Early Recollections And The Lifestyle

A few years ago, when I was only just beginning to learn about Adlerian theory and therapy, I attended a workshop given by Al Milliren for the Chicago Adlerian Society. The topic was the evolving nature of the lifestyle.

At this time I had barely begun taking doctoral classes at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, and had not yet had any formal education in Adlerian psychology. Some of the powerful ideas that I learned at this workshop greatly influenced the way that I would later learn and incorporate the use of early recollections and lifestyle assessment in my own clinical practice.

When an individual recalls any event from the past, Adlerians hold that the recollection will be shaped and rewritten according to the private logic of the individual’s present condition. Milliren argued that it is seldom necessary to perform a full lifestyle assessment, because the information presented through recollections is packed densely enough to provide all the necessary information that a therapist needs to understand the presenting problem and discover appropriate solutions.

For example, if you were to ask a client how they learned to ride a bicycle, they will normally be able to recount this process with little trouble. They would explain the extent to which they were attended to and encouraged by an adult, recount their early successes or failures and the social consequences of these experiences, and likely offer a pretty good idea of the feeling they were left with through this process. Since we know that the information being provided is not necessarily representative of past events, then what can we assume we know?

Here the patient has described his or her entire process of learning. As a therapist, you now know to what extent the patient will need or want handholding as they learn to overcome their difficulties. You know how much of the learning process must take place in solitude, and what kinds of fears and anxieties will surface during that process. The patient has provided you with a full map of what you can do to help them learn.

Of course, this is only one example. The idea of taking early recollections has always been to ascertain the client’s current orientation toward themselves, the world, and others. It is only a subtle extension of this idea to arrive at a fully holographic model of recollection, in which each recollection contains, more or less, the entire lifestyle.

2 thoughts on “Early Recollections And The Lifestyle”

  1. I am honored to be acknowledged for influencing some of your education as a therapist. We never know the impact we have on others and so I am reminded that I need to keep aware of what I do and say. David, this is an excellent summary of the concept of ER’s as well as description of the “Bicycle” technique. Spot on!

    1. Wonderful to hear from you, Al! I regret that I wasn’t able to take a class with you when you were teaching at Adler, as I really enjoyed the one lecture I saw you give at the Adlerian society.

      As I’ve gotten more training in CBT, I have been amazed to find how much the CBT folks are struggling to rediscover the same insights that Adlerian psychologists have been using all along.

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