What is life review therapy?

In the 1960s, psychiatrist Dr. Robert Butler theorized that having an older adult think back on their life could be therapeutic. Mental health experts consider Dr. Butler’s ideas the foundation for life review therapy.

Life review therapy involves adults referring to their 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 it may benefit.

This type of therapy can help put life in perspective and even reveal important memories about friends and loved ones.

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

Often people are asked to bring mementos to enhance their life review therapy sessions. These may include such things as:

  • music
  • photos
  • letters
  • family trees

Although the term “life review therapy” is often used interchangeably with the term “reminiscence therapy,” there are some differences:

  • Reminiscence therapy often involves 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 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.

Life review therapy can have several purposes:

  • therapeutic
  • educational
  • informational

The therapeutic benefits are specific to the person reflecting upon their life. The therapy can help with feelings about end-of-life issues and also help illuminate a greater meaning in life.

The following people may especially benefit from life review therapy:

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.

There are, however, some people who may not benefit from life review therapy. These include people who have undergone traumatic experiences. Repressed or painful memories may be better discussed through other therapy approaches.

Life review therapy 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. And a doctor may use life review therapy to accompany other medical treatments, such as 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 many people feel proud of what they have accomplished.