Professor Richard Rose, Therapeutic Life Story Work International

Therapeutic Life Story Work

Professor Richard Rose gives an overview of Therapeutic Life Story Work, including an example of its impact.


Therapeutic Life Story Work – The Rose Model

An introduction to the approach by Professor Richard Rose

Everyone has a story; our perception of where, when, who, what, how and crucially why. Our stories make us who we are but also help others to understand the journey we have taken.

The role of life story work is to help us to understand our journey, the places and the people that have shaped who we are. The Therapeutic Life Story Work approach considers the reasons, the thinking, the emotions, and the actions that have been part of that journey as well as who was involved and why.

For this approach, the Therapeutic Life Story Worker must gather up the fragments of children’s lives. We can find these fragments in social work files, court documents, reports, and professional notes. Fragments also exist in the memories, photographs, toys, and other artefacts that document and accompany a child through their life. By collating memories, reports, and written accounts in one place, we can piece together the fragments of a child’s life and develop a holistic picture of their journey.

Not all children would benefit from Therapeutic Life Story Work, so the first question we should ask ourselves is ‘Will this intervention be in the child’s best interest?’

For some children an All About Me approach (direct or in a group setting) could be more appropriate. The All About Me approach, if completed every six months, will develop a sequential life story authored by a care-experienced child and an overview of their journey through care.

For more information about the All About Me approach, take a look at this section of the website.

Other children may benefit from More About Me; More About Me is designed to help children who are confused about why they are where they are. It is particularly helpful for children who are unable to live with their birth family and where the impact of separation and loss is unbearable. This approach concentrates on specific areas of the child’s journey, including the events that led to them being in care.

For more information about the More About Me approach, take a look at this section of the website.

Therapeutic Life Story Work is designed for children and young people who are in crisis, where their placements are at risk or where their behaviours, which are detrimental to their best interests, are challenging those around them. These children are often led by their past, defined by the events that have occurred and are not able to make sense of their past or their present.

I have had the opportunity to travel to many countries to talk about Therapeutic Life Story Work approaches and the essential context of storytelling cannot be underestimated. This approach is underpinned with attachment, psychodynamic and humanistic theories, and with all human based interaction, practice and theory should be paramount and are two sides of the same coin.

Therapeutic Life Story Work is a defined approach which provides a child with the opportunity to explore their history and the wider history of their family. To do this effectively, the child is supported by a primary adult; in most cases this would be the foster carer or the adopted parent but, as a minimum, it should be somebody that has a working and frequent relationship with the child. The intention is for the child and their carer to work through the story of the child’s past, the reality of their present and the potential for their future. Through this process, the Therapeutic Life Story Worker will often observe the child and their carer developing a stronger relationship. In some instances, carers are not fully aware of trauma their children have lived through, and when a carer is supported to understand this through the Therapeutic Life Story Work approach there is an obvious ‘weaving of a new carpet of attachment’ between the carer and their child.

Therapeutic Life Story Work is not just about the who, what, where, when and the how of events; it is also about developing a knowledge and understanding of the events that have led to the child being where they are right now.

Let’s just consider a young person and their journey. I have used a pseudonym for the child:

Faruk* was a nine-year-old boy when I met him. He had been placed in care with his two older siblings at a time where his parent’s aggression within the home was a risk to the children’s emotional and physical wellbeing. Over the last three years, Faruk has witnessed his sisters being hurt by their father and eventually all three children were moved away from their parents. Sadly, Faruk had developed angry behaviour and started to direct this towards his sisters, and after a year in care together, he was removed and placed in a separate home.

When I first met him, his shame was clear to see, he had internalised the events of the family breakdown and the subsequent loss of his sisters, as a direct result of his making. Faruk told me that if he hadn’t been born then his two sisters would still be living with their parents. He thought that it was his fault that his parents got so angry and started to hit each other. He felt that he was too much for everyone to look after. He told me that he wished he hadn’t been born and that he regretted his sisters having to be in foster care. He felt that they didn’t deserve to be in care, but he did.

Simply telling Faruk that this wasn’t his fault would not actually help him to move forward. Often, children like Faruk will nod or they shrug when told this, but they don’t internalise the message we wish them to.

As part of the Therapeutic Life Story Work approach, I informed Faruk of what had happened in his life. Faruk listened and took this information on board, but his beliefs about his perceived involvement were hard to shift.

His carer and I realised how hard it was for him to carry this blame.

During sessions eight and nine of the Therapeutic Life Story Work intervention, I told Faruk about his mother and father’s relationship in more detail. I explained to him when and how his mum and dad met – I knew this information because I had spoken with Faruk’s parents as part of Stage 1 of Therapeutic Life Story Work.

Faruk’s mother told me that when she and Faruk’s dad had first met, there were often moments when they would physically hurt each other. I explained to Faruk that the police were called to their house on numerous occasions before his sisters were born because one or both of his parents were hurt due to the fights between them. I talked to him about the story of when his sisters were born and of his mother’s memories of being in fear of his father. Faruk, his sisters and his mother were moved to a safe place so that everyone could be safe from his father.

Faruk looked at me, then towards his carer and then said, ‘My parents were hurting each other before I was born! Even before my sisters were born. You mean that they hurt each other, and it was not because I was born, and that I was too much for them. It wasn’t my fault that they couldn’t look after my sisters and keep us all safe?’

It is this that makes the Therapeutic Life Story Work approach so effective. Children are given the opportunity to work through the different events of their past, to help them to piece together and sequence their life story. By doing this, they have an opportunity to make sense of their role and the roles of others in their journey.

Faruk, like so many other children, had the chance to externalise his beliefs, his understanding, and his confusion. Once examined, this could be safely internalised with a more realistic and reframed account of what really happened at home. The Therapeutic Life Story Work approach, once complete, impacted positively on his sense of self and lifted the shame and guilt he felt.

A detailed description of what is involved in the three stages of Therapeutic Life Story Work can be found here. link We hope you find this useful. You can also learn about the Therapeutic Life Story Work diploma I deliver, here.

Life story work in the UK is not standardised and the quality and outcomes are varied depending on the policies and procedures and the skill of the workforce. Every local authority has a duty to provide life story work to every care-experienced child and young person. Most local authorities have a policy or procedure with regards to delivering these approaches to their children but in the main, life story work does not take place. In the last year though, more and more local authorities are reinvesting in this intervention, and it has been a joy to see children and young people share their stories.

Richard Rose

Therapeutic Life Story Work International