Timelines: A simple exercise?

This article is about a momentary thought of being stuck and feeling overwhelmed about a happening or a repeated sense of feeling unheard within a situation.


Do you ever experience that sense of déjà vu again and again, and again, and again? It's a feeling that can only be described as an incommensurable and unbearable misunderstanding or miscommunication during specific situations. What do you do? Naturally, a first inclination would be to review that situation and apply problem-solving reasoning, but what if that doesn't work? Are we to remain in a state of unfulfilled dissatisfaction? No, not necessarily.

The power of timelines

Over the years transferring theory to applied practice, one aspect that never failed was that of tracing and signposting memories of who we are in similar situations.

Imagine if you are asked to draw a map or write a report on all your whereabouts for the last 12 months. Nowadays, Google can do that, but only if you have a smartphone or an app that can link that type of information. What if we are traditional in that sense and instead, we choose to write a timeline. Imagine how that may look.

Picture yourself drawing a line east to west (or left to right) and start signposting all such difficult events in your life that have been recently troubling you. When you are done, try and add all other significant or memorable events during that time.

Returning to that sense of feeling stuck and or overwhelmed, allows you to review the timeline with a different perspective, an overall encompassing view of your happenings. What does it all sum up to, or more importantly, what can it all add up to? Are all such events colluding onto that sense of being stuck and overwhelmed, or is there something substantially different?

One reason for asking that is to allow you a fair reflection on various events and re-evaluate that feeling of overwhelm without a clear sense as to what next. Timelines are a great way of achieving that. It may be that you will choose only aspects related to work or trace similar situations that come to mind when you are experiencing difficulty for one reason or another.

Timelines are also about interpretations, and meanings attached to specific experiences in your attempt to re-examine such situations can affect psychological change or reinterpret a situation as a transitional stage. Timelines can help with deconstructing a stressful experience and reintegrating that experience within a wider spectrum of experiences.

Timelines in the therapy room

During therapy sessions, timeline exercises can elicit significant personal experience that's not always thought of, or rather, aren't at the forefront of our thinking. Socratic questioning or therapeutic guidance is an integral part of the process of becoming your own expert. This article is not proposing only a simplification of that process, it is rather suggesting that, in allowing yourself to reflect more widely over your experiences, the end result can be rather significant.

There is a certified fact that one aspect of who we are is defined by how we relate to others. That being said, if we are to imagine all of our relationships like picture frames neatly arranged on shelves of our life - in stages like a timeline - one can capture themselves surrounded by a myriad of images where certain distinctions are made, past and/or present, our image continues and develops over time. Past relationships are brought into the future, with others remaining singled out into the past. Inevitably, there is a sense of growth throughout, and yet, there are times when one can feel at a loss to ways of relating to others.

Similarly, timelines can be construed as goal-approaching tasks. When we devise our goals, it is advised to formulate them with positivity and not in terms of what we should not do, or what we believe we cannot achieve, but what we can.

Timeline as a tool is not a novel technique, and its application is not confined to counselling and/or psychotherapy, but it is a powerful exercise for both revision and planning ahead, enabling a personalised move forward - your timeline, your experiences, your past, and your present.

Now, what do you see next?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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