Therapeutic life story work is an approach that enables young people who have experienced the trauma of child abuse and neglect to reflect on their past, develop compassion for themselves and move on to achieve their full potential. (Berry Street, 2019)
Therapeutic life story work can be a useful part of preparing young people for adulthood, as it helps them to develop their identity.
I hadn’t much of a clue as to where I came from and none about where I was going.
Bullock, Gooch and Little, cited in CREATE, 2016.
This innovative approach is based on the model developed by Richard Rose (Child Trauma Intervention Services, UK), which explores how to support a child in making significant changes, by developing a far deeper understanding and awareness of how their history has been negatively impacting on their present.
Quite often, children in care have not had the opportunity to hear their stories, to share memories with those close to them or to make sense of who they are. (Richard Rose 2017).
Within a challenging home environment, where children need to focus on protecting themselves from harm, the opportunity to develop and explore their sense of self can be limited.
Therapeutic Life Story Work must be carried out sensitively, within the support network of the child, the life story worker and the carer. Children might go to great lengths to avoid facing difficult and painful memories and emotions, not allowing themselves to process these feelings and experiences and move forward. This approach works to gently counteract this avoidance, enabling the child to process their memories and feelings and build healthy positive strategies for the future. (Richard Rose, 2017).
13-year-old Simon was removed from his parents’ care when he was six and had been living with his current foster carers since he was nine. Simon had been exposed to family violence and had experienced severe neglect. He was often his mother’s protector, explaining how he would stand in between his mother and his father during violent episodes or pull his father away from his mother. Simon had eight previous foster care placements and could name each carer and the location of these placements. This emotional connection to his placements was explored as part of the therapeutic life story work intervention.
Simon had previously been diagnosed with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. He had a history of violent and aggressive behaviour towards his carers. At the start of the therapeutic life story work, practitioners observed that Simon had a good understanding of his emotional and behavioural functioning, and he often referred to what his carers taught him about understanding physical responses to stress.
Through therapeutic life story work, Simon now understands how his history has contributed to how he thinks about things. He is now confident and secure in the knowledge that he is loved by his carers. Most importantly, Simon knows he is worthy of receiving love, he is not responsible for protecting his mother anymore and he can live a different life to his parents.
The purpose and outcome of this intervention concludes with the child making sense of their world, the carer developing their capacity to understand the child’s life and the carer tailoring care to meet the needs of the child.
Framework for Practice tools are helpful in planning and focusing your conversations with young people about their experiences. Consider using an adaptation of the Family roadmap tool to help the young person identify their critical information needs to help support their understanding of their care experience.
Support young people by developing their Leaving care report while working with them on transition to adulthood tasks. The report contains a summary of key information from Child Safety records including reasons for coming into care, placement history, milestones, education history, medical needs and health care providers and other relevant information. Photos and important documents are also attached.
Completing this report by using the template or creating something more visually appealing, provides much more meaningful information than is available through a Right to Information application. In the latter process, important information about others must be redacted to meet legislative requirements, and the provided documentation is often difficult to understand due to the use of acronyms and procedural wording.
Innovative Therapeutic Life Story Work (2017), Richard Rose
Life Story Therapy with Traumatised Children: A model for practice (2012), Richard Rose
You don’t need to be a therapist to be therapeutic, or have a diploma in the process. Talking to the young person about their life experiences is an essential part of the planning process and can support the young person’s self-awareness and resilience, both of which will help them in the transition process.
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