Case Study 6: Tom’s Story

He was 100% trained. “You’re ready!” the guy said…He finished his job and then had 20 hours sleep in a good mood. (9 year-old Tom)

Tom was referred for inclusion in a Therapeutic Story Writing group by the school pastoral manager because of his lack of confidence. Tom was a bright Year 5 boy who, although polite and helpful, presented as quiet and shy in the classroom. Tom’s class had a number of pupils with additional needs relating to social, emotional and mental health needs including some with verbally aggressive behaviour. Managing conflict and being “top dog” was a common theme for boys within the class and Tom was felt to be isolated from his peers, finding it difficult to form firm friendships.

Tom was included in a Therapeutic Story Writing Group with 5 other Year 5 pupils, four boys and a girl. The group was facilitated by two adults, including the school pastoral manager.

During the first session Tom presented in the group as in the classroom. He was polite and immediately able to engage in conversation with the adults. However, Tom was much quieter with the other pupils and whilst engaging in all the activities he appeared to lack confidence. For example, Tom wanted to take part in the final mime game acting out other pupils’ stories but could not think of an idea and was reluctant to ask for help. In the end he opted out of the activity.

Over the ten weeks Tom wrote a story about “Crinkles the assassin cat”. This was a fantastic tale of adventure and personal growth which captured the attention of the other pupils in the group. As the weeks progressed other pupils would regularly ask about Crinkles, or “Crinks” as he became known and showed a genuine interest in Tom’s story. This validation of his story was a positive experience for Tom who visibly grew in confidence in the group.

In his first adventure Crinkles was feeling sad. He was alone “with his rusty sword” and was “never forgiven” for not knowing about the “pirate dogs invading cat cove”. This sense of being on the edge reflected Tom’s current situation in the class group. However, things changed quickly and by weeks two and three Crinkles began to show that he could be trusted to save the day: “I’m going to get you out of there!” whispered Crinkles. As the character of Crinkles developed and grew in confidence so did Tom.

Crinkles became Crinks, he rescued characters caught by the robber rats, he recovered stolen money or “cat bongers”, built houses for his friends and travelled abroad. Crinks truly became the hero of his own story. He was no longer on the edge of the action but leading it and getting a positive response while doing so.

In week 8 Tom wrote a story called “Crinks the baby; part 8” in which he described where Crinks had come from: “In the year 1000 some woman, by the name of Jess Crinks the cat, was having a baby. He described how “ten years ago he was ten years old. He wanted to be an assassin. At school he had people trying to strangle him” but then, “twenty years later… He was an assassin!” Tom often referred to how long things had taken in his story; there was a sense of having had to wait a long time for his character’s dream of becoming an assassin to come true.

In the final week, the story of Crinks took a turn and Crinks the assassin became Crinks the wizard. This story told of how Crinks had needed to have a lot of persistence over time to reach his goals, training through the night. The story was very positive. Crinks got a hoverboard and had to test his powers at wizard training but finally he is told “you’re ready!” The final story of Crinks ends with the words “He finished his job and then he had 20 hours sleep in a good mood.”

Tom’s confidence blossomed throughout the group and he formed friendships with other boys within the group as well. After the first week Tom would take part in the acting out game at the end of the session and in week 8 even managed to laugh at himself when he tripped up during a mime. Staff in school reported that Tom was happier and more confident around school. He spent time with his new friends on the playground, and, like Crinkles, was no longer on the edge of the group. The other boys were also more able to manage their emotions and get along together. These changes were observed to last across the course of the academic year and beyond by the pastoral manager.

Case study presented by Dr Rachel Dann, Durham Educational Psychology Service

December  2016

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Therapeutic Story Writing book coverTherapeutic Storywriting – A Practical Guide to Developing Emotional Literacy.

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