Life review is a therapeutic approach that involves recounting the experiences of one’s life in order to assign new meaning and appraisals to memories. This form of therapy helps clients with negative memories transform harmful coping strategies and has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Life review therapy relies on several forms of reminiscence including instrumental reminiscence. This form of reminiscence can be broken down to include boredom reduction and bitterness revival. Boredom reduction reminiscence occurs when a person focuses on past events to escape the challenges of current difficulties. Bitterness revival takes place when an individual constantly focuses on the negative life events of their past and uses them as a method of justification for present behaviors.
Although life review therapy itself has been shown to have positive outcomes in depressed and anxious individuals, few studies have examined the direct influence of bitterness revival reminiscence and boredom reduction reminiscence on symptoms. To explore this further, Jojanneke J. Korte of the Department of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Twente in the Netherlands recently led a study on 202 older adults with depression and anxiety. The participants were divided into two treatment groups, life review and treatment as usual. Korte evaluated the participants at the beginning of treatment, at treatment conclusion, and 3 months posttreatment. They were assessed for symptom severity, reminiscence patterns, self-esteem, mastery, and positive affect and thoughts.
The results revealed that life review significantly decreased the severity of anxiety and depression. The participants in life review saw decreases in boredom reduction and bitterness revival, which led to increases in positive affect, thoughts, and mastery. Compared to the treatment as usual participants, the life review participants were able to reduce their symptoms of both depression and anxiety. These gains were maintained 3 months posttreatment. These findings shed a new light on the effect of reminiscing. Korte said, “Rather than the frequency of reminiscing per se, it is the way in which people look back upon their past that is related to mental health.”
Korte, J., Westerhof, G. J., Bohlmeijer, E. T. (2012). Mediating processes in an effective life-review intervention. Psychology and Aging. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029273
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