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The History of TSI Within the Social Work Environment

Ron Phillips grew up in a foster home. After the death of his sister, when Ron was eight, the Phillips family started raising foster children. In fact Ron’s parents have had foster children in their home for the last 45 years. Today, Ron’s parents are cared for by Kevin Walls, a foster son, who has lived with them since he was eight. Ron, by virtue of his own family experiences, knows about the issues that foster children experience; their sense of abandonment, sense of loss and feelings of inferiority, not belonging and lack of connectedness. Ron has also learned from his own feelings of anger, jealousy and mean spiritedness; feelings that are familiar to children who are forced to share their bedrooms and their parents with other kids.

The seminal idea, and the motivation for Creative Alternatives, the care facility that he and his wife Mary founded, had its etiology with Ron growing up in a foster home. That’s where his heart for society’s children developed. He experienced first hand the pain and disappointment his foster brothers and sisters experienced from broken promises, unkept visits and unfulfilled dreams. He also felt the pangs of guilt from his own childhood jealousies; the thoughts of, “How come I have to share?” and “Why do they always have to be here?” Those early feelings, and at times, poor attitudes, had a profound effect in later life when Ron and Mary started Creative Alternatives.

With a sense of needing to right past wrongs and with a strong sense of what the children in care needed, Ron and Mary had an indomitable drive to get Creative Alternatives Inc. operational. In 1975 the State of California had no desire to grant a licence to an organization that wanted to open a group home for one child.

The Phillips family were forced to learn the regulations better than the people who were paid to enforce and regulate the licensing. Ron’s years of living in a foster home gave him unique insight into the needs of the children in care and also the needs of the care-givers and their children. His experiences translated into one of California’s finest residential treatment facilities, which is used by social service departments from all over California.

Creative Alternatives Inc., in Turlock, California (, was also the place where Gem of the First Water was written and the place of the genesis of Therapeutic Storytelling Intervention. Ron would tell stories each week for his group therapy sessions. By the time he told the theme-based story six times, the story gained color and excitement. It also developed merit. The issues that many social workers deal with on a daily basis are the issues that stimulated the development of the TSI process. They are often issues and situations that are very difficult, meeting children in vulnerable contexts and can involve a range of oppositional behaviors that can make situations very ‘stuck’. The material in the TSI process can be used in a very ‘gentle’ way. Because the process is based on a story, it can be presented simply as nothing more than a story. It is not invasive or abrasive and invites even the most emotionally injured people into a place where they can begin to engage and find comfort. TSI is not a ‘head-on’ process. It meets people ‘through the bathroom window’. It just creeps up and gently and subtly invades the thinking with positive psychological material.

For the social-work environment this is extremely useful because it is a powerful methodology that allows young people to engage in their own time and as they feel safe to do so. At the same time it enables rapid connection with the young person and offers a language and context to begin to form new, and often difficult, relationships. In the foster care environment TSI offers a journey that whole households can engage in: a journey that is healing and inviting. It provides a means whereby caregivers can reach out to young people who are isolated and withdrawn, who are switched off, in survival mode. When TSI needs to be applied at a deeper therapeutic level, Social Workers are able to refer young people to organizations that run the TSI program for therapeutic purposes.

Read About TSI In:Youth or Adult Justice, Education, Social Work, Mental Health, Religious Education



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