Atkins and Murphy model of reflection components - toolshero

1. Awareness

In the first step of Atkins and Murphy model of reflection it is essential to gain knowledge or awareness about the triggers that have caused discomfort. This step is not yet concerned with the whole situation because this will be described in the following section. Instead, it is now essential to identify one’s thoughts and emotions that have resulted from the experience. This means that an individual must be open and express him- or herself vulnerable to identify the discomforts. According to Atkins and Murphy model of reflection, analyzing personal feelings and thoughts in this way improves developments. In addition, discomfort can also be a result out of new experiences. This could include a discomfort caused by switching job positions if a new job has to be learned.

Key questions to ask in this step could be for example:

  • What happened?
  • What had an effect on my emotions?
  • What were my emotions after the situation occurred?
  • What was I thinking?
  • What am now thinking looking back at the situation?

2. Describe

Now that the personal emotions and thoughts have been analyzed, the Atkins and Murphy model of reflection states that it is time to describe the situation. In this step, an individual has to analyze the situation and key events that have occurred critically. For example, a particular environmental setting may have caused a trigger for an individual to experience discomfort, but it could be that a different environmental setting has prevented the discomfort from happening. For this reason, it is important to analyze and describe the situation. In this way, a better understanding will be realized why a discomfort occurred, and it will be easier to learn from this discomfort.

The following question could lead as an example to analyze the situation:

  • What was the event?
  • Where was the event?
  • When did it happen?
  • What was my involvement during the event?
  • What did other people do?
  • What were the key observations?

3. Analyze

In this step of Atkins and Murphy model of reflection, the individual must now analyze assumptions that he or she made, also referred to as the knowledge of the reflective practice participant. For example, before a situation occurred, the individual might have thoughts about the event. It is in step essential to determine whether the assumptions were correct or false. More importantly, Atkins and Murphy model of reflection states that the participant of reflective practice must additionally explore alternatives. This means that he or she must analyze how the behavior would have been different in a different setting.

Various questions could be asked to analyze this part of Atkins and Murphy model of reflection such as:

  • What did I already know about the situation?
  • What were my assumptions about the situation?
  • How did the reality reflect my assumptions?
  • What were the differences?
  • How would I react if something else happened?
  • In what type of scenarios would the discomfort not occur?

4. Evaluate

This step of Atkins and Murphy model of reflection may differ from one person to another. It is concerned with personally assessing how the knowledge of the previous step is relevant for improvements. The relevance of knowledge is therefore concerned with identifying if it helps to explain the problem or discomfort. It also deals with assessing how the problem could be solved. For a participant of reflective practice, it can help to analyze different scenarios and potential behaviors, but the positive effects of this way of reflection may differ per individual.

The following could be asked to assess the relevance of knowledge:

  • How does it help to explain the situation?
  • How does analyzing different scenarios influence your thoughts?
  • How complete was your use of knowledge?
  • How can your knowledge next time be useful?

5. Identify

Based on the previously described steps of Atkins and Murphy model of reflection, it is now possible to identify the learnings. By this step, the model has assessed the emotions, situations, assumptions, and knowledge of the reflective practice participant. By integrating all elements, the participant of reflective practice can easily state learnings and make use of these in future situations.

Potential questions to ask in this step:

  • What have I learned?
  • How can my learnings be used in future situations?

How to use Atkins and Murphy model of reflection?

The Atkins and Murphy model of reflection is just like other reflection models, a model that can be used to structure reflections. Reflective practice is many times used for professional development in various businesses, but other individuals with different purposes can also use it.

By using reflective practice theories and models such as the Atkins and Murphy model of reflection, participants of reflective practice create self-awareness and conduct a critical analysis of situations and the related personal emotions and behaviors. However, the Atkins and Murphy model of reflection assumes that development is realized by facing the discomforts. Analyzing discomforts can demand some practice because it requires honesty, motivation, and commitment. One must learn to be comfortable with analyzing discomforts.

Now it is your turn

What do you think? What are your experiences with the Atkins and Murphy model of reflection? How do you feel about analyzing your discomforts? How can you stimulate an individual to think about past experiences? Are you using Atkins and Murphy model of reflection in your profession and do you have tips and tricks, or would you like to add anything?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Atkins, S., & Murphy, K. (1993). Reflection: a review of the literature. Journal of advanced nursing, 18(8), 1188-1192.
  2. Atkins, S., & Murphy, K. (1995). Reflective practice. Nursing Standard, 9(45), 31-37.
  3. Bannigan, K., & Moores, A. (2009). A model of professional thinking: Integrating reflective practice and evidence based practice. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76(5), 342-350.
  4. Bolton, G. (2010). Reflective practice: Writing and professional development. Sage publications.
  5. Brookfield, S. (1998). Critically reflective practice. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 18(4), 197-205.
  6. Jarvis, P. (1992). Reflective practice and nursing. Nurse education today, 12(3), 174-181.
  7. Osterman, K. F., & Kottkamp, R. B. (1993). Reflective practice for educators: Improving schooling through professional development. Corwin Press, Inc., 2455 Teller Road, Newbury Park CA 91320.
  8. Sergiovanni, T. J. (1987). The principalship: A reflective practice perspective. Publication Sales, Allyn and Bacon, Longwood Division, 7 Wells Avenue, Newton, MA 02159

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