The therapeutic life story work approach is an outlet of children’s past experiences that will lead them to much more productive present and future (Wrench & Naylor, 2013). This is especially in terms of forming and maintaining relationships, trust and even attachments with the people that care for them or even parents. This therapeutic approach takes place in stages instead of flooding the child with everything at once. The purpose of the three main stages is to give the child time to get organized and comfortable with their past, prepare to move on and finally let go of everything and focus only on the future. The three stages will be discussed in detail below. This therapeutic life story work approach has a huge positive impact to the children that are traumatized as well as their families. This is from the fact that discussion and an in depth look into their past experiences leads to a more precise and clear reason of their trauma and the role their families played into that. The role of the family may also come in after the past experiences have been relieved and the child is in the last stage of focusing on the future using the past as a guide. The impact of this approach however has faced criticisms over the ending of the therapy at the third stage. All these will also be discussed systematically below and a conclusion of all these made.
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There are many children that have faced trauma in their lives for the few years that they have lived. This is especially the case for those children that have been brought up in the foster care system or those that not had loving and ideal upbringing even by their biological parents. Children for example of homes where the parents constantly fight, are too busy to spend any time with them or even those whose parents move from one partner to another and are abusive are highly prone to traumatized childhoods. It is this trauma in their childhood that has led them to have problems forming relationships with others as they continue to grow older and have troubled behavior even in school such as that of concentrating on tasks in class that negatively affects their performances. Most lack a sense of belonging and no desire for the present or even future (Rose, 2017).
The therapeutic life story work approach is meant to help these children with their present and future by gathering information about their past. The first step in this therapeutic life story approach is about collection of information about the child’s past and even about their family. This includes information such as information about where they were born, how they were brought up, information about their siblings if any and any other information that will shed light into their past upbringing (Wrench & Naylor, 2013). Similar questions and more are asked for the children that have been brought up in foster care as well. This is meant to establish the cause or causes of the trauma the child is suffering from, what were the contributing factors and how the therapeutic approach will aid in the life story in the present and future. By the end of the first stage, the child and the care giver at this point are aware of the background information which leads to the second stage of internalization of all these.
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The second stage basically involves internalization of the information collected in the first stage. This is much more meaningful to the child as they are needed to understand what happened to make them the way they are and seek a sense of identity for themselves at the end of this stage. This is a very hard part and especially if the child is really young. The internalization process will therefore take differing approach depending on the age of the child and their understanding of concepts at this stage. This is a very sensitive and important stage in this whole process and therefore demands a lot of time to be dedicated to it. The child is not to be rushed as they need preparation to focus on the main intention of the therapy which is to have a better present and future (Kagan, 2014). By the end of this stage, the child is supposed to have gained insight into their past, understanding it to the best of their abilities and have an opportunity to change for the better and having developed a positive sense of self. This is a journey that should not be rushed in any way possible as it will set perfect ground for the last stage of the therapeutic approach and write their own positive life story they way they want their future to be.
The last step is the life story book itself. This is the conclusion stage in this whole process and the final healing of the child’s trauma. It is also at this stage that the family comes into play. At this point, the child has understood their past and is ready to face the present and future. They have developed their own sense of identity and there is little to no chance of being affected by the same trauma again (Golding, 2014). If the child for example has been in foster care and wishes to reunite with the biological family, they can do so without being affected by negative feelings. At this juncture of the journey, the child takes ownership of their life and focuses on making it better for them for the future. The family also is accorded the chance to reunite with the child and make any amends necessary to ensure a better future for all of them with forgiveness and starting of a new chapter.
There are however criticisms about this whole process with the predefined three stages to make the child that has faced traumatic past better. The critiques say that since the approach is dealing with children that have not have really fully had their cognitive development completed, it needs to be an ongoing approach that should not end at the last stage. This is especially the case if the child is to reunite or once again becoming integrated with the family that contributed to the trauma in the first place (Hooley, Stokes & Combes, 2016). The carer needs to continue with the process to ensure that the relationships are still being maintained and there are no chances of the trauma recurring for the child with the newly established relationships. The child needs to have a secure attachment even after the third stage and hence the stages should not be predefined and predetermined as is the case above.
The other criticism is the fact that children are different based on nature and nurture and hence the same approach cannot be used effectively on each child. There needs to be variation based on the upbringing of the child and the trauma they have been facing. This means that this approach should be more child-led with the child taking the lead instead of being guided and following the carer. This will allow each child’s case to be treated uniquely and allow their traumatic needs to be met exclusively without a blanket approach being taken.
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There also needs to be a link between this approach and the attachment theories since at the end of it all, the families of these children need to establish a better attachment with the child for purposes of future. Without a link with this theory, it means that at the last stage, there will lack a proper way to introduce the aspect of attachment that is necessary to the future of the child in relationship formation and especially with the family.
In conclusion, the therapeutic life story work approach is meant to help the traumatized children and their families have a better future when it comes to relationship formation, maintenance and even have better and secure attachment. This is especially applied to the children that have faced trauma from lacking secure attachment from their parents or caregivers from a very young age. Children that have faced abusive relationships in the past whether it is from their parents or in foster care system tend to be traumatized. This affects their ability to form relationships, trust others, pay attention or even excel in school. The only way they can be assisted to improve on this is to make them gain an insight of their past, understand what traumatized them, and understand what made them that way in order to move on and have a better present and future (Rose, 2017). These children need to undergo the three stages of the therapeutic life story work approach which are information gathering of the history of these children, the internalization stage of trying to understand what led them to have the trauma and act the way they do and lastly have an opportunity to write a better story for their future, have a more normal relationship and reunite with the family that will grant the support necessary throughout the whole process of recovery. This however takes time to be accomplished but by the end of it all, makes the child and family better.
- Golding, K. 2014. Using Stories to Build Bridges with Traumatized Children: Creative Ideas for Therapy, Life Story Work, Direct Work and Parenting. New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
- Hooley, K., Stokes, L. & Combes, H. 2016. Life story work with looked after and adopted children: how professional training and experience determine perceptions of its value. Adoption and Fostering, 40(3).
- Kagan, R. 2014. Rebuilding Attachments with Traumatized Children: Healing from Losses, Violence, Abuse, and Neglect. New York: Routledge.
- Rose, R. 2017. Innovative Therapeutic Life Story Work: Developing Trauma-Informed Practice for Working with Children, Adolescents and Young Adults. New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
- Wrench, K. & Naylor, L. 2013. Life Story Work with Children who are Fostered or Adopted: Creative Ideas and Activities. New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.