Category Archives: Life Review Therapy

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time…this may be one of the most magical phrases ever written.  Young and old alike know that with these four little words they are about to be swept to another world…joy, sorrow, danger, who knows?  I suggest that when someone says “Once upon a time” we settle into our seats and prepare for a journey.

A Simple History of Stories

The ability to create, appreciate and share stories are part of what makes us human.  While no one has been able to say precisely when the first stories were told, historians suggest that storytelling was created as people started to form smaller and then larger clans/tribes.  Storytellers shared events between members of the tribe as well as pass them on to other tribes.  Until humans were able to write, storytelling was an oral tradition–relying on individuals’ ability to listen and remember.  Storytellers were respected as keepers of a clan/tribe’s history.

Over time, writing was created.  Depending on the era, stories were captured on stone, papyrus, parchment (dried animal skins), or forms of handmade paper.  Various methods of ‘printing’ were completed starting with handwritten characters to using tools such as reeds and ink, or carved wood blocks and ink.  Until the creation of the printing press (1440 -1450 CE), books were the property of the wealthy or religious orders.  As printing became cheaper and easier, written ‘stories’ from a wide-range of sources became available to anyone who could read.   If you’re interested in an in-depth history of printing, check out this site.

Today, stories are all around us…in print, digital and audio format.  We tell our stories through music, art, literature, etc.  Like in the past, stories continue to not only record events,but entertain us.  Stories can also affect our mental health.

Our Personal Stories

Many studies have been completed showing the correlation between ‘negative’ stories (violent video games, movies, etc) and increased incidents of violence, aggression and desensitization to violence.  On the positive side, this 2016 Huffpost (UK edition) article links watching comedies to improved mental health.  Both of these ideas could be a blog post on their own.  However, that’s not what I’m thinking about here.  I’m thinking about the stories of our lives and those that we tell ourselves.  While we can often choose what ‘outside’ stories we let influence us, our ‘internal’ stories are harder to avoid.  In fact, we often don’t even know that we are telling them.

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a little boy who wanted to learn to knit.  His mom was a knitter.  So were his grandmother and aunts.  He loved family gatherings when all his aunts would bring their needles and wool. After dinner, they would sit in the living room creating amazing things out of ‘sticks and string’.  The colours were wonderful and he’s watched his grandmother make him mittens in his two favourite colours.

His dad, uncles and older brothers were not knitters.  Instead, after dinner they would disappear to the den where they would watch sports, or to the garage where they would  build stuff using wood and cement.  Their materials were hard, not soft like wool.

As the little boy grew older, the men of the family started to invite him to join them in the den or garage.  His mother encouraged him to go with them, and he was subtly discouraged from following the women into the living room.  For his tenth birthday, the boy was given his own set of tools.  As his family members watched him open his gift, he felt pressure to like the tools, but he found it difficult to fake his enthusiasm.

The years went by and the boy became a man.  He remembered his desire to learn to knit, and would join the menfolk in the den or garage after dinner.  When he saw his wife and mother knitting in the living room, he ‘knew’ that this was a female activity.  If he told you this story (his story), he would tell you that there are things that men do and things that women do. It’s not manly for men to knit….so he won’t….no matter how much he wants to.

Our Stories in Therapy

We all have stories–it’s how we make sense of our lives.  When we are getting to know someone we share our stories; increasing, over time, their level of depth and intimacy.

People often come into therapy because of the pain of their stories.

Sometimes the story is traumatic and hard to live with. They need help sorting through the details, finding meaning and finding a place for it in the perspective of their life.  Sometimes people are hurting and don’t know why.  Often they have been telling themselves stories that don’t serve them, and they are unaware that they are whispering them to themselves.  In this case, the therapeutic work involves discovering these tales, testing if they are true and then deciding whether to keep or discard them…and write a new story.

Once Upon a Time…Continued…

One day the man realized that he wasn’t happy.  He couldn’t put his finger on it.  Something was missing.  He decided to talk to someone and made an appointment with his friend’s therapist.  At the first session, the therapist asked him what he liked to do.  Did he have any hobbies?  “Nope”, replied the man.  “Well”, said the therapist, “if you could have any hobby, what would it be?”.  The man thought, the expressions on his face moving from joy to despair.  “What’s going on?” ask the therapist.  The man told his story…and the process began…

And now…one of my favourite stories…Enjoy!

 

 

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Core Beliefs…We’ve All Got Them!

If someone asked you how you know something, what would you answer?  I learned it at school.  My parents taught me.  I checked on Google.

When we’re talking about facts or skills, it’s often easy to remember how or when the information came to us.  However, if I asked you about a personality trait or ability, such as if you are kind or able to keep a secret, your response may be, “I’m not sure, I just know (whether I am or not).”

Depending on the question, you may feel embarrassed or proud. Either way, there is an emotional charge that is a result of how you feel or what you believe about yourself, in the context of the trait or ability.  In other words, my question would have come upon one of your core beliefs.

What Are Core Beliefs?

Core beliefs are the very essence of how we see ourselves, other people, the world, as well as the future.  Our core beliefs then inform how we operate in the world.  Below is a list of common negative core beliefs.

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I can’t get anything right.
  • I’m stupid.
  • I’m inferior/nothing/worthless.
  • I’m a bad person.
  • I’m insignificant.
  • I’m unattractive (ugly, fat, etc.).
  • I’m useless.
  • I’m a failure.
  • I don’t deserve anything good.
  • There’s something wrong with me.
  • I’m abnormal.

While it’s painful to think these things about ourselves, the pain is increased when these belief systems are used to navigate our way in the world.  When we incorporate negative core beliefs into our psyche, they become self-fulfilling.  We think we’re a failure, so we don’t try new things, which seems to prove that we’re a failure…and the cycle continues.

Where Do Core Beliefs Come From?  An example. 

A kindergarten class is preparing for the end-of-year concert.  Everyone is working very hard to get the song right and the teacher keeps moving individual children around to maximize the quality of the sound.

In the back row stands a boy named Jeremy.  Jeremy loves to sing and has been practicing the words every day as he walks home from school.  Jeremy sings with enthusiasm and his teacher has moved him a few times in order to find the appropriate place for his ‘sound’. Finally, in exasperation, the teacher suggests that Jeremy not sing, but whisper the words, in order to fit in with the group.  While Jeremy doesn’t completely understand what just happened, part of him sees that his way of singing doesn’t fit.  Maybe he doesn’t fit? Maybe there’s something wrong with him?  Jeremy grows up, never to sing again, and becomes hyper-aware of being ‘too much’ when out in the world.

Core Beliefs in Therapy

Often a key part of therapy is discovering our core beliefs (both negative and positive) and then exploring their history and validity.  One way to do this is through life review therapy.

Life Review Therapy involves looking at our past from the perspective of today.  The goal is to help the individual, couple or family to find meaning and resolution regarding a painful incident and be able to move on with greater awareness and sense of calm.  Often the painful incident involves the creation of a negative core belief.

The Example Continues…

Our young singer, Jeremy, is now 35 years old and has decided to see a therapist to deal with long-term social anxiety that has affected his life on many levels. He made his education and career choices (accounting) to fit in with his fear of interacting with groups of people.  He choose a smaller post-secondary school and a program that would allow him to work somewhat alone.

Jeremy accepted a junior management position three years ago, and discovered that he is good at it.  Due to his management skills, he was recently offered a promotion that will involve speaking in front of groups of people to present financial information. On one hand, Jeremy wants the promotion–he’s become bored with his current position and would like the extra income.  On the other hand, he is terrified at the thought of presenting and ‘making a fool of himself’ in front of his colleagues.

With his therapist, Jeremy explores the history of his social anxiety. He talks about the thoughts that are linked to his feelings when having to interact with groups of people. They treat the process like a science experiment–looking for similarities in thought content and events. Jeremy reports that he’s afraid of being ‘out there’.  He remembers that people are often telling him to “speak up” as they can’t hear what he has to say.  This direction increases his anxiety as he swings between wanting to be heard and ‘being out there’.

During therapy, Jeremy remembers his kindergarten experience and is able to begin to unravel his current feelings and how this core belief has affected his life.  Is this belief accurate? He was also able to process the anger that he feels on behalf of his young self towards his teacher and her actions.

Jeremy did accept his promotion and learned skills to cope with his social anxiety.  A big piece of his ability to move forward was that he was able to question the negative core belief that was holding him back.

This is a very strait forward example and determining our core beliefs are not often this direct.

I invite you to think about your core beliefs.  What are they?  Do you know?  How many of them are positive?  Are they helping you to go the places in your life that you want to go, or are they preventing you from living your best life?

Now for something fun…Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Life Review Therapy–Exploring Our Stories

There is power in stories.  They can entertain us, scare us, move us to tears and teach us.  Memories are the stories that we tell ourselves about where we have been in our lives: what we have done–and what has been done to us.

Young and old alike often relax with a sense of anticipation when someone says…let me tell you a story.  This is where Life Review Therapy comes in.

What is Life Review Therapy?

Life Review Therapy involves looking at our past from the perspective of today.  The goal is to help the individual, couple or family to find meaning and resolution regarding a painful incident and be able to move on peacefully—either in life or death.

A Fictitious Example

Let me tell you a story…an elderly man (Eric) remembers an incident involving his mother when he was five years old.  On that particular summer afternoon he arrived home from playing baseball with his friends—He was hungry and wanted a snack.

When he came into the kitchen, looking for a cookie, his mother noticed that he had big rips in the knees of his pants—essentially they were ruined.  His mother reacted swiftly and strongly—she began yelling, telling him that he was careless.  She then broke down in tears and sent him to his room—with no dinner.  This reaction from his Mom was shocking to him as it was unusual and unexpected.   Sitting alone in his room, no longer hungry, Eric cried as his mom’s words reverberated in his head.  From that time on, whenever he broke or lost something—he would hear his mother’s voice telling him that he was careless.  And he believed it.

How could Life Review Therapy be Used to Help Eric?

In a therapy session, Eric and his therapist would talk about the story.  The therapist would ask Eric to tell her a story about his past.  Eric would self-select the story.  Part of the therapy is Eric being able to tell his story to an attentive person.  The therapist would support him with any emotions that may come up in the telling.  Then, together, they would start to explore the context of the story—what was going on at that time in his mother’s or family’s life?  Together, they would explore the story from the perspective of ‘Eric the adult’, while at the same time, holding ‘Eric the child’ in a safe place.

As the context was explored, Eric recognized that this was about the time that his father had lost his job.  Eric was the middle of three boys, and his hand-me-downs would be needed for his younger sibling.  Not only would his ruined pants not be available for his brother, but Eric would need a replacement pair.

Heading Towards a New Perspective

In that moment, as Eric wondered about the situation from his mother’s perspective, he realized that what his mom was reacting to may not have been to him personally, but instead her fear of not being able to provide for her family, as well as the stress of the job loss.  He remembered the terror he felt the first time he lost a job and wondered how he was going to afford rent.  Eric also remembered that things never seemed quite the same in his family after that incident as no one seemed to very happy as his Dad was out of work for a while.  Eric had carried the belief that it was his carelessness that had caused the change—becoming one of his core beliefs.  Not only was he careless, but when things went wrong, it was his fault.  Through looking at ‘Eric the adult’s’ grown up memories and experiences, he was able to see that this wasn’t correct and begin to question this belief.

How Long Does Life Review Therapy Take?

This story is a simplified example.  Processing a particularly difficult story may take more than one session.  Sometimes looking at negative core beliefs require looking at many stories that are feeding the belief.

The Benefit of Listening

As already stated—there is power in stories.  And the telling is only half of the equation—there is also power in listening.  As a psychotherapist, my job is to listen.  I suggest that no matter what our lives look like, we can all listen.  When we really pay attention to what others are saying to us, we are giving them a gift that is powerful and meaningful.

As you’re listening, please take the time to enjoy the legendary Harry Chapin

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yjxWfyxpqY

 

 

 

 

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