5. How to Conduct a Memoir Interview

Introduction

Your role

Your main role as a memoir mentor is to help your clients tell their stories the way they want to tell them.

Help is the key word.

You help them prepare.

And you help them say what they want to say, (not what you want them to say).

There are two more words to describe your role: Mentor and Facilitator.

Mentoring is Facilitating

The skills you will learn and practice in this manual are called facilitating skills.

Facilitating means to make an action or process easy or easier and that is exactly what you will learn to do in this training module.

As a ML&S memoir mentor you are a guide, an assistant and a coach.

You make it easier for your clients to express themselves clearly as they tell the stories they want to tell.

There will be times when your clients forget what they want to say or when they speak in generalities or when they leave out key details.

That’s when you can help them and make it easier for them to express themselves. 

When you complete this training module you will be able to:

  • Ask questions to help your client be more specific when they generalize.

  • Ask questions to help your client round out their stories by talking about feelings and thoughts.

  • Ask questions or make statements that help your client stay on track when they wander off topic.

The importance of practice

You must practice – out loud.

 It is the very best way to use these skills without hesitation or confusion.

Start with a mirror.

Watch how you look and listen to the sound of your voice.

Tape recording your practice can be helpful too.

Or, ask a family member or friend to let you practice with them.



Facilitation Skill No. One: Helping Your Client Be More Specific

Why Learn This Skill?

There are times when your client will make a general or broad statement and assume you understand what they mean.

Your job is to help them be more specific.

For example, a client might say: “I was very happy at school;” or “I found that work to be very challenging;” or “It was never easy raising my kids and working full time.”

Their listeners will want to understand why your client was happy at school or what it was about work that was challenging or what were some of the difficulties s/he faced raising kids and working full time.

As a facilitator you can help your client fill out the story by being be more specific.

How?

You can help your client be more specific by asking questions such as these:

“Can you give some examples of….”

“What are some of the reasons you felt that way?”

“What were some of the challenges you faced?”

“What was your address at that time?”

“What do you remember most about your…?”


Each of these questions gently guide your client to make their stories more compelling by providing details that explain the generalities. 

For example:


Client: “I hated middle school. Those were the worst years of my young life.”

Mentor: “What were some your experiences in middle school that made you hate it so much?"


Client: "I was happy in my job. I liked my work and the people I worked with."

Mentor: "Can you tell us more about your work, what you did and why you liked it?"


Client: “We had many wonderful family vacations when the kids were young.”

Mentor: "Can you tell us about some of these vacations, where you traveled to, what you did there and what stood out for you?"

Practice

Now it’s your turn.

You will need a pad and pen. 

Each of the segments below is an example of a client generalizing.

After reading each segment, write the questions you could ask to help your client be more specific. 

You should write at least two questions for each generalization. Then practice asking the questions out loud.

Ready?

Client: “My neighbor was very strange, so I tried to avoid her as much as possible.”


Client: “Business was always very demanding during the early years.”


Client: “I was happiest at summer camp and hated having to go home at the end of camp.”

Now compare your questions to these. Are they similar?


Client: “My neighbor was very strange, so I tried to avoid her as much as possible.”

Mentor: “What was it about your neighbor that you found to be strange?”


Client: “Business was always very demanding during the early years.”

Mentor: “What were some of the demands you had to deal with in your business?”


Client: “I was happiest at summer camp and hated having to go home at the end of camp.”

Mentor: “Can you tell us some of your happiest experiences at camp?”

(Pause) “And what did you hate about going home after camp was over?”

Facilitation Skill No. 2: Helping Your Client Express Feelings and Thoughts

Why Learn This Skill?

A memoir is more well-rounded when clients express their feelings and thoughts about events and situations in their life.

Feelings are emotional responses to an event or situation.

Thoughts can be judgements or opinions about what happened or what could happen.

Sometimes clients will describe an event or situation and leave out how they feel or what they think about it - then and now.

For example, a client might say: 

“When my dad was angry, he would get stony quiet and we just knew to say nothing until he spoke first.” 

Or, “I started my first job at age 35. Before that I had spent all my time raising my kids.” 

Or, “I applied to four colleges and got into three of them. But I didn’t get enough of a scholarship to go to my number one choice.”

Your role as a facilitator is to help them round out their story by adding their feelings and thoughts.

You do this by asking questions that help them describe their feelings and recall their thoughts about the situation or event.

How?


You can help your client express feelings and thoughts by asking questions like these:


“How did you feel when that happened?”
“What did you think about as things unfolded?
“What was your reaction to that…”
“As you think back about…what feelings do you recall?”
“That sounds like it might have been a (happy, sad, difficult, surprising) situation. How did you react?

For example:


Client: “I used to return to class early, at lunch, to avoid having to see Jimmy.”

Mentor: “Do you recall how you felt at that time and what you were thinking?”

Client: “I sure do. I was so scared and ashamed at the same time. I thought I was such a loser for being scared. But I didn’t have the courage to stand up for myself. Not then anyway.”


Client: “My teeth were such a problem. I looked like I’d been in a fight. I rarely smiled in 6th grade.”

Mentor:” That sounds like it must have been quite trying for you, is that right?”

Client: “to say the least (laughs). I was so embarrassed, I thought everyone was staring at me and making fun of me. Thank goodness my parents could afford braces for me.”


Client: “My first marriage was one long struggle. We fought almost every day.”

Mentor: “As you think back about your first marriage, what feelings and thoughts do you recall?”

Client: “Well, I remember feeling angry all the time…and trapped. I thought it was my fault that we couldn’t resolve our conflicts but also that he was a stubborn fool and I never should have married him.”


Practice

Now it’s your turn.

You will need a pad and pen. 

Each of the segments below show an example of a client describing an event.

After reading the segment, write the questions you could ask to help your client round out the story by describing feelings and thoughts about what happened. 

You should write at least two questions for each client comment. Then practice asking the questions out loud.

Ready?


Client: “The house was very quiet after my youngest son got married.”


Client: “No matter how busy I was at work I always found time to do a project with my sons like rebuilding an old car.”


Client: “My grandparents came from Eastern Europe and had very thick accents. I had trouble understanding them.”


Now compare your questions to these. Are they similar?


Client: “The house was very quiet after my youngest son got married.”

Mentor: “How did you feel being in such a quiet house? Do you recall what you thought about your empty nest?”


Client: “No matter how busy I was at work I always found time to do a project with my sons like rebuilding an old car.”

Mentor: “Why did you feel this was so important?”


Client: “My grandparents came from Eastern Europe and had very thick accents. I had trouble understanding them.”

Mentor: “How did you feel about spending time with your grandparents?”

Facilitation skill no. 3: Helping Your Client Stay Focused

Why Learn this Skill

There may be times when your client combines different stories and gets confused. 

When that happens, your job is to gently help them stay focused and get back on track. 

You do this by reminding them of the main story they had been telling and (gently) asking them to return to it.

For example: 

Client: “So, anyway, I used to get up at 5:00 AM to make the kids’ lunches, get ready for work and then prepare breakfast. I was always tired it seemed. But being tired is normal. My friend Norma is always tired. She nods off in the middle of a discussion. So funny.”

Mentor: “It seems like things were pretty hectic for you when the kids were young. Can you say more about those days of working full time and raising your kids?"

Your role as a facilitator is to help clients stay on one story at a time when they wander off the topic – to stay focused and on track.

You do this by asking questions that gently reminds them about and helps them get back to the main story and back on track.

How


You can help your clients stay on track by asking questions or making statements like these, when they wander:

“You were telling us about your first home. Can you go back to that story and tell us more about how you managed to buy the house and what happened after you moved in?”

“Just getting back to what you were saying about Christine’s wedding. It sounded like quite a challenge getting everything organized, yes?”


“Can we return to your vacation in South America with your family? You said it was so memorable. What were some of the highlights?”

For example: 

Client: “So we had to tear down the entire kitchen and replace it. But we have had many storms. Like the hurricane in 2003. That was a huge one.”

Mentor: “You were saying you had to replace your entire kitchen. What was that like?”

Client: “Oh yes, we had to eat out for two weeks. And everyone was edgy because the house was such a mess. It was a very trying time.”


Client: “I played second base for my college team. I loved that game and I thought I was good enough to try out for the majors. My son was quite an athlete too. He played football and basketball in high school. I was very proud of him.”

Mentor: “Of course. Ah, you were telling us about playing baseball in college and trying out for the majors. How did that work out?”

Client: “Well, I hurt my arm and that ended my chances. To tell the truth I don’t think I was good enough and maybe it was a blessing in disguise.”

Practice

Now it’s your turn.

You will need a pad and pen. 

Each of the segments below show an example of a client wandering off track and losing focus.

After reading the segment, write the questions you could ask to help your client return to the main story and get back on track.

You should write at least two questions for each client comment. Then practice asking the questions out loud.

Ready?


Client: “My first car was a 1953 Ford. I loved that car even though it broke down a lot. Reminds me of the time we drove to Florida and had a breakdown on the highway.”


Client: “I was sick a lot in high school. Mostly stomach troubles. I missed a lot of school. Went to the doctor every week it seemed. Last year I got sick. Couldn’t walk. My son had to come over and help me. I felt so bad about imposing on him.


Client: “When I was in the Navy, I felt alive, you know. I felt like I was doing something important, helping my country and all. I also felt useful when I worked for the Department of Energy. We did a lot of useful things. Like…”

Now compare your questions to these. Are they similar?


Client: “My first car was a 1953 Ford. I loved that car even though it broke down a lot. Reminds me of the time we drove to Florida and had a breakdown on the highway.”

Mentor: “That sounds interesting too. Before talking about the Florida trip can you say more about your first car? Why did you love it so much?


Client: “I was sick a lot in high school. Mostly stomach troubles. I missed a lot of school. Went to the doctor every week it seemed. Last year I got sick. Couldn’t walk. My son had to come over and help me. I felt so bad about imposing on him.

Mentor: “Your son was a big help for sure. Ah, getting back to your high school days and illness, can you tell us more about that?”


Client: “When I was in the Navy, I felt alive, you know. I felt like I was doing something important, helping my country and all. I also felt useful when I worked for the Department of Energy. We did a lot of useful things. Like…”

Mentor: “We can certainly talk about your time with the Department of Energy. But can we go back to your service in the Navy? Can you tell us more about those days and more reasons why you felt so alive?



Have I completed this training successfully?

To be sure you have completed this training module successfully ask yourself:

  • Am I able to ask questions to help a client be more specific when they generalize?

  • Am I able to ask questions to help a client round out their stories by talking about feelings and thoughts?

  • Am I able to ask questions or make statements that help a client stay on track when they wander off topic?

If you are unsure about any of these skills, go back and review.