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Why was it developed?

Because the methods and ideas from therapy, child development, adult education, sociology need bringing out more fully into popular culture.   We are all counsellors now and all need a negotiator's mind to live in the transitional and complex world around and within us. 

Where do these ideas come from?

They come from working side-by-side, doing therapy, or working reflectively with teams using word maps to track our conversations, see patterns from stories and track out our relationships and interactions with each other. 

  • Learning from experience: we know ourselves in the world through our daily interactions and it is these that provide our informal schooling.   We need to know how our passions and prejudices have shaped our experience and compare notes with others.  Map and talk can help us link the bigger picture with detail, see the interplay of past and present and what comes from within me and from others, or from the societies around us.  

  • Reflective practice:  shared thinking time is key for teams and colleagues in all work settings.   The more complex and multi-disciplinary the team with varied positions of role and status, the more important it is to have time taken to process how we are doing.

  • Cognitive analytic therapy: is an integrative and relational approach to therapy developed initially by Anthony Ryle in the UK.   It draws upon and links up cognitive, psychoanalytic and narrative ideas to offers a versatile and 'open dialogue' form of therapy. 

  • Relational psychoanalysis: the development of psychoanalysis found its most creative and psycho-social home in the work of the relational school of psychoanalysis in New York.  These ideas and practices marry up with CAT and with the more process driven approach of map and talk.    

  • Relational awareness:  when map and talk and hold in mind multiple feelings and idea we create the space to review and develop our relational awareness. This is the awareness simultaneously of what is going on within us, between us and around us.   

Our brains are map makers 


From Chapter 7 on Relational Awareness in Therapy with a Map by Steve Potter

Relational awareness is a meeting of two ‘brains.’ One brain is in our heads, the brain of neuroscience, composed of a complex network of interconnected synapses that the latest developments in neuroimaging give us greater insight into than ever before. The other 'brain' is dispersed in the society around us in media we consume, the relationships we have, the world we engage with. There is a brain in our heads and a brain in society.  Both are complex multi-relational systems networked into and mappable on to each other.  


The cognitive archaeologist Merlin Donald (2001), in his work on the long human evolution of the modern mind, implies that what has changed in the last 100,000 years of our development is, not at all a larger brain, (there has been no change in size) but a relationship between our brains and a bigger shared brain of the culture around us. The tools of human evolution – whether hand axes or words and stories, mediate the ‘small’ brain of the individual and the bigger brain of culture. It is a reciprocal relationship and produces what he calls a hybrid brain made up of mind and culture. The brain is relational and orchestral because it is a brain made up of different emotional sub systems or action tendencies (Panksepp, 2012).

The brain in our head needs the larger social brain outside in order to grow, and develop.  We cannot learn in isolation. Our brains are primed to be adaptive, relational and dialogic. We are forever doing the copy and paste, compare and contrast analogical thinking that map makers do.   Our brains and cultures are in map making partnership: micro and macro mapping inspite of our fixed ways of navigating.   Relational awareness, map and talk, therapy with a map are all small steps in managing a more knowing and intentional interaction with this map making activity.  


In this spirit of enquiry, there is a dialogic or relational view, in neuroscience that sees the brain itself as a multi-centred relational web with different centres and different potentials for orchestration and separation. Only an integrative approach that looks at the relational interplay between mind, brain, body, and culture will bring answers to the kinds of questions we ask in psychotherapy. Accordingly, it might be useful to think of the therapeutic mapping activity as an intermediate ‘brain’ space between us and the world around us.

Donald, M. (2001) A Mind So Rare. New York: Norton.

Knox, J. (2011) Self-Agency in Psychotherapy. London: NortonPanksepp, J. and Biven, L. (2013) The Archaeology of Mind. New York: Norton.

Escaping the binary mind in a divisive world

Despite or because of the many sides to ourselves and the complex pluralistic world in which we live we are raised with a binary bias of splitting good and bad, black and white, boy and girl, brilliant or doomed, us and them.  Map and talk helps see the multiple dimensions and hold in mind the complexity and move away from the closed and prejudiced world of binary thinking. The divided sense of self that arises from a divisive world is essential to understanding local identities and a local sense of self and others in a globalised system of societies and economies. Tracking and renegotiating the narratives, individual memories and collective experiences of oppression and exploitation, creativity and liberation, confusion and loss is easier to voice and explore within the open dialogue of mapping and talking.

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