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Understanding her life better

Ask most 15-year-olds to talk about their life and chances are the conversation will freely flit from topics that range from family and friends to how they socialise and the daily slog of school. It’s unlikely to touch on issues like sexual abuse, drug use and regularly running away from home.

Yet that was Laura’s* story. When the Geelong teen came into MacKillop’s care, her life was in turmoil. Sexually and physically abused at home, sexually exploited in the community, Laura was also regularly using drugs and alcohol. She refused to go to school and saw little hope or optimism in her future.

But in November 2019, Laura began a journey that would change her life.

MacKillop therapeutic specialist, Meisha Taumoefolau recommended Laura undertake Therapeutic Life Story Work (TLSW) to help understand and process the trauma, loss, and grief she had experienced because of abuse and neglect. Studies show that for young people like Laura, their story is often fragmented, discontinuous and characterised by confusion, misconception, blame and shame.

Key to TLSW is the relational bond between a young person and their caregiver - in this case, Laura’s mother. Over several months, Meisha worked with Laura and her mother, supporting them to reconnect and work through their traumas together. Through sharing significant life events each came to better understand how past trauma and loss experiences had influenced their present thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Through TLSW, Laura began to see a future for herself, revealing she had dreams of becoming a makeup artist or hairdresser. To support this, Meisha organised for a makeup artist to join one session to talk Laura through what was required in pursuing this career.

Laura completed TLSW in June 2020, at which time she safely returned to her mother’s care.

On completing TLSW, Laura had:

  • Reduced her drug and alcohol use and was engaged with AOD services, actively seeking support for her addiction
  • Engaged with distance education to work towards completing her Year 10 certificate
  • Moved back with her family and had resolved the conflicts between them
  • Made good friendship choices and peer connections
  • A sense of hope for the future

Now aged 18, in February 2022 Laura contacted Meisha via Facebook with the following message:

Hey, I just wanted to say thank you heaps for everything that you and the other workers did for me at MacKillop. I found my letters that you wrote to me today and I had never read them until now, it was so sweet. I understand that you were all trying to help me and I’m with mum and I’ve been clean off everything for almost 5 months. I’m feeling better than ever – thanks for the help you gave me. I understand my life better now and I appreciate it a lot.

– Laura

Laura again contacted Meisha in September to let her she was living independently in the community, was undertaking further study, and was completely substance free.

*Names changed and model image used for privacy reasons