Colin is in his late fifties. He lives at home with his elderly mother. He has no siblings and his father is deceased. He describes himself as a poet and a writer. He can read and write a little and he joined the life story group because he was opting out of the programme of sessions on offer to him, preferring to write all day every day, but his writing was repetitive and beginning to limit his social interactions. He has an excellent memory of his life story and is very specific about events including dates and times. He wanted to write about his life and we devised a way of working together to achieve this.
We began by writing a letter together to his mother describing the project and asking if we could use some photos of Colin growing up. A short time later Colin brought in an envelope containing about 25 photos. We arranged them in chronological order and then using an A4 blank book stuck them in using a page for each photo. Over the course of the following six months I spent an afternoon each week working on developing Colin’s story. We began by Colin choosing a photo that he wanted to talk about- not in any obvious order. I asked Colin to tell me about the photo using several key questions, for example; when was this photo taken, how old are you, who is in the photo, who is taking the photo, what are you doing, what are you wearing, how have you changed since then, what was going on in your life at that time. I tried to elicit as much information from Colin using each photo as a prompt for his memories. As he talked I wrote down verbatim what he said. He then typed up what I’d written and stuck the writing under the photo.
Colin became very engaged in this project. Once he understood that I was interested in his life, his stories became a regular part of our conversation. Although we worked on his life story at a specific time each week, other sessions that we did were peppered with childhood reminiscence. This rapidly led to a strong rapport and seemed to lesson Colin’s anxiety and increase his confidence. Sometimes Colin would tell me a story that he didn’t have a photo to refer to. In this case he would do a drawing of his memory and stick that in his book.
Colin was very much in control of how his book evolved. Every week he would find staff that he got on with to share his latest story and this often triggered reciprocal stories. It was opportunity to improve relationships, shift power and improve self-esteem. When the project was complete, Colin took one book home to share with his mother and kept one at the day centre to share with staff. He had written his story.