How to keep family history intact
While not a formally recognized therapy, telling family history is a powerful medicine. Research shows that family history writing or reminiscing improves self-esteem, enhances feelings of control and mastery over life, and often results in a new or expanded vision of one’s life.
For very advanced-age clients, the chance to tell their stories improves cognition, lessens depression and dementia, and improves behavioral functioning. “Writing shakes people out of their same old stories and makes them think differently about their lives,” says Hope Levy of There’s Always Hope, a San Francisco-based Geriatric Consultancy.
Levy cites the example of one of her clients, a woman in her late 70′s who felt depressed and anxious over her own perceived lack of accomplishments in life. Levy assigned her the exercise of writing a letter to herself as a young child. Then she wrote a letter from her younger self to her present self. “When she finished with the assignment, she walked out on Cloud Nine,” Levy recalls. “She did it without anybody else, just the writing and her own feedback.”
“It’s never too early or too late to begin,” says Levy, who, in her 40s has worked in lifelong learning throughout her career. “Writing out your thoughts has so many more benefits than simply sitting down and thinking them.”
Life writing activities may be done individually or in structured groups. In group activities, members are encouraged to prepare in advance information about family relationships, life accomplishments, school, careers, experiences that impacted them emotionally, world events, etc.