In the latter few years of my career, however, ‘pictures’ cropped up again and in a way that seems to make a much more successful bridge between people’s expectations of work with people in trouble. This development is known as ‘node link mapping’ and has been developed for work with drug users and applied and evaluated through the work of Texas Christian University in the States. I suppose in fairness that it would be more accurate to describe this approach as one that uses diagrams or maps rather than pictures, but the visual nature of the approach is key. It allows users to visualise the issues in their lives, rather than requiring them to rationalise and give a word based structured account.
This is not the place to go into the details of node link mapping. TCU have been entirely open about this work and anyone can find materials and the supporting evidence on their website http://www.ibr.tcu.edu . Anyone working in treatment settings should in my view be both aware of this approach and confident in its application. Not only does the visual depiction of problems, assets and treatment plans make them more accessible to all sorts of service users, but the process of using mapping techniques is necessarily more collaborative. It forces a different kind of dynamic between worker and service user in which each has a positive contribution to make, rather than one in which the user submits their life to the expert for them to weave their ‘magic’.