I ask all clients limited and basic information about their personal history in the beginning of the therapy process simply to rule out the need to spend additional time on the client’s past. More often than not, clients do not need to spend much time on their childhood histories in therapy, although it may resurface from time to time. Only when they make the distinction I suggested above (by asking themselves if there is a purpose to revisiting their past), can they begin to identify memories that keep coming back because they are the result of unresolved issues from those that have no value at all. By facing the past, neither running from it, or dwelling on it, clients learn to live in the present without being overly bothered by their own histories.
The balance is to think about the past when necessary (to understand its influence and avoid repeating mistakes) without spending more time than is really necessary. I also recognize that many clients are not bothered by their past, and do not need me to create any reason for them to be bothered by their past. For those clients, we don’t spend time discussing their past once we’ve ruled it out as not particularly relevant to that client’s needs in therapy