Introduction to life story work

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A life story is a biographical account of a person’s life.  This includes stories of experiences and relationships that have shaped the person’s identity.  For example: stories and photographs from childhood (including family relationships, holidays and friends); and any significant event in the person’s life.  These are the kinds of things that make us who we are, and is often the kind of information that is difficult to access for people who use services and their carers.  This is particularly true for people who have communication difficulties, as they may never be able to tell their stories. 

A life story can be presented in a number of different ways and formats including scrap books, pc based formats, audio recordings or podcasts, memory boxes, posters, and video diaries.   This ‘toolkit’ aims to help people produce their own life story/recovery narrative, with ideas for workers and carers to support the process and engage people in life story work in the care setting.

Life story information provides a necessary alternative to the clinical profile provided in a person’s care plans or medical records. Many people who have used mental health services have negative perceptions of their past experiences. Producing narrative work is an opportunity for them to reframe some of these experiences and help them work towards recovery.  Life story work compliments the recovery and social inclusion philosophy and current interventions by focusing on the similarities rather than the differences between a person and the rest of society.

Life story work has been used and evaluated as an innovative intervention in other healthcare settings (see McKeown et al, 2006 for a review of life story work in health and social care settings) but there has been a notable gap in mental health services.

McKeown, J., Clarke, A. & Repper, J. (2006)  Life story work in health and social care:
systematic literature review.  Journal of Advanced Nursing, 55(2), 237-247

Helen Moya
University of Nottingham


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