Biography work

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A resident of a retirement home documents and sums up his own biography

Biography work is a structured form of self-reflection on biography in a professional setting . Reflecting on a biographical past serves to understand them in the present and a possible design of the future. The individual biography is seen in a social and historical context. Future potential for action can be developed from this point of view.


That the Americans Robert Neil Butler developed (1927-2010) concept of a life review ( English Life Review states) that many people with age felt the desire to give meaning to past lives. Dealing with one's own past can give personal security, strengthen self- confidence and help to better cope with the difficult situations of getting older. An assessment of the experienced past from a retrospective point of view could lead to an integration of the biography. That discrepancy that would result from a desire at that time and the actual curriculum vitae could be eliminated or at least reduced. Three goals of the biography work are recognizable:

  1. Strengthening
    • Acquiring the ability to deal with one's own past;
    • To convey the courage to tell;
    • Perceiving the memories of older generations as hidden treasures.
  2. reconstruction
  3. integration
    • positive processing reconciles breaks, contradictions and failures;
    • The knowledge gained is made into a resource for the future.


The three tenses according to John McTaggart are included in the biography work:

  • Remembering the past as a life balance
  • Support in the present as coping with life
  • Perspective for the future as life planning

In a temporal perspective, it is about taking stock of past life's achievements, about integrating life experiences into a present self-image and, in life planning, about making decisions about future actions. The temporal and methodological paradigm pursues the goal of developing an individual feeling of connection ( coherence ). Through this coherence, the personal identity is perceived as a coherent unit.

There are two different approaches:

  1. The conversation-oriented biography work includes individual and group discussions , which are offered on given topics. Topics such as B. Celebrations, holidays, school time, family life are treated.
  2. The activity- oriented biography work is characterized by active activities. Examples are the singing of well-known traditional songs followed by a conversation, museum visits, handicraft activities, handicrafts. Performing everyday actions, e.g. B. Setting the table can be part of it.

In both working methods, family members can be included and systemic therapy techniques such as client-centered conversation , active listening and family constellation can be used . An alternative technique is biographical-narrative interviewing , which has developed from the qualitative research method of the narrative interview . The communicative rules stemming from biography research are transferred to professional biography work.

Another methodical approach is the presentation of the respective curriculum vitae from a holistic perspective. For this purpose, biographical data from individual areas of life can be collected:

  • Social situation:
  • Cultural biography:
    • Cultural origin, personal traditions, eating, living and leisure culture.
  • Body and eco biography:
    • Own bodies, paths to sexuality, nature, the environment, city and country, childhood.
  • Faith biography:
    • Mythological elements, religion, spirituality, images of God.
  • Personality biography:
    • Cognition, emotion, behavior, coping.
  • Educational biography:

Fields of application

Social Gerontology

In the field of social gerontology , biography work is an applied method that uses biographical elements to investigate a multitude of experiences, encounters, successes, failures, separations, illnesses and other events in a playful and artistic way in order to establish a possible inner connection between all events to be able to discover.

Memory decreases with age, especially with dementia . Biography work is then a key to existing skills, which must be consciously promoted in order to retain them for as long as possible. In the past, care for the elderly was aimed at what an elderly person can no longer do. This deficient approach is to be replaced by an activating care: The focus was increasingly directed on what the elderly can do and what skills they still have. The question arises: How did man become what he is? In order to answer this question, as diverse information as possible from the biography of an elderly person has to be collected in order to methodically develop a curriculum vitae.

In this context, it can be beneficial to create visual incentives: For example, visible memory corners with familiar objects (furniture, family pictures, bibliophile books, life boxes) can keep memories alive, recall them and facilitate communication.

The “Ich-Pass” developed by Sigrid Hofmaier also ties in with the biography and is a resource for caring for people with dementia. In the "I passport" are u. a. biographical elements and personal preferences recorded. This information supports care that is adapted to the habits and wishes of the person suffering from dementia .

Further fields of application

Biography work can also set important accents in the area of ​​work with mentally ill people or people with intellectual disabilities in order to search for traces and strengthen the person's feeling of identity . There are also approaches to biographical work with people with a migration background . Young people can also be partners in biographical work.

A person whose job is with the target groups mentioned here can use the biography work for himself in order to be able to specifically identify his or her own helper motive or, in general, the motivation for choosing a career. Especially for the change of closeness and distance in professional relationships ( social pedagogy , social work , care), biography work often brings a gain in knowledge that has a positive influence on one's perspective on one's own work. In this way, emotional blockages can be recognized rationally, for example a transference that is expressed in this sentence: “Now I know who the client reminds me of. To my uncle on my father's side, whom I never really liked. "

Special review

Criticism of the term biography work is presented from two directions: in relation to the occupational field, the lack of consistency in implementation and, in scientific theory, the lack of foundation or apparent therapy-relatedness.

A correct approach to the inclusion of biography work in nursing is not seen as an alternative, but individual steps for nursing planning are named. In everyday working life, there is often no stringent reason for the necessity of a biography work: Should the nursing staff deal with tasks that are apparently also seen as pleasant or helpful, if basic needs such as regular food intake, social contacts and exercise are neglected because financing is not secured . This line of reasoning calls for instructions on how to act in relation to a defined benefit that is required within the framework of the prescribed quality assurance .

The term biography work postulates the tangible benefit of dealing with the life story, which has not been proven by an evaluation either for nursing / medical staff or for the persons concerned . The criticism relativizes the demand for a considerable expenditure of time at a point where even a little information that is easy to collect could ensure mutually satisfactory communication. This criticism thus accepts the principle of a different level of care expenditure based on life history, which should, however, be more clearly defined.

See also


  • Flensburg booklets: biography work. Issue 31/2003, ISBN 3-926841-31-1 .
  • Silke Brigitta Gahleitner: Biography work and trauma. In: Ingrid Miethe : biography work. Teaching and manual for study and practice. Juventa, Weinheim 2011, ISBN 978-3-7799-2241-4 , pp. 142-152.
  • Herbert Gudjons , Marianne Pieper, Birgit Wagener-Gudjons: On my tracks. Discovering your own life story. Klinkhardt, Bad Heilbrunn 2008, ISBN 978-3-7815-1600-7 .
  • Bernhard Hauptert, Sigrid Schilling, Susanne Maurer (eds.): Biography work and biography research in social work. Contributions to a reconstructive perspective of social professions. Peter Lang, Bern a. a. 2010, ISBN 978-3-0343-0406-1 .
  • Christina Hölzle, Irma Jansen (Hrsg.): Resource-oriented biography work. Basics - target groups - creative methods. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 978-3-531-16377-2 .
  • Hubert Klingenberger: Courageous. Remembering the past, discovering the present, designing the future. Don Bosco, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-7698-1426-6 .
  • Birgit Lattschar, Irmela Wiemann: Girls and boys discover their story. Basics and practice of biography work. 3. Edition. Juventa, Weinheim 2011, ISBN 978-3-7799-1777-9 .
  • Memory Biography and Writing Workshop e. V. Project Life Book - Biography work with children and young people at school , Berlin 2009. [1] (PDF file: 11.2 MB)
  • Ingrid Miethe : biography work. Teaching and manual for study and practice. Juventa, Weinheim 2011, ISBN 978-3-7799-2241-4 .
  • Isabel Morgenstern: Project Life Book: Biography work with young people. Verlag an der Ruhr, Mülheim an der Ruhr 2011, ISBN 978-3-8346-0812-3 .
  • Caroline Osborn, Pam Schweitzer, Angelika Trilling: Remember. A guide to biography work with old people. 2nd Edition. Lambertus, Freiburg im Breisgau 2011, ISBN 978-3-7841-1963-2 .
  • Hilarion G. Petzold, Brigitte Leeser, Elisabeth Klempnauer (eds.): When language heals. Handbook for Poetry and Bibliotherapy, Biography Work and Creative Writing. Aisthesis, Bielefeld 2017, ISBN 978-3-8498-1252-2 (AISTHESIS psyche).
  • Hans Georg rest : methods of biography work. Discover and understand traces of life. 5th edition. Beltz Juventa, Weinheim 2012, ISBN 978-3-7799-2069-4 .
  • Hans Georg rest: practical handbook biography work. Methods, topics and fields. Beltz Juventa, Weinheim / Basel, ISBN 978-3-7799-3154-6 .
  • Tony Ryan, Rodger Walker: Where Do I Belong. Biography work with children and young people. Juventa, Weinheim 2007, ISBN 978-3-7799-2031-1 .
  • Association for the promotion of socio-political work, Sabine Sautter (Ed.): Remember life. Biography work with elders. 3. Edition. AG SPAK books, Neu-Ulm 2004, ISBN 3-930830-49-3 .
  • Klaus ter Horst, Karin Mohr: My book of life - for children in inpatient youth welfare. 3. Edition. Eylarduswerk e. V., Bad Bentheim 2011, ISBN 978-3-9808655-5-5 .
  • Klaus ter Horst, Karin Mohr: My book of life - for foster or adopted children 2nd edition. Eylarduswerk e. V., Bad Bentheim 2012, ISBN 978-3-9811168-1-6 .
  • Gabriel Prinsenberg: The way through the labyrinth. Biographical work. Accompaniment on the life path. Novalis / Oratio, Schaffhausen (CH) 1997, ISBN 3-7214-0684-2 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ingrid Miethe: biography work. Teaching and manual for study and practice. Juventa, Weinheim 2011, p. 24.
  2. ^ Life Review. on: (engl.)
  3. Christina Hölzle: The importance of resources and creativity for overcoming biographical challenges. In: Christina Hölzle, Irma Jansen (ed.): Resource-oriented biography work. VS, Wiesbaden 2009, p. 71.
  4. Philosophy. Brockhaus, Mannheim / Leipzig 2004, Lemma coherence.
  5. Help for people with dementia: The I passport for emergencies. In: taz. July 17, 2009, accessed March 4, 2015 .