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Podcast Season 2: Episode 10 – Approaches to life story work around the world

How is therapeutic life story work delivered in different parts of the world?

We chat with Professor Richard Rose from Therapeutic Life Story Work International on our podcast, and hear how life story work looks in places including the USA, Australia and Japan.


Please note that this transcript is auto-generated and therefore will contain some errors and natural pauses in conversation.

[00:00:00] DAWN: Welcome to the creative life story work podcast, where we explore how a creative approach to life story work can help children and young people who are in care make sense of their past and build a brighter future. A new model for life story work is being rolled out in the northeast of England. And this podcast shares the latest learning and investigates how it could help improve the lives of care experienced children and young people across the country.

[00:00:33] My name is Dawn Williams, and I am an associate at Blue Cabin, one of the partners on this exciting work in the region. Today, we are exploring how therapeutic life story work is delivered in different parts of the world. Therapeutic life story work has been an intervention for children, young people and adults for the last 30 years.

[00:00:55] But the approach has been developed to be used worldwide since 1997 by Professor Richard Rose. And 26 years later, with over a thousand people trained, three books and many articles published, the Rose Model of Therapeutic Life Story Work was the first model set up. Subjected to independent research and validated as an evidence based narrative model that has excellent outcomes for traumatized children, young people, and adults.

[00:01:24] So I’m absolutely delighted to welcome to our podcast studio today. Richard Rose, pioneer of therapeutic life story work and for Blue Cabin has been our critical friend, ally, champion and supporter of developing creative life story work. Hello and welcome to our Blue Cabin podcast, Richard. So lovely to have you in the studio today.

[00:01:46] RICHARD: It’s very good to be here Dawn and nice to see everybody and hope that this podcast helps people to think around how we can do some wonderful work with young people across the globe.

[00:01:57] DAWN: Thank you. Richard, your organisation is called Therapeutic Life Story Work International. It would be remiss of me to ask, where in the world are you today?

[00:02:08] RICHARD: Well, right now I’m in Edinburgh, so we’re just doing the Scottish version of the Therapeutic Life Story Work Diploma in Edinburgh. And, uh, this is the last block of this year’s, um, diploma training. So we have, uh, about 20 people, uh, finishing off their learning. Uh, all working with young people and adults in a variety of ways.

[00:02:30] Uh, and like many places where we are able to, uh, Uh, help practice with, uh, young people and adults. Uh, they’re already seeing change in their groups that they work with, in the young people, in the adults they work with. So it’s been a joy this last few days just hearing people saying it works. And sometimes, you know, to, you know, see change is reward enough in our area of work where trauma can be very overwhelming for us as professionals.

[00:02:57] Uh, and when we enter the world of children’s lives and young people’s lives, sometimes that itself can be quite, um, difficult. So to be able to see change in a really positive way is something that, you know, is cherished really by, uh, well, by the students on this course this weekend, but really for me being a little part of that journey and watching the work.

[00:03:18] Um, unfold. So, yeah, I’m in Edinburgh, um, and later on other places in, um, the UK, and then eventually over to America and then back to Australia.

[00:03:28] DAWN: You’ve, you’ve mentioned some of the countries that, um, you will be working in, um, and I’m really interested in the international part of, um, your organization. Um, so in 2023, which are the countries where you have a presence?

[00:03:45] And, and also, I’m just really interested to know how that story happened. How, how did, how did you start spreading your model to, to different countries?

[00:03:55] RICHARD: Sure. Uh, well, actually, um, it’s probably better as any good, uh, kind of narrative to start at the beginning. Um, and for me in the international concept of.

[00:04:05] TLSW, uh, all began really in 2008. So in 2008, I was, um, given an email out of nowhere, um, really to say, would I like to go to Australia and do, uh, a presentation on therapeutic lifestory work? And having never been to Australia and having a wonderful, uh, boss who was really supportive of the TLSW that we were doing back then when I was working in, um, an organization called SACS, um, I was allowed to go.

[00:04:33] So, um, first time in Australia, very kind of curious and interested. And I just spent, um, just under two weeks really, um, doing presentations on therapeutic life story work as we were doing it in the UK. And one of the things that came up almost immediately was that’s really good for the UK, but it cannot work in Australia, particularly where I was in Queensland.

[00:04:56] And that was because of the legal framework around confidentiality and privacy. And so a lot of our work in therapeutic life story work is helping young people understand the journey of their past, which will mean that they’ll talk about their parents, their grandparents, maybe the people that cared for them along the way.

[00:05:14] Um, and that was something that was not really, um, acceptable in Queensland. So that was a journey, and it was also an opportunity for me to understand that sometimes the opportunity of getting information to share with our children is one a privilege to do, but also the confidentiality and the impact of talking about other people’s journeys needs to be done in a far more professional and appropriate way.

[00:05:43] So in a way, what I learned when I went over in 2008 was One, you know, is this model applicable, but two, that I’m still learning and, and even now, you know, I go to a new environment as to, uh, this year, for instance, I was in Japan after a 10 year break, um, and things have moved so much in Japan, uh, in a sense of that kind of the need to know your story, um, as I say, I was then able to learn a little bit more around cultural challenges for this work.

[00:06:14] So back to my narrative 2008. Um, so I went there and I kind of really enjoyed it and then flew home. Uh, and then, um, just at the end of 2008, I had an invitation to go to James Cook University to the Cairns Institute to be a visiting scholar. Now I wouldn’t, Describe myself as a scholar. Um, but at the end of the day, it was, uh, uh, an opportunity and I spent actually a month with Laurel Downey, uh, and Laurel Downey is a very amazing, um, practitioner and she wrote a beautiful, um, book called Karma Classrooms and a lot of our work that we do with children, uh, impacts on their educational journey and how, with life journey work and how we can maybe help children make sense of their past.

[00:06:59] We also may be able to help in that school journey. So this was a great, another really good opportunity to learn. So, following that, um, I managed to get involved in lots of discussions around therapeutic life story work, residential care, schools. Um, and, um, I had another invitation the next year to, um, do a kind of city tour, which was like a very new thing for, uh, for me to go to a lot of different cities in Australia and talk about lifestory work, and this was with the Australian Childhood Foundation.

[00:07:32] And then following that tour, um, I was very fortunate to reach, uh, to reach out to Annette Jackson, who is, again, an amazing, um, uh, leader, really, in working with her young people and families in Bury Street, uh, Melbourne. Uh, and then ever since then, in Australia, my journey has been shaped by the relationship with Bury Street.

[00:07:53] Um, and so Over the next, kind of, well, from really 2011 up to 2023, where we are now in Australia, Uh, we now have Therapeutic Life Story Work in most of the states of Australia. Uh, we have training in most of the states in Australia. We have a thriving, um, organization called Therapeutic Life Story Work Australia, which is, you know, um, our organization in Australia, led by Elise Saunders, Incredible.

[00:08:23] So, um, this established life story work, not just as a, um, an intervention, but now I can really begin to, um, celebrate the fact that a lot of the states, particularly New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have paid for service, which means that they actually now, um, Provide this service to children in their care and they’re already seeing the outcomes So for that situation, we we are again as you mentioned in the introduction, which was kind by the way Um that we have our research from australia So all the research currently around the model of therapeutic life story work, which is called the rose model Although Most people know me.

[00:09:04] I get very embarrassed about that. But anyway, the TLSW that we have, um, and we are waiting now for three more, um, uh, reviews that are coming out, which is very exciting. I’ve read the basis of one, which is just, Fantastic. Um, and, um, we’re now looking at research in the UK. We’re looking at research in, uh, different areas of work.

[00:09:27] So if I go away from the notion of, um, Australia in America, we’ve been working with Portland, uh, and Oregon. So we have a very good relationship with Oregon department, human services, and all park or park is the, um, organization supporting fostering and adoption, and Kendra is just the most amazing champion of life story work.

[00:09:52] Uh, and, and Kendra, um, has with, uh, Francine from the Department of Human Services introduced All About Me across Oregon. So every child in Oregon now involved in service delivery are doing all about me, which we know from our brilliant work with Blue Cabin, um, that we have this wonderful creative all about me and direct all about me.

[00:10:15] And that’s now led on to, um, them thinking around more about me and then the TLSW itself. So, um, that’s beginning to spread. So I’m hopefully going to, um, Minneapolis, uh, in the next few months where we’re going to be looking at the opportunity again of All about me there. What’s interesting in Minneapolis, one of the worries we have is privacy laws again.

[00:10:39] Um, so In australia those privacy laws since 2008 have all changed So now there’s best interest concepts children have a right to know their story and law has changed and i’m hoping Eventually, we will show uh in some of the states in america Uh, that actually laws can change to meet the needs of young people’s, uh, crucial concept of who am I.

[00:11:05] And of course, who they are sits in that privacy of others. Um, This year, uh, we, uh, really got involved in working in Singapore. Uh, we’ve worked in Taiwan. We’ve worked in Japan. Uh, we have opportunities in Scandinavia coming up soon. Uh, we have a beautiful work in Margarita in, um, Portugal where Margarita’s been doing training in Madeira.

[00:11:31] Uh, on TLSW. Um, so yeah, we have a thriving, um, uh, space, New Zealand, Ireland, uh, Northern Ireland. Um, we’re also looking at potential, uh, in, um, Spain, um, and also, hopefully, Um, we did some work a while ago, um, in, in the Czech Republic, in Czechia, um, and we’re now again looking at the next step for Czechia. So yeah, it’s, it’s truly amazing, um, and, um, our international professional body is growing every day and we hope that, you know, more countries will join us and contact us so we can help children to make sense of their story.

[00:12:12] The final thing, Dawn, I know I talk for England, um, is that, um, With regards to the All About Me process, we have seen such change since Blue Cabin, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Darlington have got together and delivered, you know, on this wonderful first Part of TLSW, which holds that child’s story safe, um, and it’s, it’s just a pleasure that I am now involved in or overseeing or supporting Blue Cabin and others to do all about me in different authorities across the UK.

[00:12:48] And what we’re getting almost every month now is another authority saying, We want this. Um, and so, you know, my dream, as you know, right at the time we first met is that it’s not whether a child gets a therapeutic life story work opportunity. It’s why they don’t get one. Um, and I think we’re, we’re gradually building that way.

[00:13:08] DAWN: You said truly amazing community, but truly amazing worldwide international community that you’re bringing together. And I’m really interesting that in all of the places where you. First up, uh, talking about your model, what you’ve said in each part of those stories is there’s, you find, and build a key relationship with another set of individuals or an organization in there who will hold it safe and then, and then, so that’s the, that’s the way that it’s being networked across the world almost.

[00:13:46] RICHARD: It’s the only way to do it, to be honest. Um, I think that Dawn, I mean, very many years ago now, I was asked by the NHS to do a presentation uh, in one of the conferences in um, I think it was in Leeds. Uh, and I did my presentation and there was a most amazing uh, professional called Graham Music, uh, and Graham does just incredible work with teenage young people.

[00:14:08] Um, and, um, again, look, look him up. He’s amazing. Uh, and Graham Music said to me, um, at the conference afterwards, he said, this is amazing work you do Richard, but I wonder if it’s only you that can do it. Uh, because of your personality, because of the way you are, and I, and I kind of, I, I, I kind of wanted to bask in that, yeah, it’s only me that can do it, type thing, and then realized, you know, that, that, that isn’t me, and most people that know me know that, um, that’s not me, and I just thought, No, I think it’s because people don’t get the opportunity to do it.

[00:14:40] Uh, and that’s why I started the training program, which was the first one was just a day training, you know, um, but, um, if you want anything to really resonate, you need champions, uh, at blue cabin, for instance, you got, you got in with, uh, South Tyneside at the very beginning of my journey with you. And then you contacted me and I was just, you know, um, amazed to be involved with you.

[00:15:02] Um, but the point being that, you know, you’ve now held that, that kind of approach and then created a different way within that system, uh, to reach hundreds and hundreds of children in the Northeast. Um, and we’ve done the same thing in the Bracknell Forest where we’ve had, you know, a particular champion.

[00:15:19] Uh, Warwickshire, we have a particular champion. What we find though is that sometimes those champions move forward, they move on. Uh, and so we lose that, that kind of, um, that person. So what I’ve started to do now is do organization rather than person. Uh, so, uh, we have some fantastic relationships, for instance, with, uh, the, uh, Settlement Services International, uh, in, um, Australia, Sydney.

[00:15:45] And Ghazan, who is the senior manager there, is the most amazing man. Um, and, um, he has taken TLSW. Uh, within a committee of those, sorry, within the community of those coming into a brand new country. You know, very much, uh, strangers on the shore and using TNSW to help them, but then, like Blue Cabin, he’s, he’s kind of designed it to, you know, be more than what it was.

[00:16:12] So, as an example, uh, when COVID happened, Ghazan and his team created All About Me COVID, um, so that children who are at home and not being able to, you know, be socially active and therefore stuck in that very, you know, You know, difficult space of not knowing anybody, not knowing systems, often not language, had this communication through all about me, COVID.

[00:16:34] So I think it is about champions in different, um, situations, but it’s also about champions who say, love the model, but we can do this. Uh, and that just gives me joy.

[00:16:45] DAWN: And, and that’s allowing space for it to grow and thrive, and, and challenge your thinking as well.

[00:16:50] RICHARD: Oh, absolutely. I mean, so we have McKillop, for instance, in Australia, Um, McKillop, um, have always been really, you know, into the therapeutic life story work and Robin, uh, who’s their CEO, she is incredible.

[00:17:04] Um, and, uh, she’s actually, you know, uh, part of why we have that research because she wanted to use this approach with young people who were impacted by, you know, Uh, potential sexual exploitation, uh, within residential care, um, and, and saying, you know, this, this work will help children in their sense of self, in their esteem, in being worthy, um, and, you know, we’re now from Robin’s work, and all her team, including Misha, uh, and James, et cetera, um, what we’ve moved on from there, uh, Is, uh, in England, where we have Oasis, which is, um, a domestic violent, uh, intervention group, uh, supporting, uh, people and families caught up in domestic violence, where they’re now researching TLSW.

[00:17:49] When it’s being applied to, um, those that have endured that particular relationship. Um, and finding out, well, who am I? I’ve lost myself. Because myself has been taken from me by those that may have been a threat for me. So where am I now? And it’s, this is Diane May’s work. And it’s brilliant. Beautiful. Um, we’ve also got Breathing Space and Breaking the Cycle.

[00:18:13] So that’s Lancashire and Birmingham working with young parents who may have lost their children to adoption, and they’re doing therapeutic life story work with those young parents, so that even when they may have another young person, they might be more able to not only meet their young people’s needs that they, they, you know, kind of bring into the world, but can look after their needs too.

[00:18:35] So the application of this model, I think, uh, my next step is through prison services, hopefully, um, because I think that our young people who find themselves, um, in prison, mainly understanding what’s happened in their journey and how things have got to the point where they are at may actually help them to have a different pathway.

[00:18:55] We know this happens with children in care. We know it happens with adults, uh, in that situation. Um, so I’m hoping maybe this podcast, someone will contact us or me and say, Hey, I’m interested in this. Um, and that’s where we link to Reese Foundation in Gloucestershire, for instance, with Afshin Ahmed, who is again, amazing.

[00:19:14] So yes, we’ve got all these beautiful links, but they’re all around that notion of. therapeutic life story work being an opportunity for children and their parents and young people and adults to start to think. I am lovable. I am worthwhile. I make a difference. And the people around me may not have met my needs, but there may be other people that may meet my needs if I let them have that opportunity.

[00:19:37] And that’s kind of where we’re going, and it’s just beautiful.

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[00:20:01] It really helps others find the podcast.

[00:20:05] DAWN: You talked about the three local authorities that you’ve been, uh, supporting as part of your work with Blue Cabin, and you’ve been acting as critical friend, uh, to those three local authorities. And I wondered what you’re noticing, uh, what, about, The impact of, uh, creative life story work within those local authorities, what are some of the themes that you’re noticing?

[00:20:31] Because it’s quite a unique position to be in, like, with feet in three different local authorities, and they’re all very different.

[00:20:36] RICHARD: It, it is, it is interesting, and for some people I’m actually supervising their practice. Uh, and sometimes where the artist, I manage to meet the artist, so I had a beautiful meeting with Reef.

[00:20:47] Yesterday, for instance, uh, and talking about her work in Darlington and her work in South Tyneside, and how different the work is because of the different way in which, uh, the local authorities are approaching the opportunity. So, I mean, I think that for me, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s that individual uniqueness, uh, of everyone and every authority and every team and every social worker and every child that, you know, we’re, we’re kind of wanting to bring that together.

[00:21:14] But to celebrate that uniqueness, and I think that some people, um, are doing some amazing, uh, eureka lightbulb. Oh, my gosh, mate, moments and others are looking at just the opportunity to sit with someone and just create something, you know, whether that be, you know, a theater. In a box, which is just beautiful.

[00:21:35] I saw yesterday or whether that’s puppet work or whether that’s screen work or whether that’s clown work Um, and I think that the the thing is that when I first started my journey in therapeutic work Which, uh, was really, I did, I did sort of seven years of child protection, which I adored that work. And then went into the therapy world of, of, of, um, work.

[00:21:55] And one of the things that I quickly worked out was, there isn’t a standard. You know, there’s not a side of, this is what you do. There is the uniqueness of intervention. Uh, and I think what I’ve found in the three different authorities are different approaches to those young people, different ways that people see the challenges, different ways in which people Uh, measure, I think the wrong word is success, but measure change, I think that might be the better word.

[00:22:23] Um, but what I have noticed is, in speaking to the facilitators or speaking to the artists that I’ve done, uh, that there is, there is joy, there is this wonderment, there’s also frustration when, you know, it doesn’t happen or a child can’t come or, you know, I know that, um, sometimes when I’ve been doing. The critical friend stuff or blue cabin, we have just a few people rather than what we were hoping masses of people, but actually those few people that come, we always seem to feel the the time we have.

[00:22:53] We always seem to have these crucial conversations. Um, so I think what I would say is that. Whenever you introduce something new, um, people are curious and then suddenly there’s something else that pops up. Whereas what we know in our work is if we can get champions that say no, you know, this is really good, Blue Cabin have really got this fantastic suite of information services, research, podcasts, live classrooms, um, And people then avail themselves of that.

[00:23:23] I think it shows in their, their practice. Um, so what I would say is that, you know, with all the other things that kind of, um, can distract us, can, um, take us to a different pathway. If, if people can understand from this podcast that, you know, um, and I’m just a small part of this Blue Cabin, as you know, are leading this.

[00:23:44] Um, but if they can actually see that online, you’ve got this amazing, um, Resource, you know, um, which will help your practice with families which will help your families, you know engage with you That’s what I think are um creative all about means of showing And those people that are involved i’ve seen some of the responses i’ve seen some of the outcomes Um, so just one example, um a young person that put their toe in the water.

[00:24:10] I don’t really want to be here What’s this all about? This is going to be boring and now he’s saying to all his friends. Come on, we got to do this You And sometimes our champions are our children themselves.

[00:24:22] DAWN: If I asked you, Richard, thinking about therapeutic life story work, international creative life story work at Blue Cabin to look forward 10 years, what would our champion children be saying?

[00:24:38] What would they be saying to each other? What would we be seeing and hearing?

[00:24:43] RICHARD: Well, I mean, I think that certainly if it was new young people 10 years later, Um, then those 10 years, those 10 years later, therapeutic life story work for our young people who are not just in care, but are young people that may have, um, impacted, you know, through former experiences, or maybe through, you know, unaccompanied or refugee, or those children that don’t know their story, that it, it wouldn’t be a, you know, Uh, lottery about whether they get it.

[00:25:12] Now I don’t mean postcode lottery, just being a lottery. You know, it will be a right for their story. And I think that if we can get to the point in ten years time where children and young people have a right to their story and that that right can be delivered through this model, this, this uh, kind of approach, I think that would be wonderful.

[00:25:29] Um, so if, if we look at the the model of TLSW and CLSW so creative life story work, which is really the, the therapy life story work with creative all about me. Not every child will need a big piece of work like a TLSW nine month intervention. In fact, the majority of children will absolutely benefit from doing creative all about me and just repeating that every six months or so to update their story.

[00:25:55] So if you have a two year old child coming into care, for instance, and they have an updated all about me every six months, if they are, you know, in care until they leave 18, as an example, they’ll end up with 32 wonderful books. That they can put together and that’s their story, and they won’t need anything else.

[00:26:13] The middle bit, which is that more about me, that’s, that’s different. The more about me is really for children who are stuck, because they’re in a situation where it doesn’t make sense. And, and again, very quickly, but, so we have a lot of young people in, in special guardianship disorders with connected carers with their family members.

[00:26:29] And the problem there is that, you know, their parents who weren’t maybe able to provide their needs when they were first, you know, um, in the world, who ten years later, as you were saying, What happens 10 years time 10 years later, maybe in a very different world, no longer involved in say drugs or alcohol use, maybe it’s more stable, healthy relationships, have a child and they keep that child.

[00:26:50] So the 10 year old that’s in SGO will say, hang on a sec, I want to go home. My mom’s good now. My mom’s able to look after a baby. She can look after me now. And of course, reality is probably not because you’re going home may not be able to be good for your little sister or your little brother or your mom.

[00:27:07] So now you’ve got to stay where you are. That’s like. Devastating for a young person. Uh, so we need to do that kind of more about me to help them understand the challenges. And then of course, for the very, very few children in the sense of, you know, all children in care where they are very, very much impacted by their, Early life trauma, where their world is really defined by their past, where they’re multi placed, where they’re very angry at the world or themselves.

[00:27:32] That’s where, you know, that therapeutic life story work comes in. Um, I guess what I’m trying to say here is in ten years time, I, I would want it to be something that is a, You know, and easily, uh, provided a, you know, very, um, thought through, a, uh, evidence based, a clear, trained workforce that can say to a young person, Hey, let’s work through who you are.

[00:28:00] What makes you who you are, how brilliant you are, and how you yourself can be or you want to be in the future. Um, so my dream, John, uh, if I’m gonna go this far, I might as well now I’ve got this far. Um, if, if I could, every young person who is adopted deserves their life story work. It’s enshrined in law.

[00:28:19] Uh, this is in the UK. But what happens is they get a, a life story piece of work at one or two years old. It really isn’t helpful. So if we were to say to, um, the government, what about if every child who is adopted at seven has the opportunity to do therapeutic life story work? Oh, what a world we would be.

[00:28:40] Because seven year olds, who am I? And they’re able to think about their life. They can hear the most challenging things. They also need their parents or figures around them. Um, and we won’t necessarily have all the challenges we have. when they get to 15, 16 or even 18 and then find out truly what happened through later life letters.

[00:28:59] So my dream over the next 10 years, let’s put it that way. So I know I’ve skewed your question to me. Um, but you know me well. Um, and that is that, you know, if, if we could, undertake, you know, a vision that every young person who is not living with their family of origin or living in a situation where they’re not sure of their story, has the right for that story to be shared seven years onwards.

[00:29:24] What a wonderful world we’d have.

[00:29:26] DAWN: Richard, thank you so much for our conversation this morning. Uh, Thank you for making the time, uh, before your training in Edinburgh to come and chat, uh, and let’s watch this space for your vision and, uh, start working in partnership already to try and make that happen.

[00:29:46] RICHARD: I think, I think it would be so economically amazing, so brilliantly, um, positive for our young people.

[00:29:55] And I think one of the things that we said earlier in the sense of, you know, champions and children being our champions, you know, the biggest problem we have is actually just seeing them, but they’re right in front of us. You know, um, and if we can help children to understand that they are wonderful, the emerging adult to be more loving and be able to be loved, the less likely we’ll have some of the challenges we have today.

[00:30:17] DAWN: Thank you, Richard.

[00:30:22] Whether you’re a foster carer, Someone who has experience of the care system, or you work with children and young people. We hope this episode has given you an insight into how we could make life story work better for young people. You can find out more about our show at wearebluecabin. com forward slash podcast and we’d love to hear your thoughts.

[00:30:44] You can record and send us a direct question or message the show via their website. Tweet us at At We Are Blue Cabin. If you’d like to listen to future episodes, remember to subscribe wherever it is you usually get your podcasts. Bye for now.

[00:31:09] Will: The theme music on this show is by Matter. Fan sourced from Pix Bay and used under license. You’ve been listening to an Anya Media Production for Blue Cabin. Find out more at anya

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