New Guided Autobiography Program for People Living with HIV/HCV

Need a serving of resilience to go with those New Year’s resolutions? notebook & pen
Ah January… a new year, a fresh start … time to tackle those goals and dreams that have been carried forward—over and over again! Most of us have a list of goals that seem to elude us. Sometimes (especially when we live with chronic illness or disability) it’s a time and energy issue. And sometimes we lack the courage to begin. When we’re facing the future and afraid to take a step we often forget to turn around to see that we have a lifetime of preparation. Too often we ignore our hard-earned experience, skills, strengths and resources. A few years ago I discovered Guided Autobiography (GAB), a tool for life review or reminiscence and a way to access our personal stories.

Stories are containers that hold our tacit knowledge, the knowledge we possess without knowing that we know it. A unique mixture of experience, skills, strengths, aptitude, feelings and more, tacit knowledge is difficult to write down or communicate to others. We tend to forget about our tacit knowledge because it surfaces only when needed. By sharing stories about our life, we can see evidence that we do indeed know more than we think we do. Revisiting our stories can increase self-esteem and confidence.

Guided Autobiography (GAB) is a form of life review or reminiscence developed by James Birren in the mid-80s. Since then, considerable research has documented the benefits of the GAB method. A standard GAB group meets weekly to read a short story (less than two pages) written on a weekly theme or topic handed out the week before. Each topic is accompanied by a list of questions to help you remember experiences. Topics include: Major branching points in your life; Your major life work or career; Your health and body; Your spiritual life and values; and Your goals and aspirations. It’s important to note that while GAB may be therapeutic, it is not therapy.

BCCPD is offering three ways of experiencing Guided Autobiography through a new program called SOAR (Stories of Adversity and Resilience). Currently SOAR is open to people living with HIV and/or Hepatitis C.

  1. GAB Group teleconference: a small group (maximum six people) meets weekly by teleconference
  2. GAB Group face-to-face: a small group (maximum six people) meets weekly. By special arrangement with agencies/service providers in the Vancouver area. [If you are a service provider interested in a face-to-face GAB Group, please contact me. Contact information below.]
  3. GAB Interview: an individual interview (by telephone across BC or face-to-face in Vancouver) for those who prefer not to participate in a group or write their stories. The interview will be between one and two hours long. Prior to the interview you will be asked to make notes in response to a list of questions provided when you register.



How much does it cost?
SOAR is free of charge.

Is there an honourarium or compensation for participating?
No financial compensation is provided. Guided Autobiography participants typically find the process enjoyable and helpful.

Why is this program available only to people living with HIV/HCV?
This is a pilot project and our funding is specific to an HIV/HCV audience.

I’m not a “writer” and feel uncomfortable about writing stories to share with a group. Do I HAVE to read my stories?
It is normal to feel a bit uncertain about sharing stories with others in your group. Group guidelines regarding respect and confidentiality are discussed and accepted at the first meeting. The facilitator monitors participants’ feedback to ensure that it is supportive, encouraging and empathetic. You will never be asked to share information you don’t feel comfortable sharing. While writing skills vary, the focus is on conveying your experiences and reflections and not “perfect writing.”

How much time will the course take each week?
GAB Group: You can expect to spend an hour or more writing one or more stories each week plus two hours for each class meeting.
GAB Interview: You can expect to spend an hour or more reflecting and making notes on a list of questions provided when you register. The interview will be one-two hours long.

When will the GAB Groups and GAB Interviews take place?
The groups and interviews will be scheduled in consultation with the participants and options discussed when you register.

Why would I choose the group format versus the individual format?
Research on the Guided Autobiography group process has documented the positive benefits of reflecting on and sharing your stories and hearing feedback from others in your group. Sometimes fellow participants observe aspects of your story that you had not considered. Comments about the challenges or difficulties you’ve experienced or your creative problem solving can be surprisingly affirming.

The GAB Interview offering a single appreciative listener/facilitator does not provide the benefits of hearing multiple reactions to your stories. Guided Autobiography is typically done in a group format but the GAB Interview is available for those who may be unable to write their own stories or may need an introduction in order to become comfortable with the process. There are a limited number of GAB Interview spaces.

I have a question not answered here…
Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have additional questions, want clarification or wish to register.

Shelley Hourston
Program Director
Wellness & Disability Initiative/AIDS & Disability Action Program
BC Coalition of People with Disabilities
604-875-0188 or toll-free 1-877-232-7400

PDF for printing: New Guided Autobiography Program Blog Announcement