I first met James Birren (pictured above with Cheryl) in 1975 when I was a graduate student at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California (USC). Dr. Birren, the founding dean, was head of the school. Our relationship was rekindled in the mid-90s when I enrolled in his Guided Autobiography (GAB) life story writing class at UCLA. The class was meant to be a “sounding board” for the book he later co-authored with Kathryn Cochran, Telling the Stories of Life through Guided Autobiography Groups (2001). I was hooked right then on the power of GAB and have devoted the past 20 years of my career to promoting and expanding GAB. This includes teaching an online interactive GAB instructor training program that now has trained more than 400 instructors worldwide.
What is Guided Autobiography?
“Where do I start?” This is the question most people ask when confronted with the opportunity or desire to write their own life story. Guided Autobiography (GAB) makes the process easy and manageable—even that most difficult first step! GAB is a process that guides your reflection about major life themes by means of sensitizing questions, designed to stimulate your own personal memory bank. These are the stories that may never have been told and yet each carries such a weight; they are the real treasures that matter. In the GAB sequence, the life themes begin with branching points and move on to family, money, work, health and body image, gender identity, thoughts of death and dying, spirituality, and finally goals and aspirations.
How does it work?
GAB was designed as a small group process to write your life story two pages at a time and share them in a small group of 6 to 8 members. In their own homes, GAB participants write two pages on what resonates with them about the each week’s theme, and then share their stories in the confidential, safe setting of the group. This is where the GAB Magic happens. Each person, who originally felt alone, unique, and different, begins to identify with others in the small group through the shared stories. “Other” members become “more like me.”
What are the benefits?
We grow as we see ourselves through the eyes and comments of our new friends. We understand our lives in a deeper and richer way, not only by looking back over our life, but by taking the time to understand and process those memories with new wisdom by writing about them. We grow, change, and evolve with a deeper respect and understanding for our past, the people in our lives, and who we are now. We begin to see our own foibles and follies. We become fuller, more whole, compassionate and empathetic for others and ourselves. And in the process, we’ve begun writing our life story, two-pages at a time, to leave as our legacy. “I was here . . . my life mattered,” or as one GAB participant announced, “I want to be remembered as more than a name scribbled on the back of a faded photograph.”
The benefits from participating in GAB are supported by repeated research findings. The bottom line: Writing from the heart — writing to the emotional core of things — is good for you! Try it, and if you get hooked on it, as I was, you can teach others. The circle turns round… It’s called “Legacy.”
Here is information about GAB Classes
Online GAB Instructor Training Classes: Visit the GAB website and open the tab Courses. Click on the link for Online GAB Instructor Training to learn the details of the upcoming classes. http://guidedautobiography.com/classes-1 This class trains you to facilitate your own GAB classes in your community.
Face-to-Face GAB Writing Classes: Visit the GAB website and click the tab About Us and Find an Instructor Near You. http://guidedautobiography.com/gab-network This is the list of instructors, by state or country, who have already trained through the Birren Center and wish to have their information posted on the website.
e-GAB: Online GAB writing classes are also offered by GAB instructors. http://guidedautobiography.com/gab-instructors