What is Therapeutic Life Story Work?

Therapeutic Life Story Work is the third tier of Creative Life Story Work.

It’s a more in-depth process All About Me and More About Me, 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, which lasts from nine to 12 months, aims to support a child who is ‘stuck’ in processing an often difficult and complex past, which has featured trauma for them.

See an overview of the three tiers of Creative Life Story Work here.


Who is Therapeutic Life Story Work suitable for? 

Therapeutic Life Story Work is typically used with children and young people who meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Have lived in multiple places, where the moves have added to their trauma
  • Is asking for information so that they can make sense of the actions of those around them which have led to where they live today, and their behaviours are impacting upon where they live and who they live with
  • Displays behaviours including self-harm, sexualised behaviour and/or aggression linked to their unresolved past experiences
  • Is coming towards the end of a long term care arrangement with no understanding of why they were placed in care.


What does Therapeutic Life Story Work involve?

Therapeutic Life Story Work is a three-stage approach:

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 centred 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.

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.


Locate a Therapeutic Life Story Worker

This third tier of Creative Life Story Work can only be carried out by a trained Therapeutic Life Story Worker. You can locate a Therapeutic Life Story Worker in your region here.


Find out about Therapeutic Life Story Work training

If you’re interested in studying for a Diploma in Therapeutic Life Story Work, our Creative Life Story Work membership provides links to diploma training and supports your studies. Find out about membership here.


Find out more about Therapeutic Life Story Work in this blog post by Professor Richard Rose