CPD: who are we doing it for?

CPD, or continuing professional development, is a bit of a buzz word these days in complementary circles. It has been around a while in other professions but is now becoming more important in this field as complementary and alternative therapists are trying to regulate, develop and accredit our professions. On this road to self-regulation, we are trying to set the standards, both of initial training as well as what the requirements should be regarding ongoing training and skill development. Eventually this CPD will probably become compulsory across a lot more of the board but in the meantime it is down to us. If we are to take charge of it for ourselves it is helpful to know where we are currently at in order to assess what we need to do next.

But what does it mean? What is actually being asked for? And how should we be doing it?

Continuing our professional development holds within it the idea that we improve our abilities, treatments and develop our work. Research at Greenwich University (Rushton et al 2001) suggested that complementary practitioners think of CPD as important for improving client care as well as contributing to the development of the professions as a whole. Certainly many of the students on the CPD courses I am involved in are keenly aligned to both of these outcomes. But it is not just about going on more and more courses or adding in many more types of therapy.

Importantly, the research highlights the process of CPD as an ongoing, lifelong process that we do potentially on a daily basis – whether or not we recognise it. We do it with our clients when we discuss their experience of our work, we do it every time we look up a disease we haven’t treated before or check our notes to review a technique or aspect of the body science we’ve forgotten; we do it when we chat with colleagues about aspects of our work and of course we are doing it when we attend more specific or formal training workshops, give talks or attend conferences. Yet this study also found that many practitioners did not really know what they should be doing, what their gaps were, or how to apply some of the things they may have learned on courses in their practice.

Many of us work from home, in small practices or occasionally within a larger practice. On the up, but still small, are the numbers of us working within the NHS or other locations sporting ‘integrated health’. Yet, with the possible exceptions of the latter two or anyone actively involved in research we are rarely called to discuss our work or be accountable to anyone other than our clients. This has positive and negative outcomes. It is great that we are able to practice and experiment and cooperate with our clients in the search to find what is best for them of the often various treatment modalities we can combine. It could be considered negative that if our clients are unhappy with any aspect of our work they do not always have recompense to anyone – other than not coming back. They may not yet be aware of our regulatory bodies and even though I have heard of complaints being made I do not know how they are really able to enforce the ‘unlisting’ of a practitioner even though I suspect it is not often required. But the issue of working in comparative isolation also means that we may not have colleagues to discuss things with, mentors to support our learning process or ‘senior’ practitioners to refer more complicated cases to – all important aspects of professional development.

A key requirement identified is that we take the time to think a little and reflect on the treatments that we perform: what work have we done, how did we do it well and perhaps how we could have done it better or improve it next time? By incorporating this aspect of CPD on a regular basis we will start to build up an active understanding of our strengths and weaknesses that we can then continue to improve upon.

To start assessing your current CPD needs think about:

By getting clear on what you do need and want, it is also easier to identify courses that would most precisely fit that gap and therefore spend the time and money in ways that will be best transferred straight back to your work. Also, if you have clear requests many course providers will be better able to meet them – sitting in that category I know I want to put on courses that cover what people want!

The fact that we are slowly becoming obliged to engage in CPD as an ongoing process can only be a good thing for us and our clients. An increasing number of organisations are now requiring the fulfilment of a certain number of hours of CPD. Yet courses for courses sake are not necessarily helpful – and not necessarily CPD if you are not able to use and apply what you have learned. By keeping a record of what you are already doing and getting clear about what else you would ideally want, you will be able to fulfil the criteria: your own, from your desire to improve, as well as increasing external requirements. I certainly consider myself lucky to work in a field that I really do love and have never met anyone doing this work who doesn’t love it, so to be aware of how we are improving, learning and getting better every day is icing on the cake.

CPD: what counts?

  1. 1. Reflect on your activities in practice
  2. Write up case histories in a way that will help you both in the above reflections as well as identifying gaps in your knowledge (we often don’t do this once we have passed our initial training but it can be a very valuable exercise)
  3. Read the relevant research, use journals, ask others if they have found useful sources, share this with other practitioners where possible
  4. Use the internet for research when possible – but be aware of the validity of the sources
  5. Write articles or give talks on what you do to appropriate audiences
  6. Watch TV programmes or find videos that address relevant topics
  7. Communicate with colleagues about any issues, concerns and successes – we can be of great support to each other – and don’t forget to share the successes (respecting confidentiality of course) as these are just as important. 

Continuing Professional Development for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Annemarie Rushton et al 2001 Centre for Health Research and Evaluation, University of Greenwich