My Personal Life History Book: A Guided Activity Workbook for Foster Children

My Personal Life History Book (PLHB) is a psychodynamically informed, highly structured, cognitively oriented therapy designed for children in foster care placements. It is based on the assumption that traumatic adversities (such as neglect, abuse, parental rejection, and ultimately, the loss of family relationships) preceding foster care placement lead foster children to behave in a way to re-experience the prior traumas, to evoke further rejections and abandonments, detectable as the measurable outcome of transfers among foster homes.

Using this book, the child’s distress is channeled into a personal record book of positive memories as well as traumatic ones. This enhances the sense of personal continuity and conscious access to mental rather than behavioral representations of past relationships. The manual (a separate book) is a how-to-do-it guide, with a rich textbook about prevention, with data, case reports, techniques and outcome studies facilitated by the use of the Personal Life History Book.

Download materials here.

  • My Personal Life History Book—A Guided Activity Workbook for Foster Children
  • The Personal Life History Book Method—A Manual for Preventive Psychotherapy with Foster Children

My Personal Life History Book: A Manual for Preventive Psychotherapy with Foster Children was developed for use with the PLHB and includes vital information from a therapeutic perspective for helping children get the full value of working with My Personal Life History guided activity books.

The use of this guided activity workbook for foster children in stressful situations has been studied to determine if there were measurable outcomes. Foster children creating guided narratives about their histories and current experiences had very significant reductions of unplanned transfers among foster homes (“bounces”). Research results at Columbia University indicated that for the most carefully matched pairs of PLHB treated versus control foster children, odds of bouncing were reduced eleven fold (Kliman, 1988, 1995). As a 30 session brief psychotherapy tool, the Personal Life history Book is designed to help children reduce their transfer rates to new homes.

For instance, it is important that the child has control over the PLHB, with the encouragement of a foster parent, social worker, teacher, therapist or other adult helpers. The book was developed to support self-directed expression of memories, feelings, dreams, and to elicit verbalization and representation of traumatic events, externalizing these into a form which powerfully supports therapeutic integration of experiences and recovery from trauma fixation. It is important to permit the child to work on self-selected sections of the book rather than require the child to focus on sections or make other performance demands. This protects the child from the premature expectation to deal with emotional material for which he or she may not yet be ready.

Adult helpers are guided by the PHLB Manual which details guidelines to support a high expectation of success. Birth parents, foster parents, caseworker, or extended family members can help.

Why is preventive therapy needed for foster children?

The “repetition compulsion” is a theory-derived concept which allows prediction of social outcomes. It predicts that because children carry within them behavioral memories of being rejected by their families of origin, measurable consequences occur in foster care. The children’s enactments of rejection/abandonment memories will involve behavior which prompts their foster families to reject the troubled children, thus recreating the earlier experience of parental rejection or loss. This produces further and increasingly traumatic discontinuities of care. An aspect of the repetition compulsion among foster children has been measured by tracking the number of transfers among foster homes.

An excerpt from a review of the PHLB and Manual written by Arthur Zelman, MD, is also useful for understanding the great need such a resource: “Many foster children have not only lost their parents and homes but have suffered abuse and neglect as well. These experiences lead to emotional withdrawal and a fragmented sense of self which makes these children difficult to reach. The use of a Personal Life History Book (PLHB) has been found to be effective in making contact with these children and shoring up their sense of self.”

No other resource of this kind has yet been manualized. As a manualized approach to helping foster children, this method has been studied and the results measured. Research has indicated that the majority of foster children, especially those who remain in foster care for longer than six months, are subjected to multiple placements (Knitzer & Allen, 1978), such children have a higher rate of psychological dysfunction than youngsters who are placed in stable, long term care (Zimmerman, 1981); and have increased criminal activity (Runyan, 1985). The phenomenon of transfers can be measurably reduced by Reflective Network Therapy and by use of this psychoanalytically informed workbook following the guidelines of the Personal Life History Book Manual.

Training in the use of these resources – seminars or presentations
For information about further training and guidance in the use of My Personal Life History Book in conjunction with the Manual for Preventive Psychotherapy with Foster Children, please contact us regarding full-day seminars, group consultation or individual consultation.