The Personal Timeline Exercise

suggested by Carol M.
I find having my clients (battered women) make timelines of their lives extremely useful...It opens up great discussions and helps them to see their past on paper and what they want in the future. I hand out poster boards and lots of colored markers and guide through their lives -- starting from birth and then other significant life events--- school, marriage, when domestic violence started, their present (my clients are currently in a battered women's shelter) and then have them continue on to their future, where they want to be etc. When everyone is finished we then review what we have done on paper..(myself included).. sometimes there may be one woman hesitant to put any sort of future...sometimes women draw pictures with their words - wedding bells, broken hearts, babies, diplomas...

- by J.S.

I encourage students to think about psychotherapy as a process of filling out, enriching, and reinterpreting one's life story that is captured in the timeline. I ask them what they WISH they could change or add to their timeline, and how that would have affected their lives. I also encourage them to look at some of the features of their timeline that may reveal interesting aspects of their lives, such as:
- where is the timeline busy or crowded, versus simple or blank?
- what stages is the timeline divided into?
- what are the milestone or marker events associated with these stages?
- what rests at the "center" of your timeline and life?
- do marker events involve people, events, accomplishments, etc?
- who are the important people in your life?
- is anything left out?.... events.... people?
- did you create the timeline from past to present, present to past, more "randomly"?
- how might significant others draw your timeline?
- how might the timeline be different if drawn at a different time in your life?
I also ask students to draw their "future" timeline - i.e., what they expect will happen in the rest of their lives. Students often find this difficult. This exercise emphasizes existential ideas about how our lives are not just driven by the force of past events, but also pulled forward by our expectations and plans for the future.

back to the In-Class Exercises Page
back to the Teaching Clinical Psychology home page