LifeStory Therapy™
Shonnie Brown, MFT

What is LifeStory Therapy™ and How is it Used?

LifeStory Therapy™ is autobiographical writing under the guidance of a professional therapist and writer. Increasingly, memoir writing is used therapeutically for spiritual and emotional healing. For some, it is easier to write than to talk. For others, it feels too shameful to speak. Often it is scary to feel the pain of opening too much. My own introduction to memoir writing developed spontaneously out of a need to heal the overwhelming loss of my family's summer home--a loss so profoundly deep that my grief only surfaced in dreams. Because I recognized that my loss was deeply buried, I began writing the story of our home, opening with a dream:

    In the dream I am crying. Endless sobs, greater than any I've ever known. My heart hurts beyond repair. I am watching the flames turn our home to dark embers. Even though my mother has already sold the property, the family is continuing to come up secretly to the burnt cabin when the new owners aren't there. I'm afraid we're going to be caught. And, sure enough, they drive up, catching us by surprise. I run away, down the path, into the lake. I dive into the safe, familiar waters and feel at peace.

    These dreams have continued for 15 years, and they've made me realize that in my heart and mind no one else could ever "own" our beloved lakeside property. Fate is requiring me to accept the unacceptable.
Once I began writing about my summer home, I kept on writing. Perhaps I was afraid that my wonderful childhood memories had burned up in the fire as well. And then I continued with many other stories from my childhood. I needed to write about the good memories and the painful ones--to view them all from an adult perspective. During the time I was writing about my school years, a big high school reunion loomed. And as I began connecting with the friends of my childhood, I felt an increasing need to explore in the memoirs feelings that were once again brimming to the surface:
    Fueled by a desire to identify everyone, I bring out the elementary class photos. I begin with the first grade picture. And I go into a reverie....

    I'm peeking through the door at a group of playful first graders running around the brand new classroom at Tamalpais Valley Elementary School. I am terrified. Even my new green lunch box and plaid cotton dress are not enough to still my fears of being unacceptable... I don't fit with the others. Certainly no one will like me and I don't know what to do here.

    I like the structured activities of school... I love the feel and especially the smell of my new blue Dick and Jane reader, my box of crayons and four sticks of untouched colored modeling clay. I love having a space for my own things that others can't mess up. I enjoy reading aloud in the reading circle. I can do arithmetic problems on the chalkboard. But recess, and the other kids... Now, that's really scary to me.
Treating my own shyness with compassionate acceptance truly helped me to celebrate my reunion with the children I once feared. Writing my memoirs has become a way of identifying and claiming myself. It was important to know the fear as well as the love. And to find that so often they were one and the same.

What Happens in a LifeStory Therapy™ Group:

LifeStory Therapy™ groups are a safe container for people to focus on their written and verbal life stories. A place for others to bare witness. And a place to do the therapeutic work which arises out of the writing. In a LifeStory Therapy™ Group we will set individual writing goals, talk about our hindrances to writing, do exercises to break through writing blocks and share whatever we feel like sharing. As a guide, I will teach writing skills as well as facilitate personal therapeutic work.

Individual goals may be the following:
  • breaking through impediments to writing from one's authentic self
  • accessing deep feelings and memories through writing
  • developing interest in the exploration and meaning of life events through memoir
  • accessing trauma and pain which has felt too hurtful or scary to talk about
  • developing compassionate acceptance for oneself in one's wholeness
For further information about joining a LifeStory Therapy™ Group, please call me at (707) 526-4353 or e-mail at


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