Ron’s Blog 2019


Like all my previous years 2019 has been interesting and very busy.

On the 30th of August Mary and I will have been married for fifty years.

My youngest grandson was born in July and my oldest Granddaughter graduated from High School and is now onto University. Time, oh good, good time where have you gone?

My daily endeavours’ finds me primarily running groups in Alternative education classrooms. The AE students so remind me of how full circle my work life has been. I spent my early working days with alternative education kids developing the journey to now again running alternative education groups in schools scattered across South Auckland.

Early in this year we filmed some of the back story at Creative Alternatives in California. It was a great privilege to go back to Creative Alternatives after 28 years. I hope the Documentary reflects how proud I am of the wonderful culture and environment of Creative Alternatives.

The Documentary is in the editing stage and a trailer should be ready soon.

Yet another event of 2019 is the final report of the research project conducted in 2018. I received the report in July.

I have included the research abstract and my response in this Blog; the entire report is in the research section of the website.

Naturally I’m disappointed in the outcome however I accept the results for what they are and have actually learned two lessons which have formulated into two important program outcomes.


A school based cluster-randomised controlled trial of Therapeutic Storytelling Intervention (TSI) to promote youth mental health and wellbeing.

Context: The prevalence of mental health concerns among young people is increasing and efforts are warranted early in adolescence to prevent future mental health and behavioural concerns.

Objective: To determine if TSI delivered a classroom intervention reduces overall levels of psychopathology in young adolescents.

Design, Setting, Participants: We conducted a cluster randomized controlled trial in 378 students aged 10 to 13 years in an intermediate school in South Auckland.

Interventions: 12 sessions of therapeutic story intervention delivered over 12 weeks.

Main Outcome Measure: The primary outcome was child self-report SDQ Total Difficulties Score

Results: A total of 482 students from 16 classes were eligible and invited to participate. A total of 378 students and their parents agreed to participate and their classes randomised. Baseline data was collected from 210 students from 8 intervention classes and 168 students from 8 control classes. There were no differences at follow-up between the intervention classes and control classes in primary outcome or secondary outcomes.

Conclusion: There was no evidence of effectiveness of therapeutic story intervention in preventing psychopathology among 10 to 13 years at 6 month follow-up.

Data Access and Responsibility: The principal investigator, Simon Denny, had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Potential conflicts of interest: None

Financial support: Funding for this study was provided by the Kidz First Research Committee. The Kidz First

Research Committee had no role in design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Trial registration: Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12618000282280)

My response

Hi Simon,

Thank you for your report and requesting my response.

Frist of all, you, Sue and the Pukekohe Administration and teachers are to be congratulated on conducting an awesome and professional project. Every aspect of the research project ran smoothly from program delivery to data collection.

Pukekohe Intermediate School offered a wonderful environment for the research. It was a privilege to work in a school of such excellence. I also must add how much I appreciated being involved in such an authentic and elite project. It is one of my working career highlights, thanks Simon.

Naturally I am disappointed with the findings. However I do accept them as accurate for this design.

Simon I have learned two vital lessons from participating in the project. It has helped me establish the proper starting point for the Gem Journey in a young person’s developmental process and identify the environment(s) were I think the Gem Journey will flourish.

My first major take away for the research is the students were too young by two to three years for getting the most from a school based programme. Early on in the delivery I realised that some of the younger students, the year 7s, were struggling to ‘get it’. I believe the younger students in the project were not ready to fully comprehend the lessons because their developing brains were not at the maturation point to process the lateral thinking that metaphor requires. Many users of my programme are families working at home where there is more time and room for questions and clarification and this would suit these younger listeners better.

My second insight is that for some students the curriculum requires extension to develop the concepts to levels of consolidation and personal application, and in our project I do not think the teachers had the time to do this, because of their pressure to make up time they lost to the Gem

Journey project. They simply had no time to extend the Gem lessons properly. I usually recommend a follow up session with a teacher, who is well versed in the programme using the Student Workbooks to reinforce the key messages, this would have been ideal.

Simon your closing statement, my overall clinical impressions, plus the findings from my customary,

‘Ode to Research’ survey, all seem to suggest that there was excellent engagement with the Gem

Journey delivery.

“It is also important to note that these results need to be placed in the context of feedback from students and teachers which highly valued being a part of the program and reported significant personal gains from the experience.” Denny MD

I’ve learnt from your research findings that the Gem journey does not thrive with presentation only, and I agree it didn’t. Your findings were of immense importance to me for they gave me insight that aided in the creation of a curriculum ‘mission statement’. I’ve learned from your findings that the lessons of the Gem journey must be extended beyond the delivery. My presentation alone was not sufficient to achieve the degree of impact I want from the material.

Your study convinces me the necessity of really teaching the material to the level of learning consolidation by extending the lessons (beyond the initial presentation) with the expectation of achieving application of the learning outcomes. I have also determined the gem journey curriculum must be sanctioned, and recognised as a true curriculum we want our children to learn. In my opinion there is no academic curriculum more important than the models and rules that the Gem Journey teaches. If the curriculum is imposed on top of mountains of core Ministry of Education expectations it will not thrive in such environments’.

The Journey must be considered and taught with enthusiasm and outcome expectation. The teaching of new concepts is like the sowing of the seeds. To expect the harvest of consolidation and application, the seeds must be properly planted and then watered to allow the concepts to ‘germinate’. I think the lessons were properly taught (the seed were sown effectively) however they were not ‘watered’ and ‘allowed to germinate’ which I believe accounts for much of the Research project’s ‘Null findings.’

Here’s what I learned and applied from your study.

The Gem journey in schools is for children 12 years and older.

The Gem journey Curriculum is for environments where the facilitators’ (parents’ teachers, adults) embrace the theory and are genuinely enthused to teach the curriculum to the level of consolidation and application.

In Conclusion

I am not daunted in the least, even though I know some will take the research outcomes and discount the curriculum. A sad inevitability; however without a hint of doubt I believe the discerning will look deeper. And what they will discover is a curriculum without peer that is a new proactive and preventative mental health intervention.

The curriculum is what it is… a completely articulated framework that teaches the ‘Eight Elements of

Self’ Theory. The lessons teach in the form of five models and three rules how to achieve control of each of the Elements of their life. And when the curriculum is properly taught the achievement of Identify is a real learning outcome.

Your research has been invaluable. It has taught me great lessons in addition to being such a great life experience.

Thank you Simon for all your effort you did a great job.

Ron Phillips

Simon responded: “I thought your reply was spot on and very much in line with my thoughts”

I am pleased that Simon Denny agrees with my reply which gives me confidence to offer a few more observations.

In my opinion there is interesting anecdotal evidence that suggests the students in the research project received much more than the ‘null’ results indicated.

Simon Denny MD’s closing research feedback states that the students and teachers highly valued the experience and reported significant personal gain. My clinical impressions certainly support his statements, as does the ‘Ode to Research’ survey that I conducted at the end of the last session.

I have been running therapeutic groups since 1985 (Best guess is I’ve run around 20,000 gem journey sessions) the experience gives me a fair indication of whether any given group was a success or not, and I have run a few that were not so hot. It is my clinical impression that the Pukekohe groups were well delivered and well received. Below are some impression based on what I saw, my empirical observation.

• Great engagement-often achieving high levels of transference

• Enthusiasm for the Journey

• Excellent recall from last presentation

• Great post story discussion

• No discipline issues

• The journey captured the listener’s imagination. Intently listened to learn.

• It is my custom to finish my groups with the query, “What are you taking home with you?” (to ponder, think about to personally consider) Their response almost always nailed the lesson themes

I have had the practice of giving out my ‘Ode to Research’ survey at the end of each group’s last session. I consider it anecdotal evidence to gauge the success of each complete journey. Studies show that adolescents, given anonymity, will respond with honesty.

The following is how the Pukekohe students filled out the survey.

Five questions: circle one: that best describe my Gem journey experience

(No names please)

1. It has inspired me to become my best self: 76/207-36%

2. It was pretty good, I learned some important lessons: 80/207-38%

3. It was just OK: 28/207 13%

4. I was bored and really didn’t learn much: 21/207 10%

5. It was a complete waste of time: 6/207 3%

Comments: approximately 2/3’s of the surveys had comments: the top 74% reflect very positive impressions while the bottom 26% reflect corresponding impressions.

I learned a great deal from this simple survey. The most impressive aspect to me is that the kids (for the most part) really, really dug the journey. What I saw was a majority of the participants totally engrossed, which leads me to surmise they were making eidetic mind pictures as I spun the tale. The transference levels were high during the oral story and carried on into post story discussion. (Listening to learn)

The results of the survey suggest that much more was going on than the ‘null’ results of the testing would indicate.

The ability of this curriculum to be thoughtfully considered by most of the students is why I must not give up. Lessons in life are embedded within the curriculum and the children consider them because they are thoughtfully pondering on the nature of the story as well as its content. Throughout the years I have witnessed countless students absorbing the storytelling modality with genuine eagerness, suggesting their imaginations have been captured and the post story interaction causes me to believe lots and lots of kids identified, internalised and personally considered the curriculum. (Seeds of thought sometimes take years to germinate).

Nowhere, to my knowledge, is material like this being taught. The reason it is not, is because the Gem Journey is original and only delivered within my work capacity. The curriculum will be absolutely new to the market. 

The good news is the curriculum is articulated and ready for general use. I am convinced that as people become aware of the eight ‘Elements of Self’ theory there will be a desire to teach the curriculum.

The Kits

I hope to have the training kits available for sale by the end of the year. All the components of each kit are now complete except for the interactive video training modules and corresponding Storyteller’s Guide Chapters which are being created as we speak.

Presently five modules are complete.

When there are six to eight modules complete, the kits will be made available for sale. 

As each new video module is completed, it will be uploaded and available to those who have purchased the kit. 

A new feature, the module syllabus, allows the kit purchaser to know essentially what to expect from the forthcoming modules before they are rolled out.

For those who have the patience, the other option will be to wait until all the modules are complete, sometime in 2020, and buy the complete kit at that time.

Once you buy either the Gem Journey kit or the Classroom kit you will gain access to the training page of video modules. 

Purchase of the kits also gives you license to print the number of Gem Work Books you need for your family or classroom.