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Therapeutic Life Story Work 


Adoption Support Fund (ASF) approved to provide Therapeutic Life Story Work (TLSW) with children, young people and adults.

For children who have been removed from the care of their family and suffered many placement breakdowns, their life history can be extremely fragmented, leaving the child feeling lost and with no sense of belonging. This can impact hugely on their well-being and make the child very vulnerable in their present and future. Therapeutic Life Story Work offers children opportunity to explore, question and understand past events of their life. Within this it gives them a voice and safe space to feel and express their emotions when making sense of past experiences and the relation it has to their current thoughts, feelings and behaviours.


‘Therapeutic Life story can help children to identify and understand the ghosts of the past so children are no longer haunted by them’ – Richard Rose (2012)


Ryan and Walker (2016) speak about the fact that many looked after children who have been separated from their birth families and had multiple placement moves do not get the opportunity to know about their past, in the way that children who live with their birth families would.


‘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)


Different to traditional Life Story Work or Life History Work, Therapeutic Life Story Work (or TLSW) is a defined approach pioneered by Richard Rose that directly involves the child’s primary carer (very often an adoptive parent or long-term foster carer) from the beginning of the process to the end. Working as a triad with the TLSW practitioner, this intervention is designed to strengthen the relationship between the child and their parent/carer through exploring together the child’s history.


If children are not helped to understand and make sense of the trauma that they have experienced, then it is well known that they carry it around within them, unresolved, forever. This pre-occupation with things that they cannot get rid of, often makes it difficult for a traumatised child to function ordinarily. “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. The process of TLSW aims for the child to reach an acceptance of who they were, who they are and an understanding that they have the power to shape who they can be.


▪ by involving the primary carer in this way, they can hear first-hand the perceptions and misperceptions of the child, providing a unique opportunity for them to attune to their child, strengthening their attachment. The best person to really help a child learn that the world isn’t always a scary place and that grownups can be trusted is the primary carer


▪ Therapeutic Life Story Work isn’t just about identity, it is about meaning. If a child understands why they are where they are, then they have more chance of changing their behaviour and creating more robust, mature, independent personalities and becoming more socially competent


▪ as the primary carer is utilised with a focus on a strengthening of relationships within the placement, there is less likelihood of a placement breakdown.


▪ the direct work with the child and primary carer is recorded on rolls of wallpaper. The end stage is the creation of a Life story Book, but the most important part of the process is what is recorded on the wallpaper.


Children and young people who are struggling with their identity and making sense of who they are and what has happened to them in the past. TLSW is most effectively used with children and young people aged between 5 and 25 years


▪ children and young people who have experienced early life abuse and/or trauma


▪ foster or adoption placements that are struggling and at risk of breaking down


▪ children in care or who have been adopted who are asking questions about their past


Therapeutic Life Story Work has 3 stages:


1. The Information Bank – the TLSW practitioner collates an array of information from Social Work files, interviews and physical evidence. They then consider how the child views their world and what their attachment issues may be


2. Internalisation – the child is encouraged to externalise their thoughts, feelings and emotions and this is what is explored and recorded on the wallpaper. This is always carried out alongside the primary carer and usually takes 18 sessions


3. The Life Story Book – contains the information recorded on the wallpaper, which has been internalised by the child. It is up to the child to decide what is included as a representation for others to see

Typically, Therapeutic Life Story Work takes place over a 7 to12 month period. The direct work with the child and carer is a one-hour session on a weekly or fortnightly basis, usually at the family home.


Not all children need a full course of TLSW. The focused work is aimed at children who need to understand their history and are displaying low-level emotional and behavioural challenges, or children who need support to understand specific experiences.


The shortened package can be tailored to address:

  • Loss

  • Emotional dysregulation

  • Bereavement

  • Parental incarceration

  • Sibling separation

  • Foster carer separation

  • Therapeutic parenting support


▪ the child has a deeper understanding and acceptance of their life history and a more positive and healthy self-identity


▪ through knowing their life story, children and young people are less pre-occupied with questions and the not knowing and as a result, they are often calmer and more focused in their thinking and behaviour


▪ as TLSW works as a triad, the child and primary carer ultimately have a deeper understanding of each other’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours and so attachments are greatly strengthened


▪ deeper understanding and stronger attachments often leads to a decrease in the likelihood of a placement breakdown


▪ completion of a Life Story Book at the end of the intervention “the very fact that adults hesitate to share with a child information about his or her past implies that it is so bad that the young person won’t be able to cope with it. Whatever the past was, the child has lived through it and survived. He or she has already demonstrated survival skills” - Vera Fahlberg

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