Oral History Interviews as a Therapeutic Tool

Oral History Interviews as a Therapeutic Tool – Melissa N., SLP

Collecting an oral history is an individualized, fun, functional method to begin therapy with an adult in any setting. Using a set of “interview” questions, a Speech Pathologist is able to modify the task to fit each patient’s goals. An oral interview addresses funtional receptive and expressive language, long term memory, thought organization, and problem solving skills. The patient can be asked to compare/contrast life now to life at a certain age (problem solving), give instructions on how to cook or bake their favorite dish (sequencing), or recall daily events as a young parent (memory). Completing an oral history with a patient and writing responses on paper is an easy, insightful way to establish rapport, facilitate language, and stimulate memory skills. Once completed, the written responses can be given to the patient to be handed on to family members or friends for genealogical purposes. The format that I use is as follows, however, an SLP may add, modify, or reduce the interview as indicated:
What is your full name?
Date of Birth? Do you know your sign?
Where were you born?
Did you grow up there? If not, where?
What was it like growing up there?
Who were your parents, what did they do, and what were they like?
How many brothers and sisters do you have, and where are they now?
What kind of games did you play as a child?
How was life different then?
What world event had the most imapct on your childhood?
When you were a teenager, what were the fads?
Who were the musicians/actors/actresses/famous people during your teenage years?
Who gave you your first kiss?
Who was your first date?
How did you meet your spouse?
How far did you go in school?
If you could be in any occupation, looking back, what would you be?

Did you have pets growing up? When you were older?
Do you have children? Names, occupations, families, and location currently, please?
What is your favorite thing about being a parent? a grandparent?
What’s you favorite type of music or performer, movie, book, quote, food, hobbies, television show?
What’s the one event that you think impacted your life the greatest?
What’s the bravest thing you ever did? The most exciting?
Where have you traveled? Where would you go if you could travel anywhere and money was of no concern?
What advice do you have for me regarding life?

Utilizing an oral history interview as a therapeutic task is convenient, free, and at times, intimate even. It’s amazing the stories that will surface and the information that a patient is willing to share! It’s also an excellent way to educate family regarding the patients’ language or cognitve-linguistic status, by giving the interview responses to the patient and his or her family members once completed. An oral history interview may be conducted over multiple sessions and modified per patient need. There are varying target goals met by impleting an oral history interview, and patients enjoy discussing life events.  Oral history interviews draw out a patients’ personality and “human-ness.” Recently, when asked his favorite book, a 94 year old gentleman responded (immediately) “My checkbook.”  Priceless.


 “God pours life into death and death into life without a drop being spilled.” (Author Unknown)