Skip to 0 minutes and 3 secondsIs there something you can use from your own past life when you think back to the timeline or the things that you could use from the timeline that might help you to cope with this? I remember being really really scared when I was about to have particularly my first child. All right, okay. And I thought I would, I thought I'd be a really bad patient because I'm no good at pain and then I thought you know I might hemorrhage or the baby would be born dead or and I really sort of began to think. You can really conjure up a lot of negative imagery can't you?

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsAnd I really thought why am I doing this why am I having this baby and people were telling me awful things about what goes wrong you know and then.... And how did it turn out? Well if I'd listened to them I wouldn't have had my two lovely girls would I? So how could you use that when it comes to this, the knee operation? If I hadn't, if I listen to everyone else and my own worries then perhaps I'll get more and more crippled.

Skip to 1 minute and 17 secondsYeah, because the other thing I noticed from your timeline was that you'd had a number of other procedures before, you'd had a mastectomy, a hysterectomy, can you use those experiences to help you to cope with this because it sounds like you might have a difficult choice to make about whether or not you go for a knee operation. Well certainly the mastectomy I didn't want to have it and you know it was difficult, but I had cancer and if I hadn't had it I'd probably be dead. And the hysterectomy well I'd had a miscarriage, had all sorts of things there and.... They would be difficult decisions to make though wouldn't they?

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 secondsAnd both of those were kind of changing me as a person but I was having such pain and I thought oh it's going to be awful then people said awful things would happen I'd be...... So how is that relevant to when you think about the knee operation? Maybe I should trust the doctors a bit more maybe they know what they're doing because those two things I particularly remember the hysterectomy I thought oh god I'm going to be incontinent going to be an awful thing actually it made me better and I know particularly when I think about my girls. I get so so worried about doing things I get I just almost freeze.

Skip to 3 minutes and 7 secondsMaybe I've just got to take a bit of a deep breath. Because you talk about trusting your doctors, is there somebody else you need to trust? How about trusting yourself to make the right decision?

How can the past help people in the present and the future?

Looking closely at the timeline it is apparent that Jennifer has overcome a number of difficult circumstances.

How can the timeline help Jennifer cope with her depression and her generalized anxiety disorder (worry) symptoms? Take a few moments to record your own reflections on the above.

The timeline teaches us that if people have overcome adversity in the past then there may be lessons that can be learned from that. This is the way that timelines are linked to wisdom in a personal sense. It is not the presence of challenging life events or even having overcome adversity that makes us wise and gives us lifeskills, it is the way that we use that experience. World renowned Psychologist, Robert Sternberg says experience does not develop wisdom, “Rather, one’s ability to profit from and utilize one’s experience in a reflective and directed way is what determines how wisdom develops.”

This is an important idea for how the timeline enables us to help people use their past to help themselves cope better in the here and now.

Timelines facilitate a process of reflection and self-discovery that enables wisdom to develop. It is much more effective for an individual to discover that when they look back on their life a surprising new narrative of strength and resilience develops. If the therapist were to say to Jennifer, “I think you are strong and have overcome much adversity”, “I am inspired by how you manage”, Jennifer is likely to discount this as the therapist being ‘nice’ and being a ‘paid helper’ whose job it is to say such things.

In the case of the timeline, Jennifer did reach a new understanding and develop a new relationship with herself as she looked at life events from a fresh perspective. On leaving therapy, Jennifer had this to say, “I could use the problems which I have experienced through my life to help me deal with stressful periods which may occur in the present or future.”

How has this happened? This has happened as we utilize cognitive restructuring as part of the timeline exploration of challenging life events.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

The following questions can be asked when exploring a person’s timeline:

  • When examining a life event on a timeline: looking back on that now, what does that tell you about yourself?
  • Events from the timeline can be used to help people with difficult decisions: Have you been in a similar position in the past? If so how did that turn out? How does this help you?
  • Enhancing sense of resilience: If you could somehow go back in time, as you are now and talk to your younger self, what would you say to yourself about how you coped?
  • Encouraging Self-acceptance/compassion: In the past, in times of crisis how, and in what way, has being self-critical been helpful to you.
  • Realist appraisal of coping: Looking back at this timeline, what do you learn from dealing with crises? What does that tell you?

Timelines can powerfully challenge a way a person thinks about themselves based on a factual recall of difficult life circumstances. For example, lets return to Jennifer’s case example. She lost her husband suddenly and without warning. Yet she coped by carrying on each day and caring for her children. She survived and although her view is that she was weak and poorly functioning at the time, evidence contradicts this view.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

In this provocative clip you can see that the therapist is using the person’s past to challenge the individual’s present view of themselves as weak. Asking the person to think about what prediction they would have made in advance of a traumatic event often makes the person stop and reflect. In this event, Jennifer would have predicted she would not have coped at all. With the benefit of time passing, it is possible to observe what actually happened and what the person actually did in the aftermath of this difficult life event. It helps the person come to a new appraisal.

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This video is from the free online course:

CBT with Older People

UEA (University of East Anglia)