Case Study 3: Liam’s story

‘At first when I came in the group I didn’t think I’d be interested but when I went for the first time I got really interested’. (9 yr-old Liam)

Nine year old Liam was on the SEN register for emotional and behavioural difficulties at the level of School Action. While an able boy capable of engaging with educational tasks, he had often been sent out of class and also excluded on a number of occasions because of ‘tantrums’ and aggressive behaviour.

The SENCO said he had a ‘ short fuse’ and described him as ‘a time bomb’. She reported that when he lost his temper he could kick out, throw furniture or refuse to move.  He saw himself as a victim and would never take responsibility for his actions. She also mentioned he had talked about wanting to kill himself and that he often scratched his right arm.

His classteacher described him as the most difficult pupil to handle in her class. The headteacher described him as ‘intimidating’ and said that he bullied other children.  Liam, however, in discussing the storywriting group described himself very differently, saying, ‘I thought the writing group was going to be hard and I’d be really shy like I usually am.’ 

A number of Liam’s stories explored the polarity between victim and bully identified by his teacher. His first story was about a selfish bunny called Barry who ‘didn’t even know he was greedy and selfish’. Barry had no friends.  The story ends with Barry trying to become friends with some other bunnies but they only see his presence as threatening and think ‘ he will be horrible’ to them:

He went up to the other bunnies while they were eating carrots.  He had a carrot with him.  He dropped it on the ground and said,

“Hello everyone! Mind if I eat with you?”

They all ran away.  While they ran, one of them said,

“We’d better get out of here or he will take our carrots and be horrible to us.”

Barry said,

“That’s it!  I’m going on holiday.”

In a later story the main character is able to escape his role as victim. Dino, a 50 year old dragon lives in a cave that is too small for it and is terrified that he will be killed by soldiers if he tries to find a bigger more comfortable cave.

Liam explained that 50 in dragon years meant the dragon would be the same age as himself. While we usually think of a dragon as an angry and scary creature, much like a bully, in this story the dragon clearly feels the victim:

Three days later he saw no soldiers anywhere.  So he flew out slowly. 

All of a sudden someone shouted, “Kill the dragon!” and a zillion arrows came from the left and a zillion from the right.  It was absolute chaos. 

Luckily Dino managed to fly away. (Liam added when reading out: the dragon didn’t know he could fly until he tried)  He found himself a beautiful cave and he lived happily ever after.

Liam initially distanced himself slightly from the rest of the group but from the second week onwards he chose to sit closer to the others. His surprise at enjoying the group was also reflected in his response to the question about the teacher’s story which he said he enjoyed but found it ‘a bit shocking- cos I don’t normally like stories in a special writing group.’ He also described the group as ‘really fun’.

Interest was mentioned both in recommending the group for children ‘who don’t get interested in much- this might interest them’ and also for himself when talking about his listening skills:  ‘Normally in class I’m not very good at listening but I actually take an interest now.’

Given the picture presented by the teachers, Liam focused remarkably well on the body relaxation at the beginning of sessions and said himself that “I’ve been really relaxing, really like good and it calmed me down. He also found the writing activity relaxing saying, ‘it was a way to get all your feelings out.  And it calms you down just doing a little bit of writing.’

One week during the feelings check-in, one of the other boys in the group said that he was upset because Liam had teased him in the playground. Liam responded by apologising to the boy concerned. When asked how he got on with the other members of the group at the end of the course of sessions he said,

‘Before we came to the writing group me & Nancy, Sean & Sarah weren’t really good friends and usually argued but now we’re the best of friends.’

Liam thought his stories had improved ‘really a lot’  by coming to the group and that it had particularly helped him write story beginnings, to write more and to improve his handwriting and punctuation. He said he felt  ‘a bit sad’ about the group finishing and that he was ‘going to miss all the story writing and the relaxation time cos you don’t get much of that in the class.’

His classteacher thought that he seemed ‘slightly better at taking responsibility for his actions’ since attending the group but that she hadn’t particularly noticed a change in his writing as he had not been reluctant to write before. She said that he never talked to her about the group but that he had ‘loved going’ and was very excited about his finished book.

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

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