Time Line Therapy

 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.


5b.Three examples of Time line therapy:

1.For the client who is struggling to reach a particular goal, a person who lacks direction and optimism about achieving an important goal, we can use a time line to create a compelling future for him. Firstly, in counselling we would find out what the client is trying to achieve. Asking is this for you? And if you could wave a magic wand, and it’s all happened, with the outcome achieved to your satisfaction, what do you see? Where are you? What exactly does it look like, sound like, feel like etc? The idea is to have the client fully associate into this compelling outcome. The client then floats above his timeline, moving along into the future to the point when the outcome has been achieved and position himself above that future point in the time line. He is now asked to bring up the desired outcome and to fully associate into it, activating all the sub-modalities to get a fully emotional feeling of it. He then disassociates and locks this picture into the timeline. Looking back towards the present the client is asked to notice all the events from the present to this new, desired future changing, shifting and rearranging, to fully support this desired future. Finally, he comes back to the present and looks out towards the future and sees everything slotting automatically into place, to fit the future desired outcome; then floating back into now and re-orientating.

 2.Time line therapy can be used as a therapy to remove negative emotions. Firstly we must find the root cause; otherwise you cannot clear the emotions and limiting decisions, clearing the first event disconnects all the subsequent incidents. The specific intervention for the removal of a negative emotion is: Discover first event or root cause. Get in touch with timeline and flag; float above line. Float back to first event position (just above and before event, facing now).Find positive learning in the event. Apply positive learning to now. Preserve positive learning. Let go of negative emotions. Return to now, clearing along the way. Look back. If not clear, go back to floating above the event and repeat. Future pace event. There are possibly several reasons why the emotions disappear. One is psychological; all emotions require time to express their meaning, so switching the temporal perspective reframes the emotion, and it disappears. Another is metaphysical, where it is considered that there is only one real emotion on the planet — love. All the negative emotions are derivatives of fear and are an illusion, so a switch in the temporal perspective shows the emotion to be the illusion it is, and it disappears.

 3.Time line therapy is very useful in treating the client who is anxious about a forthcoming event. This is because anxiety is always concerned about an event in the future. We may feel guilt or shame about past events, but anxiety is always linked to something yet to take place. By having a client go forward along the time line to after the event has taken place, it then becomes impossible to feel the same degree of anxiety. The procedure would be: Have the client float above his time line, travelling fifteen minutes beyond the event that the client is anxious about. Now have the client look back along the time line towards “now”. Ask the client to experience his feelings now by asking, “Where’s the anxiety now?”  Have the client return to now and re-orientate. Lastly we can test the efficacy by having the client think about the forthcoming event that he was anxious about and calibrate his emotions now against the original anxious feeling.



 James, Tad and Woodsmall, Wyatt (Authors), Time line Therapy and the basis of Personality, Meta Publications 1978.

A Course in Miracles, Arkana, Penguin Books, 1985


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