TLSW is a therapeutic process, based on traditional Life Story work

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.  This therapeutic process will:

  • help a young person make sense of their past
  • understand how it effects and impacts them at present
  • helps them to make positive change for the future
  • helps them to build relationships

This approach has three main stages, The Information Bank, The Internalisation, and the Life Story Book.

The Information Bank – This stage involves the careful and in depth gathering of historical information both pre and post birth for the child which provides a greater insight into the child’s early life experiences. This information opens up details of the child’s trauma and provides an insight into how the child perceives themselves and the world around them.

The Internalisation – This is the stage that covers the therapeutic sessions with the child. Through this therapeutic process and the relationship with their carer, the child can develop further insight into their responses to. 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 is composed towards the end of the child’s therapeutic journey and comprises of the information and work completed by the child over the course of their sessions. The child helps design the book eg fonts, pictures etc which helps them to take ownership over it and aids their understanding of the journey that they have completed.

How does Therapeutic Life Story work?

When children have been removed from their birth family, their life history can be very fragmented and the child will often have a sense of loss and not belonging.  This makes a child very vulnerable for their future. TLSW gives these children a voice and an opportunity to explore their past, and their feelings about it, and see how these are relevant to their feelings today.  It helps them to have their questions about their past answered, and so with a greater understanding of their past, they tend to be calmer and more focused in their behaviour.

The Approach

Applying the approach developed by Richard Rose, Karla holds the Diploma in Therapeutic Life Story Work (TLSW) that has deepened her practice experience, knowledge and skills in this area from working with and supporting children, young people and adults throughout this process.

Therapeutic life story work can not only help children and young people but also adults, helping the individual to make sense of their past, acting as a channel to support the well being of the psychosocial self. Compared to the traditional approach to life story work, Therapeutic Life Story Work adopts a strength-based approach underpinned by psychodynamic principles, helping the child/young person process their past, work through their trauma in a safe and contained space. The process helps to make sense of their world and adopt a healthier perspective instead of them moving into patterns of destructive repetitions and re-victimization. This approach enables the strengthening of the attachment based relationship with the primary carer, recognising the importance of trust, resilience and reliance.

 How is TLSW delivered?

In TLSW practice, Karla adopts an integrative model underpinned through creative arts and implementing a play therapy model alongside that of Richard Rose’s TLSW Model thereby supporting and enabling to deepen and develop a safer attachment relationship between the child and their primary carer.  Working within a triad relationship, this approach helps the child, young person or adult to understand the why’s, what’s, how’s when’s, where’s, and of their life history from perspectives of those whom have been involved in their life pre to post birth. This process can help the child to understand how the past has molded their past but helps to enable and shape a more positive future.

Karla can offer tailored Therapeutic Life Story Work sessions to meet the needs of the child such as preparing them for their journey, transitional work between short term care to long term care/adoption, helping them to make sense of particular life events that have taken place and to help enhance their understanding of why decisions have been made.

Life Story Book

At the end of the work the child or young person will receive their Life Story Book which provides them with a narrative of their life. It begins in the present day, and then moves back in time to introduce their birth parents, siblings and family history. The story includes foster placements, achievements in the child’s life and special events. The reasons why the child was removed from their parents care are shared in an honest, age appropriate way. The book concludes by bringing the story back to the present and looks forward to a hopeful future.

Outcomes Experienced:

  • Children have the space to share what pre-occupies their thoughts, presenting questions which enables them to feel much calmer and focused with their thoughts, behaviour and emotions
  • The child gains a more in-depth understanding and acceptance of their life history, past experiences and a more positive and healthy self-identity
  • It enhances the child and primary Carer understanding of one another’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours and therefore strengthening their attachments
  • Deeper understanding and stronger attachments often leads to a decrease in the probability of a placement breakdown
  • The child receives their Life Story Book at the end of the intervention
  • The referrer will be provided with an Ending Report
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


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.

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