Life Review Therapy

Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN | Published on March 9, 2015
Medically Reviewed by The Healthline Medical Team on March 9, 2015

What Is Life Review Therapy?

While the idea of sharing memories may seem commonplace today, this therapeutic approach wasn’t practiced. Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Butler theorized in the 1960s that having an older adult think back on their life’s events could be therapeutic. Mental health experts consider Dr. Butler’s ideas the foundation for life review therapy.

Life review therapy has adults refer to the past to achieve a sense of peace or empowerment about their lives. While life review therapy isn’t for everyone, there are certain groups of people who can benefit from taking a look back on life. Doing this can help put life in perspective and even reveal important memories about friends and loved ones.

What Are the Features of Life Review Therapy?

Therapists center life review therapy around life themes or by looking back on certain time periods. These include childhood, parenthood, becoming a grandparent, or working years.

Other themes include:

  • education and schooling
  • experiences in aging
  • health
  • literature
  • milestones such as marriage
  • major historical events
  • major turning points
  • music
  • purpose
  • values

You may be asked to bring mementos to enhance the life review therapy. These can include music, photos, letters, possessions, or even family trees.

Although the term “life review therapy” is often used interchangeably with the term “reminiscence therapy,” there are some small differences. For example, reminiscence therapy is often about describing a memory itself. Life review therapy is based on discussing what a memory means to you. The life review therapy approach can also help you deal with difficult memories or unresolved concerns that may be keeping you from feeling at peace.

Mental health specialists may use life review therapy for groups or individuals. Group therapy can often lead to social bonding. This is often used for residents of assisted living facilities.

Who Can Benefit From Life Review Therapy?

Life review therapy can have several purposes: therapeutic, educational, and informational.

The therapeutic benefits are specific to the person reflecting upon their life. The therapy can help with feelings about end-of-life and help illuminate the greater meaning in life. The following people may especially benefit from life review therapy:

  • people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • older adults suffering from depression or anxiety
  • those diagnosed with a terminal condition
  • those who have experienced the loss of a loved one

Teachers often ask their students to conduct life reviews with older adults or loved ones. Students may wish to record, write, or videotape these sessions for sharing purposes in the future.

There can be benefits for families when their loved one participates in life review therapy. The family may learn things they never knew before. Saving these memories through video, audio, or writing can be a treasured piece of family history.

Some people may not benefit from life review therapy. This includes people who have undergone traumatic experiences in the past. These repressed or painful memories may be better discussed through other therapy approaches.

What Are the Benefits of Life Review Therapy?

Not all people respond positively to life review therapy. The therapy itself is intended to empower older adults and those facing end-of-life issues to find hope, value, and meaning in their lives.

Therapists also use life review therapy to treat depression in older adults. A doctor may also use life review therapy to accompany other medical treatments, such as taking medications to reduce anxiety or depression.

Life review therapy can promote improved self-esteem. People may not realize the significance of their accomplishments — from raising children to being the first person in their family to earn a college degree, looking back can help people feel proud of what they have accomplished. 

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