A WAY OF STRENGTHENING WISDOM
Guided Autobiography helps individuals organize their life stories. Guided by our trained instructors, participants are led through themes and priming questions that evoke memories of events once known but filed away and seemingly forgotten.
Writing and sharing life stories with others is an ideal way to find new meaning in life as the uncertainties of the past, and the contradictions, paradoxes and events of life are put into perspective. Participants feel stronger and have a growing appreciation of their lives. (The Birren Center).
Continuing education can be an important way to cultivate wisdom in the later years, researchers say, for one thing because it combats isolation. But training in practical skills may be less useful for older people than courses in the humanities that help people make sense of their lives, says Professor Monika Ardelt, an associate sociology professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She and other researchers recommend classes in guided autobiography, or life review, as a way of strengthening wisdom. In guided autobiography, students write and share their life stories with the help of a trained instructor. (The New York Times, “The Science of Older and Wiser,” ) 12, 2014
A Brief Introduction to Guided Autobiography
Guided Autobiography is a class to assist people of all ages in writing their memoirs. Typically, it consists of ten weekly sessions of two to three hours each. The method was developed by pioneering gerontologist Dr. James Birren and has been in use for over thirty years with participants ranging from college students to residents of senior facilities.
What makes Guided Autobiography unique and powerful is that participants are writing essays on specific themes and then sharing them with others. Many people say they want to write their memoirs, but few actually follow through – usually because the project is too overwhelming, or because it’s just not fun to do alone. Guided Autobiography deals with both of those issues head-on: by writing on a specific theme, participants are able to break down their life story into small, easy-to-complete projects, and they bond with other class members and form friendships by sharing their stories.
No previous creative writing experience is necessary, and no special equipment is needed. The only requirement is to show up, and the only “homework” is a two-page essay on the theme of the week. A computer is not a must – the stories can be handwritten or spoken into a recorder.
A typical Guided Autobiography class consists of two parts. In the first hour, the instructor leads the class in a discussion of the week’s theme, plus a few fun and easy exercises to stimulate their creativity. In the second hour, the class breaks into small groups in which everyone reads aloud the two pages they have written on the theme for that session
Benefits to the participants are many, and include:
- Learning more about themselves and understanding the ‘why’ they may have done the things they have done.
- Understanding and appreciating others and their life story.
- Greater ease and confidence with writing as they learn to tap into inner feelings.
- Developing close friendships with fellow students.
- Leaving a legacy for their children and grandchildren, and to the world at large.
Bruce Feiler wrote a fascinating article in the NY Times. He said, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”
In other words, the children who know the most about their family history—the traditions, the set-backs and successes of parents and grandparents—had the best odds of bouncing back from hard times.
INSTRUCTORS Patricia Hamilton and Joyce Krieg are certified by The Birren Center to teach the Guided Autobiography method developed by James E. Birren. Books will be published by Park Place Publications.
For more information about taking classes or for private instruction in writing your stories, please call Patricia Hamilton at 831-649-6640 or e-mail: