What is Therapeutic Life Story Work?

This is a more in-depth process, facilitated by a trained Therapeutic Life Story Worker, alongside a child or young person and their supporting adult (such as a foster carer). The process aims to support a child who is ‘stuck’ in processing an often difficult and complex past, which has featured trauma for them

Therapeutic Life Story Work is a nine-to-12-month process. We would expect a child or young person in need of this intervention to meet one or more of the following:

• Multi placed, where the placement is adding to their trauma
• Asking for information so that they can make sense of the actions of those around them, and the reasons for those actions, which have led to where they live today (and where, for these children, their behaviours are impacting upon their placements)
• Display behaviors including self-harm, sexualised behaviour and/or aggression linked to their unresolved past experiences
• Long term placed, coming towards the end of placement and having no understanding of why they were placed in care.

Therapeutic Life Story Work is a three-stage approach:  Information Bank, Internalisation and Life Story Work Book. This model was created by Professor Richard Rose and includes a HIDE model approach to ensure information is relevant to the child or young person’s history.

This model requires the Therapeutic Life Story Worker to understand the history and the ‘internal working model’ of the child and their family. It goes on to determine the developmental level of the child, and how they may engage in the process to ensure that the right approach is used for optimum benefit. The final consideration is the environment and whether this is conducive to the work required.

Stage 1 – Information Bank

The first stage of Therapeutic Life Story Work is the creation of an ‘Information Bank’ so that a clear understanding of the child’s pre-birth and post-birth history can be established. The Information Bank should develop chronologically and include evidence, both physical and written, which becomes the basis of the interaction. Gathering the information through letter writing, emails, visits, reading and interviews can be completed in approximately three or four days. The entire task of pulling the information together gathered from this process can take between one and three months.

This approach will require the Therapeutic Life Story Worker to collate this information, consider the validity and usefulness of the material at hand and then interview those involved in the child’s life to date, so that they can gain a historical perspective. The Information Bank will not depend entirely on the contents within the child’s social work file, as this is only part of the story. It will include parental contributions and health information, particularly centered on the child’s early years history. These pieces of information will allow the worker to consider the child’s ‘internal working model’ and any attachment issues.

The collation of physical evidence such as pictures, first toys, books and perhaps ‘The Red Book’ record of development alongside the birth certificate, are helpful resources which can be used as discussion points with the child, enabling them to consider their life journey and to discuss how they might care for others in the future. It is also a positive way to demonstrate that the Life Story Work process is a journey, which invites exploration and discussion.

Good Information Banks also provide essential information for those who are decision makers for the child – not just social workers but also educators, carers and health professionals. By taking time to understand where the child has come from and what part people have played in their life, the Therapeutic Life Story Worker can begin to plan the Life Story Work intervention (Stage 2) and share appropriate information with those who care for the child.

Once a clear Information Bank is created the Therapeutic Life Story Work process can move on to the second stage, called ‘Internalisation’.

Stage 2 – Internalisation

The internalisation process includes ‘wishes and feelings’ work, exploration of feelings, and the vocabulary and behavioural representation of these. The details gathered and stored within the Information Bank can be broken into session plans, and facilitated sessions between the Therapeutic Social Worker, child and carer should take place fortnightly, each session lasting not more than an hour.

It is essential that this approach is delivered alongside the primary carer as this provides a multitude of benefits, among them the creation of a safe and contained relationship for all those involved. Typically, the Internalisation stage will take about 12 – 18 sessions, and if done well, with the commitment from the carer present, this facilitated approach could support stability in the home

Stage 3 – Life Story Book

Many of the notes and evidence gathered as a result of Stage 2 can be stored confidentially on the child’s file. This step can take up to 20 hours, depending upon the volume of information and the engagement of the child or young person involved. In addition to the notes and evidence stored on file, Stage 3 is where the Therapeutic Social Worker supports the child to create a Life Story Book, which typically presents the evidence of the work achieved during Stage 2.

In some instances, a child may want to take agency of the contents of their Life Story Book, becoming ‘editor in chief’. The book can then be shared (with their permission) with others.

You can find out more about this process by reading Professor Richard Rose’s blog here.

Click here to locate a Therapeutic Life Story Worker in your region.