TSI is a life skills and life education process which was developed by Ron Phillips, M.F.T. Ron lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand where he runs Therapeutic Storytelling Intervention Ltd. Ron has an M.A. in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and has been a teacher, lecturer and therapist for almost 40 years working with people in a range of settings, including psychiatric environments.
Ron, together with his wife, Mary, founded and directed Creative Alternatives, a highly successful group home in Northern California. Creative Alternatives provides an alternative to institutional care for emotionally distressed young people. It was during his time at Creative Alternatives that Ron first began telling stories and compiled the material that was to become “Gem of the First Water” and TSI.
The stories evolved in response to Ron finding these troubled teens difficult to reach using more traditional forms of therapy. Ron found the stories touched and opened young people in surprising and amazing ways. Not only were transformations apparent but the children wanted to come back time and again to listen to the next “installment” of the story. Although telling the stories engaged them initially, the use of the questioning process that developed alongside the stories, invited them to make a connection with the main character. This really stimulated and provoked reflection and change. It was this relationship between the storytelling, the questioning process and the interaction between the storyteller and the group that became the initial development of TSI.
Storytelling is an ancient art. The storyteller’s stories passed down knowledge of culture, history and language from one generation to another. Today the oral tradition assumes less importance but is proving to be the breakthrough in TSI. The telling of stories to teenagers, with guided questioning, is touching them in ways traditional life skills education and therapeutic methods are not.
TSI relates to the book, “Gem of the First Water”. The stories in “Gem” describe the adventures of a peer / hero in a mythical land. The boy’s encounters mirror the struggles of adolescence and provide a blueprint for change. The book has an accompanying “Journey Guide” with descriptions and questions for use at the end of each chapter; these questions foster and develop the connection between the listener and the story.
As “Gem of the First Water” was developing out of stories Ron was telling during the group therapy sessions at Creative Alternatives, Dan Brewer, an intern at the clinic, recorded them and, showing the influence of CS Lewis and JR Tolkein, began the journey of an adolescent boy through the “Land of Confusion” on his way to the “Triple Peaks’ of adulthood”.
“Gem of the First Water” makes overt the transition from childhood, through adolescence to adulthood. The stories use the imagery of fairytales to illustrate how the boy can, through the choices and decisions he makes, affect the outcomes of his travels through this metaphoric land.
“Gem of the First Water” can be enjoyed as a storybook, listened to as a story read, or experienced as a story told. It can be used with individuals or with groups, young or old. It addresses the sorts of issues each of us face and the choices we make during our lives. It relates most particularly to adolescence but is effective for children from 8 years to 80. For adults, parents, teachers, storytellers and children alike it provides a common language, a shared journeying and a non-threatening learning environment.
The unnamed boy in the story acts as a peer role model for the listeners, asking the same questions and sharing the same types of thinking and behaviour that many teenagers express. Through his adventures he discovers and offers a pattern or blueprint for them to emulate.
The reader / listener systematically goes through the three phases inherent in TSI: identification, internalisation and application, – resulting in the reader / listener taking effective control of his / her life.
The ideal time to teach TSI is in the early to mid adolescence period. This is the youngster’s age of questioning, of new experiences, and it is the time appointed for facing the big questions of life –”Who am I?”, and “Who will I become?” The story helps children discover the answers to these questions for themselves.
Because Ron works as a therapist his use of this process has been primarily with troubled and disturbed children. However, as the stories within the book describe the adventures of a “neighbourhood kid” it has application on a much broader front.
With TSI making overt the journey we travel to adulthood, and illustrating that through this particular time of change we can make choices about our lives and that the choices we make do affect the outcomes of our lives, it is a journey of empowerment and choice.
In New Zealand TSI has proven to be effective in many and varied environments. Users include parents, schoolteachers, police education officers, counsellors, social workers, psychologists, youth group leaders and mental health workers. It is used in situations where individuals exhibit consistent patterns of poor behaviour resulting in them causing significant disturbances in classrooms, in the community, or in families. It even has application in the corporate sector.
For those who require more extensive therapeutic experience, the material can be presented either on a one-to-one, or small group basis, by presenters with formal training (the presenter will have to have obtained training from an Approved T.S.I. Trainer).
In 1999 Campbell Lodge, South Auckland Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Outpatient Unit at Middlemore Hospital in New Zealand, began conducting clinical trials into the effectiveness of TSI amongst the client population at Campbell Lodge. The client population at Campbell Lodge is severely emotionally disturbed young people with severe behavioural problems and at risk of self-harm. The trials showed completion outcomes almost twice as favourable as other known international adolescent programmes.
TSI has been in available now for 10 years and it has been found to be useful in many varied environments. Therapeutic Storytelling Intervention International Ltd. is the parent company for TSI and the controlling body for production and ratification of training. TSI International offers a range of products and training that accompany the growth of TSI all of which are available on inquiry.