Therapeutic Life Story work is usually carried out for children between the ages of 5 – 17. It is a direct and reflective process in which the child is helped to evaluate and begin to make sense and meaning of their lives.
Therapeutic Life Story Work is a valuable piece of work which is usually completed over 12-18 sessions
It pieces together all the different sources of information surrounding their life that is available to them, which often includes perceptions and misconceptions that help to clarify and put their past into perspective. It can often bring up painful memories which the child will be supported through by a qualified therapist so that the child is not compelled to repeat and carry any unresolved trauma through to adulthood.
“preoccupation with the past and wariness of the present means that there is less of the child existing….she remains fixed in her past” – Richard Rose
Each life story is unique to the child and it is often a creative and collaborative process which usually involves the primary carer of the child accompanying them in the sessions. The readiness of the child to do the work would be assessed before the work commences.
Life Story Work has the potential to bring about a deeper understanding and acceptance of who they are, without being defined by their past, thus empowering them to influence and shape their own future.
We work hard to develop a therapeutic relationship with children and their parents/carers. This enables families to meaningfully and deeply (as appropriate to children’s abilities) process children’s past experiences and help them to move into safer attachment relationships in the present and future.
The Therapeutic Life Story Model consists of three stages; Information Gathering, Internalisation and the Life Story Book.
‘ Information Gathering’ – This stage involves the careful and an in-depth gathering of historical information pertaining to the child; both pre-and post-birth. Within this stage the The Lifestory practitioner collates both written and physical sources to provide greater insight into the child’s early life experiences. This then helps to identify the gaps in the child’s history and where the information needs to be sourced from to collate a detailed and factual narrative for the child to guide their therapeutic life story sessions.
This narrative then lends knowledge to the child’s trauma and provides insight into the child’s primary attachment and their Internal Working Model, which is how the child perceives themselves, others and the world around them. For many adopted and foster children, the ‘unknown’ of their life history can be extremely fragmented, confusing and often frightening,
Establishing this knowledge is key in preparing and planning for the interventions within the second stage of the Therapeutic Life Story work: Internalisation.
‘ Internalisation’ – Within this stage the narrative is divided into session plans prior to the work commencing. Stage two isn’t just about reading the narrative to the child, careful planning and preparation is used to provide the child with focused therapeutic inventions to sensitively support the areas highlighted within the Information Bank.
Through this therapeutic process and the relationship with their carer, the child can develop further insight into their responses to trauma (developed in order to protect and keep themselves safe). Often this can present in a variety of behaviours and without knowledge of the child’s history it is difficult to see the communication behind them. By supporting the child’s awareness of this and the influences it has upon their present, there is an opportunity to change, move forward and develop a positive sense of self.
‘The Life Story Book’ – This stage is completed towards the conclusion of a child’s journey. It comprises the information and the work completed by the child within the sessions. The child is fully involved in selecting the design, fonts, and illustrations. This then helps the child to take ownership over their work and aid understanding of their journey and its importance.
How does Therapeutic Life Story work help adopted or fostered children?
For children who have been removed from the care of their birth family and suffered placement breakdowns or transitions, their life history can be extremely fragmented, leaving the child feeling lost and with no sense of belonging (Perry, 2012). This can impact hugely on their well-being and make the child very vulnerable in their present and future.
Therapeutic Life Story Work empowers a child’s voice and provides them with a safe space to feel and express their thoughts and emotions when making sense of past experiences and the relationship these have to their current thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
‘A child that is lost within her own family, community and culture is neuro- developmentally vulnerable. Without a life story, a child is adrift, disconnected and vulnerable.’ Perry (2012:10)
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