Guided Autobiography (GAB) has been researched and developed by Dr. James Birren over the past 40 years as a method for helping people document their life stories. Guided by a trained instructor, participants are led through themes and priming questions that evoke memories of events once known but filed away and seemingly forgotten. Each participant writes a two-page story on a particular theme each week, brings the story to class and reads it to a small group of receptive classmates. Writing and sharing life stories with others is an ideal way to find new meaning in life and to put life events into perspective. While connecting with one another on their journeys of self-discovery, participants feel enlivened by the group experience and gain a greater appreciation of their own lives and of the lives of others. GAB can be a powerful catalyst for improved self-esteem, self-confidence and communication within communities and within families.

Some of the benefits of GAB include:

  • Increased self-acceptance
  • Decreased anxiety and tension
  • Increased energy and vigor 
  • Increased positive view of others 
  • A feeling of connectedness and friendship

James Birren created GAB in the mid 1970s while he was the founding dean of the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California (USC).  Over the ensuing years, he has written three books on GAB and conducted numerous research projects into the impact of GAB, all the while traveling worldwide to present and expand GAB.  

Our goals

The Birren Center brings together people from diverse backgrounds. It is committed to research and enriching lives through writing and sharing the Guided Autobiography experience with others.

The program provides opportunities for education, training, research and dissemination of information to professionals and others engaged in the fields of life review, life story writing, and aging. Cheryl Svensson, Ph.D. worked closely with Dr. Birren for nearly 20 years and is the Director of the Birren Center.