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Exploring Identity Through Time: The Past, Present, Future Self Portrait

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC


We all experience different parts of ourselves that emerge at different times as we are living through various stages and experiences. There may be parts of us that are willful, caring, compassionate, dedicated, loyal, persistent, easy-going, spontaneous, passionate, numb, sad, and so on. These different parts of us that we attach to as we cope with and manage the twists and turns in our lives can often shape our personalities, thoughts and behaviors. Our identities may align with parts of our personalities as well as the varied elements that make us unique, including our ethnic background and racial makeup, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability or disability, spirtual beliefs, academic status and so on.


When we include the factor of time as a component of our self-reflection, we begin to take notice of the shifts and changes that our identities have experienced over the course of our lives. It is in the way that we acknowledge these shifts and changes that really shapes our narratives and our self-concept. If I am asked to reflect on what got me here, there are an infinite number of memories and lived experiences to choose from and most likely all of our experiences culminated to bring us to this exact moment. Yet, many of us consider significant experiences as turning points in our lives. Often we can identify certain moments as critical to our development, our outlook or perspective on life and contributing to the way that we make choices and set goals for ourselves.


Time is an interesting factor in the realm of mental health, as often our thoughts can be consumed by what happened or did not happen in the past, what is happening or is not happening right now and what could happen in the future. For instance, for someone who is struggling with grief and depression, it would not be unusual to have the thought “I used to be so different and now I don’t have the desire to do anything” or “I just want to get back to who I used to be before I was depressed.” It is in these statements that we can begin to build awareness and understanding of our emotional needs and drive our healing. When we truly acknowledge how we are feeling and what we are needing, we are better able to communicate this to others and set more realistic and achievable goals for ourselves.


The Past, Present, Future self-portrait is an incredible art therapy directive in which the individual is asked to create a visual representation that depicts their own beliefs and thoughts about their past self, present self and future self. There are really no rules beyond the suggestion that the portrait should include the element of time as a variable. It is possible for this to be 3 separate images, a timeline, a singular head depicted in 3 different profiles, or an amalgamation of different images that represent this concept. The images can be on more of the abstracted end of the representational spectrum or can be realistic in terms of a facial portrait. This directive can be created using drawing materials, such as markers, colored pencils, pastels or pens, collage materials, clay and sculpture materials, painting materials or mixed media.


When creating the Past, Present, Future Self-Portrait, one may choose to journal or reflect on the following questions for further self-exploration and awareness:

  • What part of the self was easiest or hardest to depict? Which part of the self was easiest or hardest to reflect on?

  • What was most important to you as you were considering a visual representation of your past? What is it that you wanted the viewer or even yourself to understand about your earlier experiences?

  • What was most important to you in depicting your present self? Were there elements that you chose to focus on and not focus on intentionally?

  • What was most important to you in depicting your future self?

  • What aspects of yourself seem more closely related?

  • Do you see your past self influencing your present or future self?

  • What emotional qualities would you attach to these different parts of yourself?

  • What is your response to visually witnessing your past, present and future self combined in one art piece? What stands out most to you? Is there anything that is missing?

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