When we review our past and make an effort to separate the essential from the non-essential, we can digest and integrate what has happened and access the deeper aims and intentions that are at work there. When we see and understand we can take responsibility and make choices for the future; we can find a new relationship with the past, awaken to the opportunities in the present and step into life more fully.
Margli Matthews, Foreword to Biographical Work, The Anthroposophical Basis
One of the deepest and most urgent questions of many clients is: “What is my purpose? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life?”
In our culture of immediate gratification and self definition through outer, material things like our careers, wealth, looks, etc. we slowly are losing touch with that which is important inside ourselves: our soul, our ability to be compassionate and empathetic, kind and caring, resilient and purposeful.
Biographical counselling is a way to look at our life’s story line through the lens of distinct cycles of development. These seven year cycles form a kind of archetypal pattern on which our own personal life experiences unfold. The pattern of the seven year cycles thus offers a way of understanding some of our own individual questions, struggles, and crises as part of the archetypal human experience. They help us understand what impact our unique life experiences may have had on our personal growth and our understanding of our Self. They also offer us a foundation on which to start the process of integrating some of those experiences in order to let go of the past and create new insights and patterns for the future.
Looking at our biography in therapy does not necessarily mean developing a formal timeline of outer events in our lives, although that can be a helpful first step in order to attune to the work with the seven year cycles. The healing in biography work comes from the understanding of our lives as a whole instead of focusing on individual situations. By allowing us to see the whole picture, including a sense for the parts of the picture that aren’t yet drawn, we can gain deeper insight into the larger patterns governing our lives. We can become conscious of patterns of belief or behaviour that repeatedly bring us back to similar situations. We may begin to detect specific themes within our lives and through those themes may become aware of some deeper learning, some larger purpose in our life’s story line.
Biographical counselling takes the unique life experiences of a client as the starting points for a deeper exploration into the “red thread” that runs through the client’s life. By exploring the archetypal influences on each seven-year period we learn to understand more clearly why an event happening at one age may have a very deep impact on our life even if it doesn’t seem like “a big deal” from the perspective of a different phase of life. We learn to observe and understand the patterns of our own behaviours, thoughts, and feelings; and we learn to balance our inner experiences of and reactions to the world with that which our environment, our social community, and life itself are asking of us.
All psychotherapy is informed, on some level, by the client’s biography and an understanding of biographical rhythms is one of the foundations on which I view and explore a client’s questions and stated issues. However, structured biographical counselling explores life events based on the development of an inner and outer timeline. Together, client and therapist develop this timeline and decide which experiences to explore more deeply. Life events are explored on all levels: physical (what are the details of what happened?), emotional (what did you feel?), mental (what were your thoughts, your reactions?), and spiritual (what brought you to this experience?). Where the exploration in words is difficult or impossible, creative expression may be employed to gain deeper understanding.
Structured biographical counselling can be done over time in weekly or bi-weekly visits of normal session length (55 minutes) or in more condensed formats like a few three or four hour sessions. Both formats have their advantages and which one to choose depends largely on the client’s goal for working in this fashion and their availability.
Longer-term / weekly work:
- more time to “digest” insights and learning from session to session
- possibility to observe different approaches to life events in between sessions
- less challenging (financially and in time-requirements)
- shorter time to go deeply into a specific life event, requires focused attention during the sessions
- some learning momentum may be lost in the time in between sessions
Short-term / intensive work:
- more time to go deeply into the exploration of specific life events and / or developmental phases
- more intense learning and a possibility for deeper learning
- allows for more ease in art / creative exploration and sharing
- more challenging (financially and in time-requirements)
- more difficult to observe shifts and changes that result from a session before the coming session