Most 'clinical' approaches to psychological distress have the supposedly therapeutic aim of considering the individual's personal 'pathology' and trying in some way to help him/her modify, overcome or 'accept responsibility' for it. The individual's difficulties are thus in one way or another treated (whether psychiatrically or psychotherapeutically) as aspects of his/her personal failings On the whole such approaches have not proved strikingly effective.
A more fruitful approach may well be to consider the 'pathology' not of people but of the worlds they inhabit. The following diagram (taken from Hagan & Smail, 1997a - see Journal Articles) suggests one way this might be done.
The segments within each of the four main quadrants (Home and Family Life; Social Life; Personal Resources; Material Resources) have been chosen in accordance with what frequently seems important to people. However, there is nothing sacrosanct about this choice, and the situation could, obviously, vary from person to person.
The segments may be regarded as positive assets or as negative liabilities, and each one may be treated as a simple rating scale ranging from -3 to +3.
For example, if 'parents' are or had been a strongly destructive influence on the person's life, they would be rated as -3 (in which case the segments could be filled in in red, as above), whereas if 'spouse/partner' is or had been, say, a fairly strong positive support, this segment could be filled out as +2, again as above).
Though extremely simple, the flexibility of this instrument is clearly considerable, and 'power-mapping' of this kind could be used for a variety of clinical and research purposes. From the viewpoint of the individual person what is important, obviously, is the extent to which s/he might be able to modify negative influences or acquire positive powers. It is extremely important to bear in mind, however, that the extent to which someone may be able to do this is often very limited, and that it is likely in the long run to be far more effective to try to shape the world politically (to make it a less harmful place) than it is to try to operate on a person's prospects individually once the damage has been done.
Back to: An Environmental Approach to Distress