Narrative therapy's approach - to help clients express significant stories related to life themes - has its roots in the Early Recollection of Alfred Adler's Individual Psychology. The early recollection is a basic tenet of Individual Psychology: clients' early recollections often tell a great deal about the underlying direction and purpose of an individual's behavior and life outlook. Storied approaches are gaining ground in the world of career counseling. The recent 2007 annual conference of the National Career Development Association lends proof: no fewer than four sessions or round tables included or mentioned this topic.
One of the great advantages of using a client's early life recollections is that they are easily accessible and economical. Clients are not asked to respond to a specific stimulus, as you might find with other projective techniques. But, to me as a career counselor, one of the greatest benefits of asking a client to tell their stories is that the client can feel heard and understood by the counselor.
How to Use Early Recollections with Individuals
There are several ways to gather a client's early recollections for career counseling purposes. The following is just one suggested approach.
How to Process Early Recollections
Interpreting early recollections takes practice and guidance. In addition, every counselor has his/her own way of working through these early memories with clients. As a career counselor, my frame of reference centers on how the client's themes from early recollections might affect career planning. In general:
Early Recollections in Career Classes
I have also used early recollections as a group activity in the career exploration class I teach at a mid-sized university. This process can be a meaningful group activity, but there are important ethical guidelines in using this activity with groups:
Early recollections provide clients and students with an opportunity to narrate important themes from early life that can add richness to the client-counselor experience. The interpretation of early recollections can take practice; counselors are on safe ground always checking with a client's view of the story by asking "wondering" questions. Good resources for further study can be found from a variety of sources. While not necessarily narrative in nature, I have found the Journal of Individual Psychology an excellent resource for further study. The article referenced below, for example, focuses on Adler's use of early recollections and the parallels with narrative therapy.
Hester, R.L. (2004). Early memory and narrative therapy. Individual Psychology, 60(4), 338-347.
Savickas, M. (2006). Career as story. Presentation at the spring conference of the Ohio Career Development Association, Wooster, OH.
Keley Smith-Keller, Ed.D., is the director of the Career Development Center at Northern Kentucky University. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the College of Education, where she teaches the graduate-level career theories course. In addition, she teaches an undergraduate career exploration course. Smith-Keller received her bachelor's degree in English from Iowa State University. She earned her master's degree in Counseling and her doctorate in Adult and Higher Education, both from The University of South Dakota. Smith-Keller is a licensed professional clinical counselor and a master career counselor.