Point Of View

Point Of View

Learning How to Learn: Communities of Practice can reveal new paths to excellenc

By Ryan Howes

January/February 2012

Despite what you may have heard about the transcendent importance of the lone creative genius, rugged individualism only takes you so far. The more we learn about people who achieve mastery in their chosen field—whether music, chess, or psychotherapy—the more we’re coming to appreciate the network of relationships that nurture and sustain them as they learn to excel at what they do.

As therapists, we often lead isolated professional lives, seeing client after client without meeting regularly with our colleagues to talk openly about our work, ask questions, share ideas, admit our failures, and analyze our best sessions. These typical aspects of practice may be limiting our professional and personal development.

People engaged in specific occupations have gathered together to learn from each other’s experiences since the beginning of time, but Etienne Wenger, a groundbreaking social-learning theorist and nearly full-time roving intellectual, has actually given such groups a name: communities of practice. During the last quarter-century, he’s studied how this universal, but often underappreciated, phenomenon of tapping our collective wisdom works.

This past year, the Networker has paid a lot of attention to the idea of communities of learning and communities of practice, with the key word being, of course, community. It’s not so much in the magisterial institutions of learning that therapists discover how to do the real nitty-gritty of…

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