It is easy in the helping professions to treat outcomes as impossibly difficult objectives when working with troubled people. All sorts of interim objectives can be invented in the name of realism. For example, with chaotic drug users, it might be thought achieving regular contact and compliance with a methadone script would be a significant positive ‘outcome’ of the work. In practice, whatever the truth in such a view, it was letting the clients down. A life of ordered depression maintained by methadone is not an outcome that many drug users would regard as a satisfactory achievement. What’s more, that approach to treatment all too easily led to a minimal service of methadone provision with no other purposeful treatment input.
Working with someone in trouble to identify what they would see as a positive outcome was significantly liberating. In the cold light of hindsight , it is remarkable that little attention was paid to how clients saw a positive outcome – there was often a kind of collusion that the desired outcomes were obvious. ‘Staying out of trouble’, or ‘giving up alcohol / drugs’ were accepted as a shared assumption, largely unexamined, often used as a formula that would enable the client to feel they were giving the desired answer without having to explore what kind of life ‘staying out of trouble’ would be a positive outcome for themselves, nor how work with the probation officer might actively and positively contribute.