Time orientation and mental health

There’s a little theory I’ve been working on for the past several weeks and I’ve gotten to the point where I feel confident enough about it to write a blog post.  If another psychologist has already come up with this idea, please let me know because I don’t want to take credit for someone else’s work.  But to my knowledge, this is my original thinking.

Speaking of thinking, it seems that we have certain fundamental ways of viewing the world around us and it very much relates to time.  We have a tendency to engage in past thinking, now thinking, and future thinking.  Although I think it’s safe to say that we all engage in each type of thinking from time to time, we have a tendency to rely on one more than the others.  Each time orientation has it’s pros and cons, but if the cons are creating problems for your client, it can be helpful for the therapist to teach the client how to shift their thinking.  I’ve already started doing this with some of my clients and have seen some great results.

Past Thinking:  People whom mostly use past thinking tend to see the world through a lens of the past.  Current events remind them of past ones and they use past events as a way of predict how current events will turn out.  When utilized, past thinking allows you to learn from past mistakes.  However, problems arise when instead of learning from your mistakes, you them as evidence of an unending cycle you are doomed to repeat.  These are your clients that are “stuck in the past”.  I know a client is a past-thinker when they talk about something that happened ten years ago as if it was yesterday.  Clients that engage in too much past thinking often have issues with depression, anger, PTSD, and holding onto grudges.  One of the ways you can help these clients is by teaching them to have more of a balance in their thinking and letting go of the past.

Now Thinking:  Now-Thinkers typically don’t have issues with depression or anxiety.  They are very much focused on being in the presence and enjoying their life right now.   One of the problems with now thinkers is that they are very bad at setting future goals and working towards them.  They may also tend to make the same mistakes over and over again.  Some issues that can arise from being too focused on the present include irresponsible behavior, compulsive behaviors, criminal issues, reckless spending, and possibly drug issues.  Helping these clients learn from past mistakes as well as start planning for their future is essential.

Future Thinking:  These individuals tend to be high achievers.  They are very good at setting future goals and working towards them.  One problem however is that they are never satisfied with their achievements.  They are always asking themselves “What’s next?”  They may also suffer from anxiety issues, perfectionism, and OCD.  It is very helpful to teach these clients how to live more in the present.

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My name is Marina Williams and I am a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in Jamaica Plain, MA. This website is my professional website devoted to my activities as a therapist. If you are interested in finding out more about my private practice, please visit my other website JPcounseling.com


Do you want to make an appointment for counseling or supervision? Interested in having me speak at your event? Have any questions or concerns? Feel free to contact me at 774-240-5550 or info@jpcounseling.com