Time line therapy considers how we store our memories and arrange them in a Gestalt. Certain memories of a similar nature are encoded together rather like a string of pearls, or an album of photographs covering a particular theme. Because of this clumping together of all memories relating to a certain subject, it can be difficult for the client to access a particular memory in isolation from all the similarly themed, clumped data. As this technique requires the client to visualise their “time line”, it can have limitations for people who are not that visual.
In relation to past memory, time line therapy allows us to quickly effect changes in the client’s memory, we can change an unhelpful view he has of a past memory by moving back in time and looking at the memory anew. The first thing we need to establish is how the client codes and stores time. Our personality and the way we view our world is influenced by all our past memories, education and experiences, so the way we’ve coded this “time“ is key to an understanding of personality.
Time line therapists consider that there are two generic models that describe how we view time. Firstly we have “through time”. Here your time line never touches you. Your past, present and future merge in front of you; you can see through time. This type of person is organised, hates being late for appointments, prefers to plan things in advance and is too busy worrying about the future to be in the moment. He is not happy in noisy environments, dissociates from stored memory and is good at making decisions. Secondly, we have the “in time” model. Here your time line goes through you at some point. Planning and follow through are a problem, but you live for the moment. Nothing is written in stone. It’s ever changing and evolving. This person is happy in noisy, chaotic environments, accesses stored memory and associates with it easily. He may have difficulty making decisions. Addictions are an “in time” phenomenon, where it is difficult to see past your actions because of the addiction.
Both classifications store memory in a gestalt. When a through time client has difficulty extracting a particular memory from this gestalt, it may be useful to get him to imagine going back through his memories as if turning back the pages of a book. When separating a memory from a gestalt for an in time client, it may be useful to use the metaphor of rewinding a movie of his life. This is because where the memory is stored linearly in front of the client (through time) the book imagery works well. The movie imagery works well for the in time client as his memories are stored front to back and go through him at some point.
With classifying clients as time liners do, it’s important to realise that we all use different timelines for different purposes. People who are the epitome of “through time” at work may find that “in time” style suits their home, social and personal life. It is therefore vital to get the client to elicit a time line for the issue(s) at hand.