Using a Timeline in Your Therapy to Release Depression, Anxiety & Move Forward

Hi! I am Santa Rosa psychologist, therapist, and counselor Dr. Eric Ryan—I help people get their lives back on track if they feel stuck or lost! People may experience negative moods (such as depression & anxiety) and/or behaviors (“checking out” with substances, alcohol, food, gaming, TV, etc.) when there life is off track.

Timeline-Clock-ImageOne special technique I use in my Santa Rosa psychotherapy practice relates to building a Timeline to really look at your life and its direction, as well as to identify areas in your development where you may be stuck or fixated that prevents you from moving ahead. Working through these blocks by using a timeline can result in your having a deeper appreciation of your life, where it was, where it is going, which allows you to make better choices in line with your unique individual self.

Instructions: Each year of your life starting with your birth (0-1 years old), describe the following to create a map of important life experiences. The purpose of a Life Line is to gain a better understanding of yourself, identify areas to explore and process in therapy, as well as begin to chronicle your own personal history to gain a coherent picture of you: where you were, where you are, and to make better choices about where you may be going. A thorough Life Line can take dozens of hours to complete! It is important not to hurry and to take your time. View the formation of your Life Line as a process and try to write something as often as you can, like a couple of times a week or even more.

Try to go in chronological order but it is OK to go out of order if you want to focus on a particular period. Be sure to fill the gaps in eventually. Early years (0-18) are particularly important, especially childhood and puberty, but later years are important as well. You should try to be very thorough in your descriptions and you may encounter various emotions as you revisit important events. Once you have worked on a period of time, bring it in to talk about in your personal therapy:

Age: Your age. Try to go in increments of one year (e.g. years 0-1, 1-2, 2-3, 3-4…)

Residence and Description: Describe in detail where you lived, what the neighborhood was like, how you felt about the residence and neighborhood or any other important detail that stands out. This can provide a physical context for the events that you experienced.

Important people in my life: Who were the important people in your life at this time? Be sure to include parents, siblings, important friends, other important relatives, teachers, etc. Think carefully about your relationship to each person (or if too young to recall, what you know about your relationship). Describe both positive and negative qualities in that relationship. Comment on any problems in the relationship and how you felt at the time but also how you feel now as you look back!


School/Work: If it applies, where did you go to school or work at the time? Describe the place and your feelings about it, both good and bad. Did anything important happen at school or work at that time? What was your typical day like?

Important Events and my Reaction to Them: During this time in your life, what important events stand out? For instance, did you have any special achievements? Were there any difficulties like losses of family members, accidents, medical illnesses, etc? What was your reaction to these important events and most importantly, what impressions have they left on you?

My Observations of This Year: Look back on the year and ask yourself, “what stands out?” How did these events affect you at that time? In looking back, what do you currently make of your experiences at that time in your life? Are there any lessons you learned or patterns that got set up at this time?

Feel free to call me if you are interested in using a timeline to focus in on your life to help move into your unique life path. Please remember that a Timeline or Life Line is an important therapy tool. It can help you to identify patterns and be very facilitative of the therapeutic process. If you’re in therapy, bring it with you to sessions to more deeply work through difficult or emotional material. Good luck!

Dr. Eric Ryan
Dr. Eric Ryan is a psychologist in private practice in Santa Rosa California. He is currently the Training Director for the Post Doctoral Residency Program at Kaiser Psychiatry in Santa Rosa and was previously the Chair for the Anxiety Disorder Best Practices for all of Northern California Kaiser Psychiatry.


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