Systemic Life Story Work


Adoptive parents may feel that they do not have enough background information about their child’s life history to make sense of their behaviour. They may have some grievances about the adoption process or find it difficult to accept that the child still has an attachment to their birth family in spite of being abused. The idea of an abusive parental figure is hard to contemplate, not only for a child but also for adoptive parents. However, relationships with the birth family can still play a significant role in the child’s identity and sometimes children need age-appropriate information to help make sense of the reasons for their adoption.

Life Story work for an individual child will therefore, start with the Systemic Narrative work with the parents followed and/or combined with the child-focused work. My approach to Life Story work aims at helping children to make sense of their early life experiences as grounded in their current more secure and safe relationships with their adoptive parents to strengthen their bond and a sense of belonging to their adoptive family. For adoptive parents, making sense of the child’s early experiences and gaining an insight into how their child developed a negative sense of self, mistrust of adults and views of the world as unsafe, are crucially important in promoting a shared narrative which both parents and children can live with at each stage of development.

As a systemic therapist I can facilitate the therapeutic process alongside adoptive parents to enable them to be in a better position to pass this ‘story’ on to the child by telling it to them time and time again (in sessions and more importantly in their daily interactions) and by responding to on-going children’s questions about their past. This will ensure that the therapeutic process of making sense of their life history is child-led and can be built on strength rather than vulnerability.

I therefore work with the child in the presence of at least one parent. This is complemented by sessions with both parents, to help them develop their own understanding i.e. a ’narrative’ or ‘story’ about their child’s birth history.


Sometimes adoptive parents themselves experience secondary trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, which might be triggered by current struggles while looking after traumatized children. These are often linked to their own past experiences and can cause distress and an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair.

E.M.D.R (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an effective treatment that can be used to address re-traumatization in parents as well as to work conjointly with children and parents as a form of Life Story work, which addresses early years trauma and provides the child with a more coherent narrative.

The E.M.D.R treatment will start with the Family Narrative work (as above). It will include an initial assessment of the child and parents’ histories and of whether parents and children have enough emotional resources and stability to undertake this intensive work. Sometimes it is necessary to work with parents first to ensure that they are able to support their child and become witnesses to their pain in sessions and promote the healing process at home.

The effectiveness of E.M.D.R. therapy has been well supported by an increasing amount of evidence-based research into addressing traumatic memories, including early abuse and neglect, mental health issues such as depression, phobias and anxiety, as well as pain management, addictions and complex grief. It is based on bi-lateral stimulation of the brain and the activation of the right and left hemispheres that seems to have a positive effect in the processing of memories and traumatic experiences, which are stored in the body. E.M.D.R treatment will tap into the natural capacity of the brain to heal and find its own ways of integrating difficult past experiences into a more adaptive way of coping with difficulties. For more information see the official website

In both cases, through Family Narrative work and/or E.M.D.R treatment, a shared narrative about the past and the adoption process will strengthen all family attachments and a child’s sense of belonging to their family as a safe place to grow. This work will help develop a new emerging reality where the child’s and family’s life stories can be woven together to restore hope for a happy and successful future.