For forty years, I have studied and utilized early recollections as a personality appraisal tool in therapeutic and informal contexts. As a graduate student in the 1970’s, I was introduced to the projective technique in a Theories of Counseling class focusing on the work of Alfred Adler. Through a class activity, I explored one of my first remembrances, and have been hooked on the procedure ever since. In my early memory, as a six-year-old, I was shocked when I realized that I had lost all of the money that my relatives had given me on this day of my First Communion. Immediately, I connected the memory to a lifetime problem that I had with money. I never had much money, but what little that I did have, I would fret about losing or needlessly spending. My early recollection also made sense to me in terms of how I would sabotage opportunities to enjoy life by refusing to spend my meager funds. As I began to realize the self-defeating and distressful nature of my ingrained fiscal convictions, I started to make small changes which enabled me to spend cash with less lament and anguish.
As I start my blog series, I wish to share my experiences with early recollections as a projective technique in order to begin a dialogue on the first memories of childhood. In the thousands of times that I have used early recollections with clients, the exchanges have helped me gain penetrating glimpses into the ways of being of a diverse range of individuals. As I tried to build my skills in interpreting the remembrances, I found that empathy is key for understanding their meaning. For some years, I studied the topics of early recollections and empathy together and explored the vast literature in each domain. Yet, even though my enthusiasm for early memories was strong, I was perplexed and dismayed to learn that the procedure was infrequently used among human service providers. How could a tool that seemed to me be so effective in gaining deep insights into human functioning be largely ignored by counselors and psychotherapists? Even though Adler introduced the projective approach over 100 years ago, the procedure, with the exception of practitioners with an Adlerian orientation, remains relatively unknown.