About Alzheimer’s Creative Storytelling


Jenny Cowell – ACS Facilitator

My professional career began as a History teacher in Tucson, AZ. Though I loved the stories of history I would share with students. I found that I was drawn to the students who chose to sit in the back of the room, and I recertified as a special education teacher. The next decade was spent working primarily with students with emotional and learning disabilities. When I reached a point of burn out common in that field, one of my students, aware that I was considering a change, announced, “Miss, you love to read and tell stories. You should be a librarian.” The last thriteen years found me living and learning in a junior high library. I will ever be grateful for that young man’s advice.

I am newly retired from the educational field. For the past year I have been working on my certification in the Timeslips storytelling method. After online coursework, and a practicum in the Summer and Fall of 2012, I became a Certified Facilitator in January of 2013. Throughout this year I have been working with groups at local senior day programs, helping individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementia build portofilos to share with caregivers and family, and working within an intergenerational program in a facility that houses a youth day care and a senior day program. I intend to continue this practice in Tucson as well as in our summer hometown of Bandon, Oregon.

Stories have always been part of my life. It is as though my entire life has been spent readying myself for the work I do with Timeslips. In education one longs for that moment when the lightbulb goes off above a student’s head and he cries, “Oh, I get it!”. Working with people with demetia offers a similar moment. It is a sudden awareness that all is not lost and that creativity lives. Both experiences represent a core desire of people: the need to have meaning in life.


TimeSlips Certification

My education related to working with Alzheimer’s clients includes certification in the TimeSlips method.

TimeSlips is a creative storytelling method, originally developed in 1998, by Anne Basting, PHD.  Over time it has been shown that this model helps individuals with dementia to connect with practitioners, family, and friends, to feel better about themselves.  Current research is also showing that this technique helps to improve the attitudes of practitioners and to increase their sensitivity to the needs of individuals who suffer from dementia.  This method was not designed as a cure for dementia, nor as prescription for memory loss, but rather a way that people who are suffering from degenerative mental disorders can find new avenues for imagination and creative expression.  In the process of their participation, and often to their own surprise, it sometimes happens that these individuals incorporate some of their own memories in their stories.  They seem to delight in this process and in the discovery that they are able to play such an active role at a time when they are feeling so lost.

Research has suggested that TimeSlips may:

♦ Increase the quality and quantity of interactions between staff and residents in nursing home settings.

♦ Benefit older adults through:

– Increased self-esteem

– Increased social engagement

– Decreased doctor visits


For details on this and other current research on this topic, please visit the TimeSlips interactive website at:  www.timeslips.org



Barry Breen, LCSW – Consultant

Narrative therapy (storytelling) has also been of personal interest to me and has become a useful tool in my practice as a psychotherapist.  Its use, when combined with art and music, cannot be overstated, as a catalyst for the expression of thoughts and emotions and as a tool for discovery of issues that may otherwise be hidden.  The therapeutic value of narratives in terms of helping a client to discover his/her purpose and self worth is also one of it’s greatest assets and one of the most valuable tools that a psychotherapist holds.  The TimeSlips™ model, used in Alzheimer’s Creative Storytelling (ACS), is one such tool.  I have found it to be very effective in assisting participants to recall past events in a pleasant, non-threatening manner, and to help them to regain a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives.



My career has been long and varied – spanning many (too many) decades and many professions.  I received an Associates degree from Foothill Jr College (Los Altos Hills, CA), a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ) and and a masters degree in Social Work from Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ).   My focus in psychology and social work was in Direct Practice / Psychotherapy.  In the course of my studies I also specialized in American Sign Language, animal assisted therapy, as well as art and music therapy.  In the two years following my formal education I completed the supervision requirements and testing for an Arizona licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

I have worked in the field of mental health for some time, at the VA Hospital as well as at the Crisis Response Network (both in Tucson, AZ).  I also worked for several years at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind as a counselor, case manager, and Dean of Students.

Retirement from the formal work environment, in 2012, was a conscious and welcome decision on my part.  I now have a private practice and the freedom to study and pursue dreams that I have had for many years…