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Podcast Season 3: Episode 1 – Understanding the impact of grief and loss

How can understanding the impact of grief help practitioners who work with care-experienced children and young people?

We talk with Ciara McClelland, a practitioner and a trainer with Trauma Informed Consultancy Services, who shares her personal insights and her expertise on how we can support children and young people affected by grief and loss.

Transcript

Please note that this transcript is auto-generated and therefore will contain some errors and natural pauses in conversation.

DAWN: [00:00:00] Welcome to the creative life story work podcast, where we explore how to make life story work better for all care experienced children and young people. Creative Life Story Work is a new approach which can improve children and young people’s lives and their relationships with others at home and at school.

It’s based on the Rose Model of Therapeutic Life Story Work. Each month, we’ll explore a different aspect of Creative Life Story Work and we’ll give insights into how you can use this approach to help care experienced children and young people make sense of their past and build a brighter future. My name is Dawn Williams and I am an associate at Blue Cabin, one of the partners on this exciting work in the region.

In today’s podcast, [00:01:00] we will explore the impact of grief and loss on children and young people and their relationships with themselves and others. I’m absolutely delighted to welcome into the studio Kira McClelland. Kira has over 12 years. practice experience specializes in working with children, young people, parents, families, and caregivers impacted by adverse childhood experiences.

In addition, Kira works on relationship repair within traumatized systems, organizations, and communities. Her approach is innovative, creative, therapeutic, and psychodynamic, dyadic, and somatic therapies. A very warm welcome into the studio today, Kira, to you.

CIARA: Oh, thank you, Dawn. Thank you so much. It is lovely to be here.

DAWN: What would you say the importance is of telling your story?

CIARA: I guess the best way to [00:02:00] start answering that really is, is I’ve personally found power and healing power in sharing my own story. So I, I personally grew up in a family where, where we always told stories. So an Irish family personally found

You know, growing up in a way to process my own kind of life experience and my own traumas. I, I studied and trained in theatre and performance. And then I studied and trained in dramatherapy, and I’m now a dramatherapist, about twelve years a dramatherapist. So, so for me personally, and I actually grew up in the stage, so I would have, since I was young, I would always kind of be acting or performing, and so I always found some sort of, I [00:03:00] suppose, I suppose some healing in drama and in storytelling and a way of kind of escapism.

So yeah, actually when I was training in drama therapy, I, I put on like an autobiographical performance that kind of supported me to share my story of growing up in Northern Ireland and the Troubles and how I was directly impacted by the Troubles and, and all of that. So. So for me, story, actually, and theatre and drama was a great way of being able to express myself and my story, but at At a distance, like through different characters and that kind of thing.

So, so for me, I’ve found, yeah, great power in, in sharing my story and owning my story and actually trying to understand it and frame it and reframe it because, you know, my mom might have a different experience of my story. My dad might have a different experience of my brother and the community might, you know, you know, have a.

An experience, or the news [00:04:00] might tell me of my experience of my story, but actually being able to take control and actually, I suppose, explore that through story and be able to tell it is, is really healing. Storytelling always reminds me of that Brenna Brown quote around the bravest thing we can do is, is, is own our own story.

So, and I find a lot with working with care experienced children that You know, they, they don’t quite, similar to myself, I suppose, when I was younger, don’t quite… understand their story. There seems to be a lot of enmeshment around whose story is it, where do I start, where do I end. So a lot of my kind of work with, with children in care and young people in care has been around supporting them to really Like, take ownership, you know, and to really explore and frame and reframe their story and tell it from their point of view.

DAWN: I love that you talk about drama and growing up on the stage. And I’m thinking of some of our associate [00:05:00] artists who are theatre makers and clown doctors. And they talk a lot about using theatre as a As a method of working for playing and for telling stories and for trying things out and for sharing and stuff as well.

So it just resonates a lot with some of the conversations I’ve had with our artists. I know you’re going to be doing a live classroom for us in November. And two of the phrases that you used where I immediately thought before I knew that you’d You, you had a drama background. You used two phrases, holding space and holding in mind, and I just wondered if they have roots in, in the theatre, or did you mean something different by those phrases?

They leapt out at me when I read them and I wanted to dig into what, what you meant by them.

CIARA: So yeah, just, just, just to speak to your point by the associate artists, there, there is great power in theatre and, and. You know, being able to play different [00:06:00] parts and, and that kind of thing. And actually, there’s a lot of evidence and research that talks to the point of, of it being a great vehicle to heal and transform from trauma and emotional kind of upset.

And, and actually, I’m sure you know of Bessel van der Kolte in his body keeps the score. There’s a whole chapter in theater and the healing power of theater. So it’s very, very interesting. But holding space and holding a mind, I’ve never actually considered if they’re linked to theatre. Well, maybe we can explore that now.

Yes! Let’s do it! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s interesting, what I, what I mean by holding space is, is probably from my therapy talk, in a, in a way. So, as therapists, we’re trained to… to hold space for people and hold people in mind. So holding space for me is something about non judgmental listening, really listening, supporting, [00:07:00] you know, supporting someone to be really heard and seen and understood without giving without giving your opinion necessarily.

I’m creating a safe space where someone can feel free to talk about how they’re feeling or explore and I suppose holding a mind as well is For me, it’s something around, for example, talking about perhaps in the therapy space might be helpful, but if a client perhaps is late or doesn’t show up, then I would, you know, make sure that I’m holding them in mind or holding space in the room.

So sitting, thinking about them. Maybe why they haven’t showed up and maybe why they’re coming in late. The holding of mine thing reminds me of, I don’t know, with children, if you’ve ever had this, where a child might give you a stone as a way of saying, remember me. Or an object or something like that, and I, for me, that [00:08:00] represents holding a mind and I’ll always give voice to that, I’ll always say something like, you know, I’ll remember you, I’ll keep you in mind.

So I suppose from a therapeutic point of view, that’s how I understand it. And in my personal life and professional relationships as well, you know, those things, I suppose. What’s the word? Move over? You know, the stuff in the therapy room also moves over. It’s kind of, you know, personal professional relationships.

But in terms of theatre, how it, I mean, holding space in theatre, I suppose you could be holding the audience, right? Yeah,

DAWN: I think I was, I was thinking, when I read it, I thought, oh, that’s what we’ve heard in some, um, Some of our creative life story sessions about allowing the space for the child to tell their story, whether they’re working with a theatre maker or a graphic designer, being the author, being the theatre maker, being the printmaker of their stories [00:09:00] and being given the space, whether that’s virtual or face to face as well, it was just one of the big themes that comes out of the conversations with The children and, and the adults in the room as well about allowing that space for the story to breathe as well.

So that’s why that, that’s why, yeah, that phrase leapt out.

CIARA: Yeah, I love that. Yeah. Yeah. And that makes sense. I suppose, you know, in the, in the, the therapy space that’s part of it and offering that safe container where, you know, the child or the, you know, children and young people can feel safe to really let go and.

You know, paint that blank canvas as however they want to paint it without judgement, so yeah, this is, yeah, definitely links up.

DAWN: And, and also just to, to take the theatre metaphor as well, I know one of the, one of the objects that get created in the Creative Life story sessions is the set. Just, they create their own set and it’s like, what goes on the [00:10:00] stage and what’s kept backstage?

What will I share? Who will I invite? Who will I invite to be the audience? Who will sit in the chairs? What will be the scenery that goes in as well? It was just a great metaphor and when I saw your words, I just thought, oh, that’s what they’re saying in there.

CIARA: Yeah, yeah, I love that. And I love that they have the, they’re their own directors in a way, you know, their own creators, they, and they, they get to, boundaries in place in terms of telling the story because, you know, there is a risk I found with sharing stories about it being really traumatizing and stuff and the fact they can control what is shown or what stays behind the stage and who’s invited, who’s allowed to hear their story, you know, not everyone deserves to hear our story.

It’s important around, actually there’s something about maybe audience members holding space for our Sharing of our stories, you know, it’s important that whoever we [00:11:00] share them with can hold space for us because It’s a vulnerable thing to be able to share your story

DAWN: Let’s go to a short break now so you can hear about Blue Cabin’s Creative Life Storywork membership offer.

We want people to gain more of an understanding about what it’s like to be care experienced and to have a better understanding of what it actually means. Could Creative Life Storywork make a difference to the care experienced children and young people you work with? Maybe you’re a social worker.

I think

we forget at our

peril that actually telling a child the story of their early life is one of the most profound uses

of social work power that we could

ever operate.

Perhaps you’re a foster carer.

You know, when they say it’s all about the child, it’s not, because our experience is, it’s about the carer and the child and it just gives a new angle to our relationship because we’re [00:12:00] learning about each other together. A Creative Life Story work membership will give you, or your whole team, access to resources.

including activities you can use in direct work with children and young people, training with life story work experts, and lots more. And I think a lot of our children are looking for meaning, looking for, you know, well why is it I feel this way when my, you know, my friends don’t? Why is it I get angry internally and my friends don’t?

The greatest thing we see is when we are able to say to young people, this is your story, this is about who you are, and then children towards the end say, it’s not my fault that these things happened. But it is something that I can do something about. And once we have that, then we know we can move forward.

Find out about our membership for individuals and for organisations on our website, creativelifestorywork. com

DAWN:

Kira, marvellously for Blue Cabin, you’re going to be delivering one of our live classrooms in November. And I [00:13:00] wondered if you’d like to say a bit about what might… happen in that live classroom and maybe some practical ideas that foster carers or social workers could take away with them to support their practice.

CIARA: Yeah,

sure. I’m looking forward to it. Looking forward to it. So are we. So, yeah. So, um, it’s exciting. So it’s, um, It’s really a live classroom to bring together professionals, whether you be a foster carer, social worker, anyone who’s working with children or young people who have experienced grief. And let’s be honest, we’ve all experienced some sort of.

grief. And it’s really to bring together the knowledge and expertise and experience of, of, of those professionals really. So it’s, it’s more about that than me kind of, you know, teaching live classroom indicates teaching in some ways. So I see it as a, as a workshop around bringing together different people’s experiences and understanding of.[00:14:00]

And part of that will be supporting people to really think about how grief can affect us and how it might affect children and young people and how it might affect their relationship with themselves and the relationship with others. to give some practical and creative ideas around, you know, holding space for young people and thinking around kind of self care for children, young people and for themselves as as professionals and really, you know, an opportunity for people to Learn with and from each other, you know, I’m, I’m excited about giving space for people to be creative on the, on the, the, the classroom.

So there’ll be space to, I’ve, I’ve talked, asked people to bring along colored pens and pencils and a leaf from the garden and, and, and some stones and a jar, because it’d be nice to do some creative activities. And I’ll also share some, well, a lot of resources and links and, and creative ideas [00:15:00] as well that they.

you know, can take away with them. But really it’s about trying to be creative in the moment and, and, and share our experience of that as, as, and when it happens. How

does an understanding of the impact of grief and loss help practitioners who are maybe just starting those first conversations with life story work?

There’s something

about really supporting people to, to really sit with their own stuff first, in some ways. So, for me, I love this quote, and I don’t know who it’s by, but I think it’s an unknown author, but we can only really be trauma informed when we’re, when we understand our own traumas. So there’s something about, you know, obviously in the workshop, we won’t go too deep into people’s own personal grief and experiences, but there will be some time and space for people to reflect on a time where they’ve [00:16:00] experienced grief.

And part of that is then creating some empathy. There’s huge significance for grief and loss for children or young people in care or who are care experienced. I found that a lot of my kind of direct. worker experience with, with children and young people is there seems to be a lot of kind of, it seems, the feelings seem to be quite suppressed and it seems to be a topic that isn’t always talked about so easily because it’s a difficult topic to talk about.

But in terms of significance, you know, the, the, You only have to think of the initial kind of relationship between mom and child. You know, you have a baby who’s in, in the mother’s womb and is, is Attached to their mum, and then when they’re born, they’re dependent on their mum and their caregivers, and for a child to then lose that, there’s great grief [00:17:00] with that, you know, or to lose what they thought they might have, what they hoped for.

So there’s, there’s a lot of, I suppose, grief around not experiencing, maybe not experiencing the relationship with their mum or their caregiver that they You know, that they felt that they needed. Some stuff around abandonment, loss, so all of those kind of early kind of losses will, will, will definitely have an impact on, on someone and how they feel about themselves.

So Winnicott talks about our internal working model and usually our early years experiences there. imprinted on how we experience ourselves in relation to ourselves and our others. So for, for a child or young person to lose their caregivers or their caregiver, it’s very likely that they will then internalize something like, I’m [00:18:00] not good enough.

I’m not worthy to be loved. I’ve been abandoned. You know, it’s, it’s very common for children and young people to internalize that.

And interestingly, I went to a talk to listen to Gabor Mate, who is, I’m sure people will know Gabor Mate, but he’s, he’s in his eighties now, but he is a expert in trauma and addiction and child development. And, and he actually, at the age of one was abandoned by his, his mother. And. To this day, he still is triggered by that experience and he is a well known therapist with decades of experience and decades of healing work that he’s also gone through, but he, he told a story interestingly about being triggered by not being seen and understood.

So I don’t know if it’s helpful to give a quick story about that.

DAWN: We always like a [00:19:00] story on the podcast.

CIARA: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, so, so he, he, unfortunately he was abandoned by his mum when he was, he was one, he, he grew up in, in the time of, he was a holocaust survivor, and he’s, he’s, he’s written many, many books, and he’s very experienced, you only have to google him, but he, Despite all his healing work, despite all his expertise, he, he actually was interviewing Prince Harry, and Prince Harry was talking about, you know, the, the importance of being seen and heard and understood, and his grief about his mum, Diana, and the fact that he felt he didn’t feel seen or understood by his father.

And, and Gabor Maté was kind of supporting him to help him feel seen and understood and say it’s okay, you know, it’s okay to want to feel nurtured and to feel supported and that kind of thing. And actually the British, according to Gabor Maté, the British public, the Spectator, I [00:20:00] think, wrote an article on it saying something like, oh, Gabor Maté was comparing Prince Harry to animals or something because he told a story around it.

you know, even mice or rats when they’re born, you know, they, they need affection, they need love, and, um, that’s how their brains develop, how their confidence develops, all the rest, and the spectator supposedly took it, you know, turned it around, and actually it triggered Gabor Mate, where he then felt terrible depression, low mood, anxiety, he locked himself away, his wife was saying he was very difficult to deal with at that period of time, and, and he, he was wondering what What the hell had happened, what had been triggered.

So he tells the story of calling his, his best friend, Bessel Vander called who again, is a, is an expert in trauma. And Bessel Vander Kott was saying, well, what, what is it? What part of you? Who’s been triggered what age? And, and, and, and he said, You know, it’s, it’s, it’s the part that wasn’t [00:21:00] seen, wasn’t understood.

That younger part, that one year old that was abandoned by his mum. So he’d, he’d internalised that, you know, sense of abandonment, as not being seen, not being understood, and not being held in mind. And, and he was… You know, he was triggered so much by the British, the British paper’s response to it, that at the age of 79 or 80, that he was still triggered by that.

And very quickly, he also told another story, which I think will help put context in it. He talked about being in the room with his therapist in his 70s. And he… Experienced himself as a one year old and he experienced him, his therapist as his mother, and he started to get upset and cry and say to the therapist slash his mother, who, who he was seeing her as that, you know, it’s my fault.

I’m, I’m so sorry you know that I was such a hard child. And actually at this, at that age, he was still. That’s how he [00:22:00] viewed himself. So the reason I suppose I’m sharing this story is to show the sense of abandonment that a lot of children in care and care experience do experience is. unfortunately so deep rooted that they will be triggered and re triggered.

And I suppose the work is around holding space and allowing them to feel safe enough to express. And there’s something about showing up as… As professionals and as foster carers and caregivers around showing up each day, you know, and, and, and showing them that you are going to be there for them because there will always be a sense of that the next person will leave.

DAWN: I had one final question, which you’ve kind of started to talk about. And it was really about how an understanding of the impact, which you’ve just. Described in those two stories, how an [00:23:00] understanding of the impact of grief and loss can help practitioners who are undertaking life story work with children and young people?

CIARA: Yeah, I think there’s something about, you know, go easy, go slowly, you know, it takes time for someone to trust and to open up to be able to share how they’re feeling. And. You know, you’re not really in, in my opinion, going to get life story work done in a couple of sessions. You know, it’s about building that relationship, creating a safe, trusting, secure relationship where they feel like they’re genuinely.

able to be seen and heard and understood and, and I suppose that’s, that’s when you can start to support children and young people to really explore their life story because it can be triggering and it’s around, I suppose it’s around also being Curious around what might be triggering and, [00:24:00] you know, making sure that as a practitioner that you’re not doing this work on your own, that you’re always checking out with a supervisor or someone else around, thinking about what might be going on as well in working with students.

Some of the life story because, you know, as a practitioner, professional as well, there are going to be, you know, wounds in yourself that might be re triggered. And it’s important about really being careful, slow and gentle and loving in your approach,

DAWN: really slow and loving in your approach. And on that.

Lovely note, Kira. I’d like to say thank you for being here this afternoon for sharing your stories and insights It’s been an absolute delight to speak to you.

CIARA: You’re very welcome. Thank you so much.

DAWN: Whether you’re a foster carer Someone who has experience with the care system or you work with children and young people.

We hope this episode has given you an insight into [00:25:00] how we can make Life Story work better for young people and how you can use it in your own practice. You can find out more about Creative Life Storywork on our website, creativelifestorywork. com. And you can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter, or X as it’s now called, at Creative LSW.

Please do get in touch with any comments or questions as we’d love to hear from you. If your podcast app allows you to do so, please take a moment to rate or review our show. It really helps others to find the podcast. So until next month. Bye for now.

Produced and mixed by Will Sadler of Anya Media. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts by clicking one of the following links:

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