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Collaborative Helping

In this video interview in English with Spanish subtitles, Bill Madsen outlines a principle-based practice framework for helping efforts.

In the Friday Afternoons at Dulwich series, Bill Madsen highlights the use of simple maps to help workers think their way through complex situations. 
The video is available here.

Collaborative Helping is a principle-based, integrative practice framework grounded in family-centered values and principles such as striving for:

  • cultural curiosity and responsiveness 
  • believing in resourcefulness
  • working in partnership
  • making our work accountable to the people we help

It offers a generic approach to helping across many different contexts and draws from Narrative and Solution-Focused Approaches, Appreciative Inquiry, Motivational Interviewing, the Signs of Safety approach to Child Protective Services, and perhaps most importantly, the daily experiences of frontline workers and the people and families they serve.  A core aspect of this practice framework is the use of Collaborative Helping maps to assist workers in thinking their way through complex situations and to provide a framework for constructive conversations about challenging issues.  

The Collaborative Helping map in its simplest form consists of four questions that can be arranged graphically as below:


Where do you want to be headed in your life?

Obstacles / Challenges

What gets in the way of your Vision?


Who and what support you in attaining your Vision?


How can we draw on supports to address obstacles to help you attain your Vision?


We can think of these four questions as areas of inquiry that can be rigorously explored in depth, though not necessarily in a linear fashion.  The art and skill of this work lies in our ability to ask thought-provoking, focused questions that elicit concrete details for each area of inquiry.

Collaborative Helping maps and the Collaborative Helping practice framework have been used across many different settings; including outreach, home-based services, child protection, residential care, community health care, school-based settings, supportive housing, and gang reduction and youth development efforts. The maps assist workers to focus their own thinking in uncertain, ambiguous and complicated situations and bring some internal structure to the everyday messiness of this work.  They also offer an organized framework for engaging people in conversations about difficult issues in their lives.  Many workers have reported that having such a structure in mind keeps the conversation focused without being overly restrictive and provides a way to transparently set out on a joint venture with individuals and families.  We’ve also found that use of these maps over time has powerful effects on helping relationships.  The use of these maps shift how workers position themselves with people.  

They provide a concrete way to assist workers put commitments to

  • striving for cultural curiosity and honoring family wisdom
  • believing in possibilities and eliciting resourcefulness
  • working in partnership and on family turf, and engaging in empowering processes
  • making our work accountable to those we serve   

While this work has grown from the ground up through interviews with gifted, though often non-credentialed frontline workers as well as families receiving services, Bill Madsen was honored by the American Family Therapy Academy for Distinguished Contribution to Family Therapy Theory and Practice in 2013, largely for this work.