Reminiscence work – ways to collect stories

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —November 14, 2006
Filed in Business storytelling

A couple a weeks ago we released our guide to anecdote circles and it has been extremely popular. We tried our best to give an expansive description of how you run these simple gatherings designed to elicit stories. Today on Working Stories Victoria made a substantial contribution by relating the techniques she is learning about how to trigger memories so people can reminisce. Once again we can learn so much from looking over the fence at other disciplines and I wasn’t even aware that there is a field called Reminiscence work. Here are the reasons, principles, and memory triggers for Reminiscence work.

UPDATE: The following material was developed by Bernie Arigho ( and reproduced with Bernie’s permission.

Reminiscence:  the recollection of one’s own life experiences

Reminiscence work:  The stimulation of social, education and creative activities that value people and their reminiscences

Ten good reasons for doing reminiscence work:

  1. It connects the past with the present
  2. It encourages sociability
  3. It helps to make care more person-centred
  4. it preserves cultural heritage
  5. It reverses the gift relationship (I.e. the reminiscences become an offer which makes the offerer more of an equal with someone who is caring for them)
  6. It enhances a sense of identity and self-worth
  7. It helps a process of positive life review
  8. It modifies people’s perceptions of each other
  9. It helps with assessment of needs and functions
  10. It provides enjoyment on many levels

From Faith Gibson, Reminiscence and Recall: A Guide to Good Practice

Principles of good practice in reminiscence work:

  • Person centred approach
  • Good communication, active listening, recognise non-verbal signals (it is not a ‘normal’ conversation)
  • Genuine interest
  • Respect for personal choice (do not push the person into a  selection, allow them to chose their story, this is important)
  • Fidelity and confidentiality
  • Establishing trust and rapport
  • Support for painful emotions
  • Non-judgemental attitude
  • Uncompetitive
  • Warmth
  • Good facilitation skills
  • Use of memory triggers that stimulate the 6 senses (see more below)
  • Use of inclusive and relevant themes
  • A range of imaginative and creative opportunities
  • Monitoring and evaluation at every stage
  • Support, advice and guidance for fieldworkers

The memory triggers,


reminiscence themes (in this case the Royal Festival Hall), active verbs (e.g. doing), specific technical language related to one’s work, proverbs, mottos, poems (apparently very good), ‘naughty’ words, personal idiosyncratic words, catch-phrases, ‘old’ words, hymns, songs, brand names, advertising slogans, nursery rhymes, skipping songs, names of special people and places


Visual:  photographs, newspaper cuttings, personal collectibles, film, slides, colours, birthday cards, scraps, old films, dreams, fashion magazines

Hearing: music, film scores, children, traffic, coughing,musical instruments,  instruments tuning up, fireworks, transport, the sea, different kinds of work, birdsong, railway whistle, the weather, street calls

Tactile: animals, fabrics, carpets, coins, people, sand, water, artifacts

Smell;  food, drink, tobacco, flowers, herbs, perfumes, cleaning and polishing materials, creosote, manure, the seaside

Taste:  Food and drink, tobacco, the air, tastes of the past from old-fashioned sweets

Movement:  dance, games, crafts, rocking, skating, cycling, holding a baby, different kinds of work, washing

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

2 Responses to “Reminiscence work – ways to collect stories”

  1. Pearl Says:

    Do you know about Rosa Say and her talking stories? Her goals and yours would seem to be in alignment. Here is her latest post:

  2. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Thanks Pearl, I was unaware of Rosa’s work.

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