Early Recollections and Psychotherapy Outcomes

If early recollections are fictional reconstructions amenable to present shifts hi a person's style of life, then early recollections should change as style of life changes. This hypothesis is difficult to test because researchers would need to (1) measure

Chapter 3 Adler: Individual Psychology 93

early recollections, (2) assess current style of life, (3) bring about changes in style of life, and (4) reassess early recollections. If changes hi early recollections tend to track changes in personality variables, then ERs could be used as criteria for measures of psychotherapy outcomes.

Some evidence exists that early recollections do change through the course of psychotherapy. For example, Gary Savill and Daniel Eckstein (1987) obtained early recollections and mental status of psychiatric patients both before and after therapy and compared them to ERs and mental status of a matched group of control participants. They found significant changes hi both mental status and early recollections for the therapy group but not for the controls. Consistent with Adlerian theory, this finding indicates that when therapy is successful, patients change their early recollections.

Similarly, Jane Statton and Bobbie Wilborn (1991) looked at the three earliest recollections of 5- to 12-year-old children after each of 10 weekly counseling sessions and compared them with the early recollections of a control group of children that did not receive counseling. The researchers found that the counseling group showed greater changes in the theme, character, setting, amount of detail, and level of affect of their early memories. In addition, they reported one dramatic example of how early recollections can change as style of life changes. One young child recalled that

My uncle and dad took me fishing. They were fishing and my uncle got his line hung on a tree stump in the water. He yanked on the pole and the hook came back and hooked me in the head ... I waited for them to pull it out of my head. (p. 341)

After counseling, the child recast this passive early recollection in a more active light.

I went fishing when I was about 5 ... I caught a fish . . . and my uncle threw his line out and he got it hung on a tree stump and he yanked it back and the hook came back and got me in the head. ... I pulled it out. (p. 344)

This research is intriguing because it suggests that early recollections may change as a result of psychotherapy or some other life-altering experience. These results tend to support Adler's teleological approach to personality; namely, early childhood experiences are less important than the adult's view of those experiences.

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