Life Review Therapy: Definition & Uses

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  • 0:07 Depression with Age
  • 1:10 Looking Back
  • 2:18 Life Review
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson explores the basic process and ideas behind life review therapy. In addition, we'll examine why this type of therapy can be especially applicable to older individuals.

Depression with Age

As you get older, there is an increasingly higher level of depression. And this isn't the 'I feel sad because I'm turning 30.' We are talking about the full-blown depression, the 'I don't have anything left to live for' kind of depression. To help reduce this depression, therapists have developed the life review therapy, which is a structured evaluation of one's life with the intention of coming to the understanding that one's life was meaningful and positive.

Let's take a closer look at how it's done, which will help reveal how it treats depression.

Looking Back

Everyone thinks about the past. And it's an unfortunate tendency of humans to remember bad things over good things. You are more likely to remember a bad birthday party when you got awful presents, the cake was ruined and nobody showed up over the 20 or more good birthdays you have had.

As one gets older, the accumulated negative memories can be overwhelming. Despite accomplishing things in one's life, such as successfully raising children, having a fruitful career and being a loving and devoted spouse and friend, and it is possible and very likely to remember one's shortcomings rather than what one was successful at.

This was recently pointed out to me because good things happen over time, like having a baby is a 9-month process of growing it and an 18-year process of raising it. But getting cancer is something that happens all at once, and is life changing. So there is a tendency to remember individual events with strong emotional connections, and these emotional connections to individual events tend to be negative.

Life Review

With this negativity surrounding people as they age, it can intensify as we get older. With fewer birthdays remaining, there is a poignant realization that there is less opportunity for good times. Paradoxically, the pain of the past may also be the key to making someone feel better.

Often, life review therapy is done in group settings so there is a sense of community and connection between people who share similar histories. In addition to the sense of community, groups have the capacity of doing what therapists have trouble doing: calling people out on their stuff. If one person in the group is being very negative, it is difficult for the therapist to target that one person without it becoming uncomfortable. But if the whole group turns to help that negative person, it is much more effective for that lone person and results in a more efficient and effective group process.

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