How is Therapeutic Life Story done?
The full program is delivered over a period of up to 18 fortnightly sessions (up to six months) with a child, their carer and the life story worker. The child is supported to explore their past, how this has affected them and how they can move forward positively and with strength. [When there are time constraints shorter programs can be adapted, though not necessarily considered therapeutic, lasting up to 12 weeks.]
There are three elements:
Information Gathering: Includes a file review and interviews or phone calls with significant adults in the young person’s life. This allows the practitioner to focus at the first meeting on developing a trusting relationship.
Direct Work or ‘Internalistion’: At the initial meeting a time is agreed upon when the hour sessions can be held on the same day and time each fortnight. The young person is also made aware they can, at any time, choose to suspend the process or withdraw. A ‘contract’ is made between all involved.
The use of a roll of plain white paper, also known as wallpaper, is a defining feature in TLSW, being a blank canvas that can be extended easily, unlike pages in a book. This medium allows the young person to externalize their thoughts in a way that is both expressive and free of constraints.
The roll of paper becomes a visual metaphor of the journey and as sessions continue the young person can literally walk along what they have written, drawn or created.
As described by Richard Rose: ‘…wallpaper [paper roll] is used as a tapestry to paint the journey of the child from their grandparents to the present day…. wallpaper can be written on, stuck to, painted on…and is very durable’.
The paper roll remains the young person’s property and stays with them throughout. Some even choose to work on the paper between sessions as thoughts occur or questions arise they wish to ask at the next session.
The paper roll, therefore, becomes a record of the young person’s life experiences, as well as their memories, worries, hopes and dreams for the future.
At the start of this work the practitioner will, through as many as two or three sessions, engage the child with games and other play activities, emphasising the creative and non-intimidating nature of TLSW.
This is important given many young people will have experienced other forms of therapeutic or clinical interventions, often in institutional settings, and be wary of engaging in yet another.
As the young person becomes familiar with the idea of free expression on the paper roll, conversations develop naturally and spontaneously which are often difficult in other ‘face-to-face’ contexts.
Life Story: At the completion of this stage with the paper roll the young person is ready to put together a Life Story. Often (though not always) this will first be drafted by the practitioner called All About You, representing a snapshot of their life based on the work done over the past months. [Much depends on the young person’s ability to structure a narrative at this stage. Providing a draft offers a way for the young person to expand on their story.]
However, the child acts as the final editor, choosing what he or she wants to be included in the next version: All About Me.
All About Me may take the form of a narrative written by the young person or a video or indeed any other medium they have identified during this journey.