(Adapted by Jill Olver from Schauer, Neuner & Elbert, 2005.)
This exercise can be used to help clients to conceptualise and concretely understand concepts of trauma and hope, and the roles they play in our lives.
This exercise involves building a timeline of the client’s life. Rocks are used to represent times when things have been painful, and flowers are used to represent times when things have been happy or when good things have happened. Developing a timeline helps to demonstrate to clients that in their lives they have experienced both pain and happiness.
This is particularly useful following experiences of trauma. Trauma has a way of making people feel that this is how their life has always been and that nothing will change. It holds people strongly in the past, making it difficult to change the present or even imagine a positive future.
- In a large space, stretch out a string across 2 or 3 metres.
- Introduce the concept that flowers are happiness and rocks are hard times. Have a wide variety of rocks and flowers to choose from and explain that some things might be little rocks and some things might be great big piles of rocks (give examples, like not getting a bicycle for Christmas may be one or two rocks but a parent dying may be a mountain). Give a similar description of the flowers. Don’t lead the client too much with examples, as the client needs to make their own judgment about the degree of good or bad experiences.
- Ask the age of the client and how they are feeling today. Would they choose rocks or flowers today? Place their choice about 40cm from the right hand end.
- Ask about when the client were born and if they know whether their birth was a celebration for their family? Would their birth be rocks or flowers? Place the client’s choice at the left end of the string.
- Ask about how the client was feeling about half way through their life so far (so if they’re 42, ask about when they were 21). Place their choice of rocks or flowers about half way along the string.
- Add another occasion that you’re aware of – going to school, getting married, and so on. Don’t lead the client, other than to suggest the occasion and position. Depending on the client, you may need to repeat this step untill they are confident with the process.
- Ask the client to continue to add to the line, putting in memories and times that are important for them. The counsellor’s role here is to just observe. The far right hand space is for possibilities for the future … how does the client imagine their lives will be in a month or a year?
- The client will stop either because they have finished or because they have dealt with more than enough emotion for one day. Express interest in the mix of flowers and rocks – there will often be a file of rocks topped by a flower.
- Ask to photograph the line and leave it in place untill after the client leaves
In this exercise, there is no need for the client to discuss their stories. The exercise is about making visual the experiences and emotions throughout their lifetime and showing that there is an alternate story line (some flowers, despite a life of trauma and hardship).
In future sessions, you can draw the line from the photos so the client can add to or change their line as the memories increase.