John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

Childhood Memories

childhood memory

For this exercise I ask students to write down one or two early childhood memories. I also tell them to create a title for each memory, as if what they wrote is a newspaper story and they are creating a pithy headline that captures its essence. Afterwards, we discuss a variety of questions about the dynamics and significance of childhood memories:

  • Does the memory reveal important themes in one's past as well as present life? - for example, the nature of one's relationships with significant others, predominant issues, conflicts, emotions, attitudes, etc. The title of the story often helps clarify this.

  • Does the memory illustrate a particular developmental need, such as for autonomy, mirroring, soothing, self-esteem, and love?

  • Is the memory accurate? Are the details of the memory meaningful? Do they come from other memories? Is this memory really a composite of several memories (what Freud would call a "screen memory")?

  • How would significant others remember the event? If there are differences than how you remember it, what is the meaning of those differences? Why do people remember the same event differently? What does it say about them?

  • Are our memories accurate depictions of reality, or have we subjectively "created" the past. Is there really a "reality" at all?

Many of the concepts and techniques used in working with dreams also are useful in exploring childhood memories. This childhood memory exercise also works particularly well along with the Circulating Papers Technique. After students write down their memories, we circulate the papers around the class so each person has a chance to read and react to several other students' memories.

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