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Therapeutic Life Story Work

Karla Burley

Therapeutic Life Story Work (TLSW) provides looked-after and adopted children with a narrative of their life and enables healing from the trauma of abuse, abandonment and neglect through talking therapy, play and art activities that is recorded by the use of wallpaper.

New for 2024

Creating Therapeutic Stories online programme

Gain a better understanding of Creating Therapeutic Stories, what this means for a child, and how to apply it our three day Creating Therapeutic Stories Programme. 

The Rose Model
Karla Burley & Suzanne McGladdery
Publication date: 9th May 2024
Available at most Retailers £35 –,, Book Depository, Waterstones, Blackwell’s Bookstore, Barnes and Noble (USA)
Would you like to become a TLSW Supervisor?
Summer 2024 Course Dates


Most frequent questions and answers

Therapeutic Life Story work is a therapeutic process, based on traditional Life Story work, but with a more therapeutic method, as introduced by Richard Rose.

Therapeutic Life Story Work (TLSW) is usually carried out on Adopted children to help them understand their history, and how this has shaped their present, and work on it to improve their future.

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 9 to12 month period.

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.

When a Therapeutic Life Story approach is conducted with care, thought and sensitivity, it offers a space for children and young people to start rebuilding the pieces of their lives that have been discarded, lost or damaged. It offers a therapeutic space to give children a voice in their world and have it respected and valued. The ability for them to do this alongside their carer is crucial in building upon their attachment, allowing them to share their trauma experiences in a safe way with a carer who is able to show acceptance of both the child’s inner world, and external reality.

Usually in the child’s family home, a safe place. If not, then an agreed venue/place will be organised, e.g. school, children’s centre.


One hour. If more time is necessary due to the nature of that session this would be discussed and agreed.

Child and primary carer.

  • 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 4 and 17 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

Wallpaper, art materials, coloured pens/pencils, magazines, various arts and craft materials and games.

The objective of life story work is to create a secure base for the looked-after child to explore their past, present and future. Life story work is an important way of helping a child to integrate their past into the present, in order to help them to move into the future.

The TLS worker will write up the child’s Life Story Book based on all of the information gathered, discussed and shared within the sessions and what has been recorded on the wallpaper in each session.

This will be reviewed by the carer and then presented to the child to keep. All of the wallpapers created throughout their journey will be theirs to keep. There will be an agreed celebration at the time we say our good-byes.

Our intention is to provide you with a safe environment, a place of agreed confidentiality, mutual trust and respect.
Karla Burley, MA
Founder, The Open Toy Box

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    Karla is a certified Therapeutic Life Story Work (TLSW) Practitioner.

    You can contact TOTB by post, by phone or send us a message and we will get back to you as soon as we can.