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Counseling Through Images: Using Photography to Guide the Counseling Process and Achieve Treatment Goals

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Creative approaches to counseling help counselors to meet the needs of diverse populations. The utility of photography in counseling has been demonstrated through several case studies; however, clear implications of how photography relates to the counseling process have not been well delineated. The existing literature on phototherapy is reviewed and connected to specific photo directives within the counseling process and common psychotherapeutic techniques.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 7:310–329, 2012
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1540-1383 print/1540-1391 online
DOI: 10.1080/15401383.2012.739955
Counseling Through Images: Using
Photography to Guide the Counseling
Process and Achieve Treatment Goals
MISTY M. GINICOLA and CHERI SMITH
Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven,
Connecticut, USA
JESSICA TRZASKA
State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health,
Connecticut, USA
Creative approaches to counseling help counselors to meet the needs
of diverse populations. The utility of photography in counseling
has been demonstrated through several case studies; however, clear
implications of how photography relates to the counseling pro-
cess have not been well delineated. The existing literature on
phototherapy is reviewed and connected to specific photo direc-
tives within the counseling process and common psychotherapeutic
techniques.
KEYWORDS phototherapy, creative counseling, photography,
counseling
Joining with a client on the counseling journey begins with the client painting
a picture with words so that the counselor can capture the essence of the
client’s life experience. The words used to illustrate that picture must be
descriptive enough for the counselor to feel or see what the client brings into
the counseling relationship. For many clients, this may be a major obstacle.
For other clients, it may be impossible to use words to convey an adequate
picture, requiring the counselor to use nonverbal approaches.
Counselors may incorporate artistic methods in therapy to assist
clients through nonverbal techniques to illustrate their feelings and issues
Address correspondence to Misty M. Ginicola, Department of Counseling and School
Psychology, Southern Connecticut State University, 501 Crescent St., Davis Hall 126, New
Haven, CT 06515, USA. E-mail: ginicolam2@southernct.edu
310
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Counseling Through Images 311
(Buchalter, 2009; Junge & Levick, 2010; McNiff, 2004). Through the process
of art making and creative expression, counselors can assist in the reduction
of a variety of distressing psychological symptoms. Because these methods
are nonverbal, clients can reveal as much or as little as they are comfortable
with, providing the counselor the opportunity to build rapport and trust.
Clients also experience a cathartic release by viewing their situations, prob-
lems, feelings, or difficulties in a concrete format that they can physically
experience and manipulate. In addition, having a creative object to reference
allows both the therapist and client to understand each other consistently
beyond the use of words (Star & Cox, 2008; Stevens & Spears, 2009).
One such creative method is the use of photographs, a medium that
does not require artistic ability or extensive training in art therapy. A photo-
graph is a nonthreatening method that can allow a client to convey meaning,
struggle, and emotions that cannot easily be verbalized. Along with providing
a supportive avenue to discuss an issue and express emotions in a creative
way, a photograph may provide a way to work around defense mecha-
nisms. Therefore, photographs provide concrete representations of personal
struggles that may not be readily perceived (Star & Cox, 2008).
Although the advantages to utilizing photography in therapy may
be numerous, counselors may encounter some challenges in using this
approach (Pillay, 2009; Stevens & Spears, 2009). Counselors may not
have specific methods for utilizing photography in a counseling session.
Additionally, little empirical research exists to support the use of photogra-
phy as therapy. However, reported case studies seem to indicate that these
approaches are effective for many clients. In this article, we seek to present
phototherapy as a clinical tool and present methodology that could be uti-
lized within a counseling session based upon existing reliable and validated
counseling techniques.
PHOTOTHERAPY
Phototherapy captures the therapeutic nature of images; it is concerned with
the taking, viewing, manipulating, presenting, and interpreting of the image
as a primary or supplementary form of counseling (Krauss & Fryrear, 1983).
The counselor views the photograph as having a window into the client’s
subconscious and unconscious, thereby providing both utility in clinical
assessment and treatment. Within a counseling setting, the directives given to
the client are as important as the viewing and analyzing of the photos (Hayes,
2002). The directives provide a context to assess specific characteristics or to
provide specific treatment. For example, if the counselor would like clients
to think about their role within their family, they may prompt the client to
review family photographs to discuss what they see. It is important that the
counselor provides support and concrete directions for the entire process,
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312 M. M. Ginicola et al.
which includes selecting content and format for the picture, manipulating
the images in a desired manner, and reviewing the image for content and
themes (Hayes).
Phototherapy has been shown efficacious in several settings with multi-
ple populations. Images have been used successfully with students in school
settings (Goessling & Doyle, 2009; Goodhart et al., 2006; Schudson, 1975),
senior citizens (Zwick, 1978), veterans (Stevens & Spears, 2009; Studley,
2006), and individuals with disabilities and their families (Glover-Graf,
2000; Rampton et al., 2007; Reynolds, Lim, & Prior, 2008). Photography in
counseling has also shown utility in group settings (Craig, 2009), as well as in
couples and family counseling (Star & Cox, 2008). In addition, phototherapy
has been used successfully with clients with a variety of presenting con-
cerns including substance abuse (Glover-Graf & Miller, 2006; Graf, 2002),
depressive disorders (Hanieh & Walker, 2007), posttraumatic stress disorder
(Stevens & Spears, 2009), eating disorders (Wessells, 1985), anxiety disor-
ders (Stewart, 1979), and other chronic mental illness (Hubbard, Romero,
& Thomas, 1987). Although the vast majority of these research findings are
from case studies, they support the efficacy of this strategy with a wide array
of clients and a variety of counselors.
Counselors from various therapeutic orientations can utilize
phototherapy. Photographs can be used to investigate thinking and
behaviors using a cognitive-behavioral platform; delve into unconscious
symbolism using Jungian thought; identify rationalizations and defense
mechanisms as defined by psychodynamic theory; investigate relationships
according to systems theories; and provide an alternate form of expression
and communication as a coping skill, which increases adaptability as
described by resiliency theories (Stevens & Spears, 2009; Weiser, 2004).
Photography does not have therapeutic utility with every client. Clients
must have the cognitive capacity to understand the directions, have access to
still-photography equipment, and enjoy creating images or artwork. Beyond
these initial requirements, however, phototherapy can work with children,
adolescents, and adults, as well as individuals with developmental delays
and disorders.
STAGES OF COUNSELING
Counselors can utilize images to supplement therapeutic techniques within
the spectrum of their theoretical orientation throughout the stages of
counseling. The sections and the table that follow highlight a) traditional
counseling strategies, b) how phototherapy has been or can be used within
each stage of counseling in relation to therapeutic goals, and c) examples and
directives based on our experiences in using photographs in a therapeutic
context (see Table 1).
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TABLE 1 Phototherapy Directives Associated With Traditional Therapeutic Goals and Techniques
Therapeutic Goal Traditional Therapeutic Technique Phototherapy Technique
RAPPORT STAGE
Elicit verbal responses Encouragers, Attending Behavior,
Verbal Tracking, Paraphrasing,
Summarizing and other Microskills
Explore:
1. Photos the client has found or created
2. Photos of the client
3. Family albums
ASSESSMENT & DIAGNOSIS STAGE
Identify symptoms and presenting
problems in order to assign a diagnosis
Clinical Interviewing, Open and
Closed Questions, Surveys and
Measures, Clinical Observation,
Third Party Reports
Review:
1. Content: abstract, recognizable, social relation,
focused on artistic quality, people/pets/nature
2. Format: perspective, color, focus, composition, depth
of field, manipulations
3. Meaning for both content and format
INTERVENTION STAGE
Explore emotions, increase identity of
emotions, assist in understanding
emotions and causes, learn how to
exert control over emotions
Feeling Reflections, Open & Closed
Questions
1. Assign a photo directive:
a. with any symbolic content which represents a) how
the client currently feels or b) a specific feeling or
emotion
b. finding existing photos of the client to demonstrate
different emotional states
c. to create a self-image or portrait where client is
reflecting a specific emotion
d. to identify something (event, object or person) which
evokes a certain emotional response
2. Investigate with the client the emotion, meaning and
expression of the emotion, as well as themes
represented within the picture
3. Help the client connect the internal emotional
experience to his or her internal cognitive processes and
external experiences
(Continued)
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TABLE 1 (Continued)
Therapeutic Goal Traditional Therapeutic Technique Phototherapy Technique
Explore thoughts, decrease negative
self-talk, confront cognitive distortions,
improve positive thinking
Cognitive and Cognitive-Behavioral
Strategies, Self-Talk, Rerraming,
Restructuring
1. Assign a directive exploring an issue, event or story
2. Help client explore his or her thoughts and provide a
narrative surrounding the images
3. Assist client in confronting inconsistencies or
incongruence, as well as cognitive distortions
4. Help client to restructure and reformat memories and
meanings
Increase social functioning, improve
social interactions with family, friends
and romantic partners
Communication Strategies, I Messages,
Empty Chair, Role Play
1. Assign a directive exploring an issue, event or
relationship or collect already existing photographs
evidencing the relationship
2. Help client explore his or her feelings and thoughts
surrounding the images and the expressed relationship
within the photograph
3. Assist client in taking the perspective of others by
providing an alternate view of the image
AND/OR
1. Assign a directive where the client attempts to take
photos from the perspective of another individual
2. Discuss the difference between the client’s perspective
and the ‘other’ perspective highlighting the differences
and promoting empathy and understanding for others
Improve coping skills, replace a negative
behavior, understand the function of a
negative behavior
Behavioral Interventions, Modeling,
Behavioral Rehearsal, Spitting in the
Soup, Relaxation Training
1. Assign a directive where the client attempts to take
photos of coping skills or a replacement behavior
2. Assign a directive where the client creates a narrative
surrounding a positive behavior
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3. Assign a directive where the client captures images of
relaxing or safe spaces
4. Assign a directive where images are taken to describe a
behavior in steps or stages
5. Discuss the images and use them in conjunction with
the behavioral techniques
Find solutions to specific problems Brief Solution-Focused Interventions,
Scaling, Exceptions, Miracle
Question, Acting as If
1. Assign a directive where the client selects or creates self
images reflecting a scale of intensity of
behavior/emotion
2. Assign a directive where the client selects or creates
images that reflect the absence of the problem
3. Assist the client in analyzing images for potential
solutions to his or her problems
Find existential meaning, hope and
purpose
Exploring Meaning and
Spiritual/Religious Significance,
Expanding Coping Skills and
Resiliency
1. Assign a directive where the client selects or creates
images to explore an issue or reflect his or her voice on
an issue
2. Assign a directive where client takes images of what
gives him or her hope or purpose
3. Have clients put together a personal record or memory
book to tell their story or aspects of their struggle
4. Assist the client in analyzing images for strength,
survival, resistance and meaning
TERMINATION STAGE
End counseling appropriately,
understand coping skills, identify
future action for problems which may
arise
Termination techniques, including
Flagging the Minefield
1. Ask client to create or select images which reflect his or
her current state
2. Assign a directive to create a memory/scrap book
either in or out of the counseling session
3. Reflect on the change in the pictures, highlighting the
coping skills and strengths the client has developed/
accomplished
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316 M. M. Ginicola et al.
Building Rapport
TRADITIONAL COUNSELING STRATEGIES
The initial stage of therapy, building rapport, is the foundation for counseling
interventions (Cormier & Hackney, 1993; Ivey, Ivey, & Zalaquett, 2009). The
goal within this stage is to increase client comfort, trust toward the coun-
selor, motivation and participation within counseling, and the production of
verbal responses. Utilizing counseling microskills, such as attending, provid-
ing encouragers, paraphrasing/summarizing, and providing verbal tracking,
serve as both rapport builders and a focusing tool (Ivey et al., 2009).
Problem-free talk is another tool for building rapport; it allows the coun-
selor to get to know the client and his or her personality by inquiring about
hobbies, likes, and dislikes (George, Iveson, & Ratner, 1990).
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
If the counselor finds that the client is interested in using phototherapy,
using photos can fit well into this stage of counseling. The initial stages
of counseling can be difficult for some clients who may have anxiety about
sharing intimate thoughts and feelings with a stranger. Using images is partic-
ularly helpful if the client is resistant to this type of verbal interaction (Hayes,
2002). Photography can function as dialogue in a visual language, serving as
an alternative form of communication, which can lower anxiety surrounding
verbal communication by using an enjoyable format for the client (Goodhart
et al., 2006; Hunsberger, 1984; Krauss & Fryrear 1983; Reynolds et al., 2008;
Weiser, 1988). Within this stage, the counselor should establish the clients’
enjoyment of photography, what images they prefer, what photographic
techniques they are familiar with, and what types of content they enjoy
photographing. Directives center on the exploration of photographs that the
clients have found to be appealing to them or created themselves to elicit ver-
bal responses (Henry, 1984; Weiser, 2004). Clients could also bring in pictures
of themselves and family photos to share personal history (Schudson, 1975;
Star & Cox, 2008). The counselor may use traditional counseling microskills
within this exploration, as well as appropriate questioning techniques. The
use of the image allows for the client and counselor to offer discourse over
a concrete image rather than shifting the direction onto the client directly,
which some clients may experience as confrontational or threatening. It is
important to note that while building rapport, counselors should not engage
the client in analysis of the image or confrontations as that is not typically an
appropriate strategy for this stage of counseling.
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
When faced with an adolescent female client who had difficulty express-
ing emotions, frequently shut down from interactions, and had suicidal
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Counseling Through Images 317
ideations, I (MMG) struggled to find a way to help this client begin engag-
ing in a way that was nonthreatening. Verbally discussing problem-free
issues did not seem helpful; the client’s responses were restricted to one-
or two-word responses. Finally, I (MMG) asked if the client would be
willing to share her social networking Web page where she had publicly
compiled her thoughts and pictures. She agreed and as she viewed the pic-
tures on the computer, the adolescent opened up about what each photo
meant, why she took the picture, and who was in the pictures. This tech-
nique allowed me (MMG) to build rapport with the client, engage her in
problem-free talk, and identify the utility of phototherapy as a potential
strategy.
Assessment and Diagnosis
TRADITIONAL COUNSELING STRATEGIES
Following or concurrent with building rapport is the stage where counselors
assess the client’s presenting symptoms and underlying and presenting prob-
lems and provide a diagnosis typically using the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000;
Cormier & Hackney, 1993; Ivey et al., 2009). This process is typically
accomplished through clients’ verbal responses to open-ended and closed
questions, clients’ written reports through surveys or measures, clinical
observation, and third-party reports.
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
Although phototherapy should not replace these methods, it can be used
as a tool in concordance with traditional strategies. Using the images the
client selects as significant, the counselor can explore the client’s cultural
influences, values, beliefs, and spirituality by reviewing the content and dis-
cussing its importance for the client (Goessling & Doyle, 2009; Hays, Forman,
& Sikes, 2009). The symbols used may provide insight into the psyche, help-
ing the counselor identify the client’s overt and hidden meanings (Fryrear
& Corbit, 1992; Hayes, 2002; Loewenthal, 2009; Reynolds et al., 2008). The
images and the client’s explanation of the images can also reveal thought
perceptions and distortions, which are important to target in therapy (Hays
et al., 2009).
Content should be reviewed: Are the images abstract, recognizable,
varied in quantity (alone vs. among others); human, animal, or nature
objects; artistic or creative in nature? Although it is useful to assess the
content specifically for meaning as identified by the counselor, it is more
accurate and reliable to obtain the meaning as identified by the client to
understand the image’s construction, thought, feeling, and behavioral signif-
icance. The image itself can capture the client’s inner world, perceptions,
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318 M. M. Ginicola et al.
and contextual experiences, which are key to assessment, diagnosis, and
the formulation of treatment goals (Hays et al., 2009). Therefore, review-
ing the perspective (level vs. tilted), color (black and white vs. color),
focus (narrow vs. wide zooming; sharp vs. blurry), composition (bal-
ance within the image), depth of field (only some content is sharply
focused), and any manipulations to the photo (as seen in digital) can
further illuminate specific symptomatology and change in symptoms. For
example, someone who is depressed is likely to have black-and-white
images with blurry or unfocused and constricted content (Hanieh & Walker,
2007).
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
I (MMG) saw a client who presented with depressive symptoms and sui-
cidality. Through formal assessment, I (MMG) diagnosed her with major
depressive disorder. After I (MMG) suggested she take pictures of things
that appealed to her or spoke to her emotions, she captured and shared
several photos. Her photos seemed congruent with her depression diag-
nosis; they were all taken in black-and-white and from a tilted viewpoint,
indicating a disruption in typical mood functioning and cognitive perspec-
tive. However, several photographs had themes of abuse or trauma; the
content included broken objects, strangled dolls, and themes of loss of inno-
cence. Because this was early in the counseling relationship, I (MMG) did
not press the client when she only vaguely described the depictions and
did not reveal any history of trauma. After a few weeks of treatment and
reviewing photos, the client finally opened up about a recent rape that
had preceded her suicidal attempt. In this case, although I did not deem
the photographic analysis to be sufficient as a lone assessment strategy,
it prompted me (MMG) to be vigilant for trauma symptoms. Later clini-
cal assessment revealed that the client had comorbid posttraumatic stress
disorder.
Intervention and Treatment
Thousands of specific therapeutic interventions and treatment strategies con-
nect to varied theoretical orientations. The purpose of this article is to
match phototherapy directives with counseling techniques to illustrate the
efficacy of phototherapy within counseling. We will only be using those
counseling techniques recommended by Erford, Eaves, Bryant, and Young
(2009). For the purposes of this article, these treatment strategies are sep-
arated into interventions focused on a) emotions, b) cognitions, c) social
relationships, d) behavior, e) solutions, and f) existential meaning and/or
spiritual significance.
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Counseling Through Images 319
TRADITIONAL EMOTION-FOCUSED INTERVENTIONS
Support and nonjudgmental exploration of feelings have been considered
an important component of effective therapy (Rogers, 1957). Reflecting and
exploring clients’ emotional experiences and presentations often are at the
core of many therapeutic interventions. With these techniques, it is impor-
tant to identify how clients display different emotions, what they understand
about their emotional states, how they constrict or exaggerate emotion, and
how they connect them to their external realities.
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
Photographs, because of their ability to communicate emotion, are ideal tools
for this type of therapeutic goal. Specific photo activities may be to take
pictures of symbols that represent the client’s emotions or to find existing
photos of the client in varied emotional states (Ginicola, Smith, & Trzaska,
2012; Hanieh & Walker, 2007). In addition, the counselor could suggest that
the client take a self-portrait photo in an emotional state or capture an exter-
nal event that evokes specific emotions for the client, such as sadness or
anxiety (Ginicola et al., 2012; Hanieh & Walker, 2007). The counselor may
follow up these interventions with assisting clients to explore the emotion,
meaning, and expression of the emotions as clients see them within the
images. The counselor can look for specific themes of pain, trauma, or heal-
ing, which may be useful to explore. Additionally, the counselor may guide
clients to an understanding of the connection between external experiences,
their internal emotional experiences, and their internal cognitions.
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
In a treatment group composed of adult clients with comorbid mental illness
and substance abuse, I (JT) provided instructions for all clients to take a
black-and-white self-portrait, which they graphically altered into an outline
using a computer program. They then printed out nine of these outlines and
colored each a different color according to mood. The clients selected their
colors and identified to the group why they chose certain colors to reflect
certain moods. This strategy led to a group discussion and processing of the
impact of emotion on their ability to stay sober, including which emotions
were the hardest for them to process on their own.
TRADITIONAL COGNITIVE-FOCUSED INTERVENTIONS
The exploration of thoughts and their connection to feelings and behav-
iors have been a prominent component of therapy and counseling strategies
(Beck, 1997). Although many techniques deal with changing client’s thought
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320 M. M. Ginicola et al.
patterns and distorted thinking, some of the most common address cognitive
self-talk (Seligman, 2001), reframing (Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 1974),
and restructuring (Doyle, 1998). All of these techniques allow for the dis-
covery, interpretation, and reinterpretation of thoughts and meaning that are
negative and/or harmful to the client.
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
Photographs can be helpful in assisting the client to examine and ana-
lyze content, memories, and experiences (Goodhart et al., 2006; Hanieh &
Walker, 2007; Krauss & Fryrear, 1983; Star & Cox, 2008). Within phototherapy,
techniques that center on cognitions typically involve the client telling nar-
ratives about the images or using the image as a metaphor (Pillay, 2009).
Counselors may use memory books (Pillay, 2009) in the same manner as
the cognitive strategy of mutual storytelling to assist clients in developing
new, more adaptive narratives to replace negative and distorted narratives
(Gardner, 1986). Counselors may also use self-portraits or images that repre-
sent the self as effective ways to confront negative self-images or cognitive
distortions (Glover-Graf, 2000; Glover-Graf & Miller, 2006; Hunsberger, 1984;
Pillay, 2009; Reynolds et al., 2008; Star & Cox, 2008). The key to using these
tools in a successful manner is allowing for self-confrontation (Henry, 1984)
and assisting clients in the confrontation of incongruence between their per-
ception and reality (Zwick, 1978). Additionally, investigating the themes,
conflicts, and contradictions in the images can assist clients in exploring
conflicting feelings and thoughts (Schudson, 1975).
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
In a case of an adult female client struggling with familial conflict, the client
revealed a history of parental abuse and neglect. However, the client had a
distorted view of her family; she saw herself to blame for the abuse and felt
guilt for her inability to fix her family’s issues. The counselor (MMG) asked
the client to explore family photographs as a way to identify specific issues
the family faced throughout time. Because the client had often compared
her fiancé’s family to her own, I (MMG) asked if she, with the permission of
her partner, felt comfortable bringing in one of their photo albums as well.
As the counselor (MMG) and client reviewed the photographs, the client was
able to identify specific times in her life when the abuse occurred, starting
with her first memory at 3 years of age. Exploring these events, the counselor
(MMG) was able to assist the client in identifying that this abuse could not
possibly be her fault. The client was able to objectively see herself as a child
who should have never been physically harmed. Additionally, in comparing
her photo album with her fiancé’s photo album, she commented on how
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Counseling Through Images 321
much happier his family seemed with each other. The counselor (MMG)
asked her to make a list of the positive attributes she identified in each set of
parents; after finding numerous positive attributes in her fiancé’s family, she
identified very few in her own. When asked by the counselor (MMG) how
the lack of those attributes could possibly be her fault, she sat in the session,
looking shocked. For the first time, she was able to truly confront the abusive
family system and her lack of control, as a child, to influence her parents.
The client was then able to move on to healing from the abuse, ultimately
forgiving her parents and reidentifying her role in her family as an adult.
TRADITIONAL SOCIALLY FOCUSED INTERVENTIONS
Many counseling strategies focus on the clients’ interactions with others
within their social environment. Whether it is to facilitate a greater degree
of socialization in pursuit of a stronger support network, improve commu-
nication skills, or help clients understand the perspective of those close to
them, counselors have a variety of techniques to choose from to assist their
clients. Among these techniques are helping clients to own their thoughts
and feelings in communication with others by using I-messages (Gordon,
1974). Counselors may also help clients explore the perspectives of others
by using techniques such as empty chair, role reversal, and role-play (Coker,
2004).
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
In phototherapy, the exploration, awareness, and sensitivity to emotional
issues helps build a vocabulary as well as perspective (Schudson, 1975;
Weiser, 1988). As the counselor assists the client in viewing the photograph
from several perspectives, the client uses the image to build an awareness of
how others may view the same issue (Schudson, 1975; Weiser, 1988). In addi-
tion, photography has been used to understand and explore both positive
and negative familial, romantic, and social relationships (Goessling & Doyle,
2009; Hays et al., 2009; Krauss & Fryrear, 1983; Loewenthal, 2009; Reynolds
et al., 2008; Star & Cox, 2008; Weiser, 2004; Wessells, 1985).
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
I (MMG) used this strategy with a female adolescent client who was expe-
riencing family mental illness and conflict. The client took a picture of a
weathered tree in black-and-white. She identified that the tree had been
through a major storm, and many of the branches were broken. With
prompting, she identified the tree as her family: The branches at the top
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322 M. M. Ginicola et al.
were her parents, she was in the middle, and her younger siblings were at
the bottom of the tree. I (MMG) asked her to take the perspective of each
of the branches. What did they see about themselves? What did they see
about the middle branch? She described the top branches of the tree as the
ones hit most by the storm and said they were worried about the bottom
branches the most because of their fragility. The bottom branches, she said,
were scared by the storm so they were hanging on as hard as they could.
When asked how they both saw her, as the middle branch, she paused in
thought. She then described that everyone probably thought she was fine
because she hid all her fear and resentment; she thought that as the middle
branch, she needed to stay strong to hold the tree together. I (MMG) was
then able to explore with the client why her family members did not think
she needed help and how to communicate to them otherwise.
TRADITIONAL BEHAVIORALLY FOCUSED INTERVENTIONS
In the case of a client needing assistance in developing a new skill or replac-
ing a negative behavior, the counselor may guide the client by targeting the
problem behaviors, brainstorming appropriate replacement behaviors with
the client, and using behavioral techniques to increase or decrease behav-
iors as needed. Common counseling techniques include modeling (Bandura,
1971) and behavioral rehearsal (Thorpe & Olsen, 1997). An additional strat-
egy is to understand the function of the behavior to provide replacement
behaviors. Counselors may support the client in evaluating the behav-
ior, or they may use the technique of “spitting in the soup” (Ansbacher
& Ansbacher, 1956); both ways highlight the fact that negative behav-
ior may have some positive function that keeps it from being completely
extinguished. Behavioral training, such as teaching deep breathing and pro-
gressive muscle relaxation through guided imagery, can decrease anxiety
and be useful as a coping skill (Giordano, Everly, & Dusek, 1990; Jacobsen,
1987; Schoettle, 1980).
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
The counselor can use photographs to supplement these traditional thera-
pies when exploring behavior (Rhodes & Hergenrather, 2007). Clients could
take images of problem or replacement behaviors, as well as obstacles to
behavioral change. If the counselor is using deep breathing or progres-
sive relaxation, images could either be literal representations of behavioral
steps, metaphorical representations of relaxation, or simply images of their
“safe space.” Using photography may in itself represent mastery of a skill,
which functions as a replacement behavior, a coping skill, and evidence of
accomplishment.
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Counseling Through Images 323
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
While working with a male client with high-functioning autism, I (MMG)
created pictures with the client performing behaviors that would lead to
rewards, per his behavior plan, as well as breathing strategies to self soothe.
All steps to complete a certain behavior were captured and reviewed with
the client. This was found to be a useful strategy, as he used the pictures in
school and in his residential setting, where staff members were able to refer
him to the picture rather than just verbalize their expectations. As a result, his
behavior problems decreased and the strategy was identified as efficacious
for this client.
TRADITIONAL SOLUTION-FOCUSED INTERVENTIONS
In counseling settings that require brief interventions, solution-focused ther-
apy has been utilized with several effective strategies. Counselors may ask
clients to quantify their problem with scaling (De Jong & Miller, 1995), con-
sider and analyze exception circumstances (i.e., when their problem does
not occur; Presbury, Echterling, & McKee, 2002), answer the miracle ques-
tion (i.e., what would it look like if your problem was suddenly gone?; de
Shazer, 1988), and “act as if” their problem was no longer there (Carlson,
Watts, & Maniacci, 2005). All of these techniques allow the client to visualize
the goal and to identify concrete steps to reach the goal.
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
Although empirical research has not identified specific photographic direc-
tives, it is easy to identify how phototherapy could supplement these
traditional therapeutic techniques. Clients could take or find images of dif-
ferent levels of the problem, reflecting the scaling technique. For example, if
the client was assessing his or her mood, several pictures could be taken in
various mood sequences, from completely depressed to feeling ecstatic. This
technique could be particularly helpful for children or those with cognitive
limitations to choose a visual image to reflect their problem or emotional
state. Second, clients may find or create self-images that reflect the absence
of the problem. By analyzing these images with the client, the counselor can
assist the client in arriving at possible solutions to the problem.
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
In a weekly treatment group of children with identified problem behaviors,
I (JT) targeted a lack of self-esteem and a perceived connection to a special
adult as potential contributors. Rather than explore lack of self-esteem and
relationships, the children were directed to identify something meaningful,
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324 M. M. Ginicola et al.
special, and positive about themselves. After each child identified something,
they helped each other take pictures symbolizing what was special (i.e., the
attribute, characteristic, or ability). Then, each child was asked to identify
a special adult within their life to whom they felt closest. Solution-focused
treatment was used at this point as well to help the children explore current
realities (if there was an adult that cared about them) and to create a plan
of how to find an adult that could provide that relationship. After each child
had identified either a current or potential adult, they created one photo to
give as a gift to their identified adult.
TRADITIONAL EXISTENTIAL/SPIRITUAL-BASED INTERVENTIONS
The importance of exploring client meaning and spirituality has been high-
lighted throughout the counseling literature (Cashwell & Young, 2005; Ivey
et al., 2009). Exploring themes of resiliency, strength, creativity, expression,
hope, and purpose can assist clients in developing higher meaning for their
struggle and presenting problems. Achieving this can help clients signifi-
cantly in the perception and reality of expressed control over their symptoms
and their eventual resolution.
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
Phototherapy can be instrumental in this regard. Using photography for
any purpose allows for creativity, expression, and communication. Finding
a message and using photography to express one’s voice can be incredi-
bly powerful and therapeutic (Rhodes & Hergenrather, 2007; Wang, 1999).
Photographs are evidence of a personal record and struggle, which can
highlight themes of survival, strength, and resistance (Reynolds et al., 2008;
Rhodes & Hergenrather, 2007). Finally, using photography as a coping mech-
anism can lead to feelings of pride, mastery, and accomplishment (Krauss &
Fryrear, 1983; Schudson, 1975).
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
For me (MMG), working with a terminally ill senior male client seemed
very difficult at the onset. The client did not want to discuss his cancer,
nor did he wish to discuss his family. I (MMG) found that a traditional life
review might not be possible. When exploring photographs with the client,
however, I (MMG) realized that the client was more willing to talk about
his experiences. Together, we then created an album of the pictures that
represented the most important times of his life and those of which he was
most proud. After putting the pictures together, I (MMG) assisted the client
Downloaded by [Misty M. Ginicola] at 13:18 18 December 2012
Counseling Through Images 325
in telling the story of each picture, with the ultimate goal of giving copies of
the picture book to all of his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Termination
TRADITIONAL COUNSELING STRATEGIES
At the conclusion of counseling, appropriate termination techniques are uti-
lized to assist clients in transitioning back into their life without the support
of the counselor (Ivey et al., 2009). Summarizing and reflecting on the expe-
rience of counseling are important during this stage. A technique known as
“flagging the minefield” also requires the counselor and client to explore
potential problems that may arise and make a plan for future solutions to
prevent a reoccurrence of symptoms or the occurrence of a crisis (Sklare,
2005).
USE OF PHOTOTHERAPY
Reflecting on the images used within counseling and the developmental
differences in the images from the beginning to the end of counseling can
be helpful in this regard. Images reflect concrete proof and documentation
of change, which are crucial to reflect upon during this stage (Krauss &
Fryrear, 1983). The client could review the pictures individually or create a
memory book with the images. The creation of this book could be part of
the counseling session, and the therapist could guide the client in reflections
during the creative process of making the book. Because phototherapy has
been associated with feelings of empowerment and achievement, this proof
of change may help clients leave counseling with positive feelings about their
experience (Goessling & Doyle, 2009; Goodhart et al., 2006; Krauss & Fryrear,
1983; Reynolds et al., 2008). In addition, counselors who use phototherapy as
a primary or supplemental tool in their practice report that they experience
both professional and personal significance with this effective, enjoyable,
and powerful tool (Young, 2010).
CLINICAL EXAMPLE
I (MMG) found that the use of a memory book with my client was one of
the most meaningful experiences I had with phototherapy. My (MMG) client
compiled pictures from the beginning of our counseling sessions to the end
and highlighted the realizations she had made about herself along the way.
She began the book with a picture of herself looking down, forlorn, and
depressed. She finished the book with a letter to me (MMG) detailing her
journey, thanking me for my role, and speaking of how far she had come.
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326 M. M. Ginicola et al.
The final picture in the book was a self-portrait of the client looking at the
camera, smiling with the integrity and pride that was missing in her first
photo. The client left a copy of the book with me (MMG); not only did
the memory book remind the client of how far she had come, it is a daily
reminder to me of the benefits of phototherapy.
CONCLUSION
Photography can be utilized as a supplemental or direct counseling strat-
egy. Although the empirical research is limited, its utility can be seen when
identifying the link between treatment goals, traditional interventions, and
phototherapy instructions. As illustrated in Table 1, the counselor should
focus first on the goals relevant to the counseling stage. These goals link
to traditional strategies, which are not abandoned but rather are expanded
with the assistance of images. The counselor may consider how an image
could assist a particular client with a specific treatment goal. If an image is
seen as useful to treatment, the counselor can either choose from the sug-
gestions described in the table or create personalized directions based upon
the needs and qualities of the particular client and presenting problems. The
client’s selection and creation of images, coupled with the counselor’s ability
to assist the client in reflection and empowerment to change is a powerful,
efficacious, and healing partnership. This intervention and alliance is cap-
tured in images, so that clients can reflect on their experience long after
counseling had been completed. A quote by Aaron Siskind, perhaps, says it
best: “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have
caught on film is captured forever . . . it remembers little things, long after
you have forgotten everything” (ThinkExist.com Quotations, 2011, para. 1).
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Misty M. Ginicola and Cheri Smith are Associate Professors in the
Department of Counseling and School Psychology at Southern Connecticut
State University, New Haven, Connecticut.
Jessica Trzaska is a Rehabilitation Therapist II with the State of Connecticut
Department of Mental Health, Connecticut.
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Book reviewed in this article: Craig S. Cashwell and J. Scott Young, Eds. (2005). Integrating Spirituality and Religion Into Counseling: A Guide to Competent Practice.
Article
This study used photography as a therapeutic tool and a present-focused approach in a 12-week group intervention to treat adults with chemical dependence enrolled in an outpatient treatment program. A qualitative analysis identified themes related to the topics of trust, honesty, self-worth, power, and abuse. Self-esteem, abuse, and trauma-related symptoms were also assessed using the Multidimensional Self-Esteem Inventory (MSEI), the Trauma Symptom Inventory (TSI), and an abuse questionnaire. Pre- and posttests on the MSEI showed increases in self-esteem for all but one participant. The majority of participants also reported trauma-related symptoms, and all participants reported past abuse victimization.