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Working with images: photo-video therapy and integration with the arts therapies

Working with images: photo-video therapy and integration with the arts therapies

The widespread distribution of social networks and digital tools in the era of universal connectivity (D. De Kerckhove, 2014) helps to increase significantly the production and sharing of photos, films and multimedia documents.

Within this scenario, the arts therapies may include the use of digital media tools in various contexts of intervention.

Photo-video therapy is the discipline and the field of study that uses photography and video as artistic mediator in expressive therapies and art therapy.

But how you can use the processes of production of images and the images themselves in an art therapy’s setting?

Working with photography and video, the images, the methods and the production process of them become the pre-text to foster knowledge, awareness and responsibility for the ways of being in the world.

The level of analysis of the internal dynamics of the person beyond the scope of intervention and the nature of the relationship between operator and customer allow to work with images within the confines of psychotherapy, counselling or expressive art therapy.

The potentiality of the tools is manifold depending on the context of intervention, the characteristics of users and the expertise and training of the conductor that can be an art therapist, a psychotherapist or an educator with expertise in art therapy.

The creation of photo-stories in the group, short films or multimedia products can become an experience that promotes processes of co-construction and creation in the group, facilitates the sharing of stories and experiences, stimulate creative thinking and enhances the sense of belonging through a team effort.

When you choose to represent something or someone in a drawing, a painting, a photograph or a video you need to be focused on the exploration of feelings and on the effect of the perception of the objects “created” in the subject. This is also one way in which you can explore the intentionality of the look of the person.

As Brentano differentiated the primary effect (object / phenomenon) from the secondary effect (perceptual effect/ emotional object / phenomenon) (Brentano, F., 1997), in the art-therapeutic encounter is clear that the interest in the rapport is toward the sharing and the sensory and emotional expression of the perceived phenomenon.

The perception organizes sensory data according to the needs of the organism and also in this affirms its intentionality.

Perceive therefore refers to a structured form in which there is room for the subjectivity of the organism: the subject not only sees and hears but actively directs its choice of feel and see in relation to the satisfaction of certain needs.

Gestalt (from the German form) is a structured form, complete and with a sense for us.

The perception process is guided and structured by different principles and it is not made up of the simple sum of the stimuli and of the sensory data.

The perception and the phenomenology contain the concepts of intentionality, choice and responsibility.

We can recover our potential and creativity, working directly on our perception of the world, on what we see, on the effect of our perception as well as on why occurs in a certain way.

The focus is on what you feel because it is the feeling that gives meaning and reveals the intention of the person.

The word intention refers to in (on-going) – tension: the person moves to search for something; he/she organizes the data of the environment into a form that can guarantee him/her to meet some needs. It’s the dialogue on what and how he/she is looking for which is a part of the therapeutic exploration.

Edgar Rubin developed the concept of figure-ground relationship, paying attention to the fact that every phenomenon is part of a field and is inserted in a context that is the background.

As well as there cannot be a figure without a background, there can’t exist a behaviour or emotion without a context.

The background that can be seen as the unconscious for the Gestalt Therapy is the place of the “unknown” that the light of awareness and attention can enlighten and make visible.

The dynamism of the figure-ground process allows us to live in balance and in contact with our needs and with the pressures that our organism gives us towards the world.

For Merleau Ponty the perception is expression: to perceive gives to the person the chance to make sense of the world.

The perception is intentional and recovering the thought of Brentano we can understand as inside a work with the images, the therapist and the patient can move together towards the exploration of the psychic phenomenon associated with the physical object at different levels of depth depending on the context and on the objectives of the intervention.

Perception is not a faithful reproduction of reality but it is a representation, a trace of reality.

We can work with the images considering them as intentional products. The person chooses to put or get what they want in the foreground according to different levels of awareness and consciousness.


Some examples of integrated work between photo-video therapy and art therapy

The Story in pictures

“Listen to the emotions and thoughts of the here and now and create a product group with drawings, colors and pictures taken by users of the laboratory”.

That is the exercise asked to the members of the group after the warm-up phase and initial creative presentation.

Clients are free to photograph whatever they want and that best represents their state of mind. It’s a way to promote the communication and the exchange between analogue and digital aspects of the experience.

The analogue contains the world of fantasy, metaphor, the “as if” and nonverbal while the digital refers to rationality, logical thinking, words and verbal aspect of communication.

The goal is to create a common product, a story in pictures as a result of the integration and of the sharing of emotions and thoughts of the individual through the creative and artistic transformation into images, signs, drawings and coloured traces.

The use of colours, brushes and other materials of art therapy alongside photographs printed aims to promote the integration of languages ​​and tools of the art therapies.

The final product contains the creative contributions of each, the end result is more than the sum of its parts and become a common product in which people can find and recognize their tract, part of their photography, their graphic and painting work: their way of being in a team work.

Then, after a phase of observation and cognitive and emotional listening of the story recounted, each participant is free to share his experience with the rest of the group, and experience a moment of further integration and sharing.

Through the feedback, at the end of work, the person may be aware of some links between the analogue world, contained in the condensed metaphors inside the pictures and the graphic forms, and the digital world: the thoughts and rationalizations associated with them.

The experience of “The story in pictures” can be realized according to different modules and different phases inside a clinical/educational/training intervention.

The main stages of work follow the following path:

  • Presentation and Warm-up
  • Taking photos associated with thoughts and / or emotions of the here and now
  • Deciding as a group the plot of the story, starting from pictures taken
  • Building up in group “the Story in pictures” using various tools of the arts therapies
  • Observing the product and sharing feedbacks.

The Participatory Video: the experience of the short movie

Within the rehabilitation activities for members of a community for psychiatric patients we chose to work with images by adopting the methodology of participatory video.

Similar work has been done in school projects for students of secondary schools, in creative workshops for teenage youth centres or projects for corporate training focused on teambuilding and addressed to employees and managers.

The proposal is to work together to realize a short movie. Clients/patients will be actors, screenwriters, directors, cameraman, costume designer and so on.

It’s about creating a team of work aimed at the writing of the script and at the realization of the shooting for the short movie.

This work is part of the methodology of the participatory video: it’s centred on the socio-therapeutic group and cooperation and it’s set up like a role-playing game, where the work on oneself is done in parallel with the process of building the final product.

These are the goals of therapeutic work with the video in the groups (Shaw and Robertson, 1998):

  • It’s a tool for the work of personal growth
  • It’s centred on the group and promotes cooperation
  • It is based on the experience of the participants, on their needs and ideas
  • It stimulates the expression of creativity
  • It develops security and self-esteem  
  • It promotes interaction and discussion
  • It builds up the identity and the cohesion of the group
  • It develops awareness and critical thinking
  • It provides the means to communicate with others
  • It cultivates the capabilities and the potential of the participants
  • It develops the skills of a planning and decision-making
  • It encourages the determination in achieving the purposes
  • It facilitates the empowerment process


In the participatory video people become authors of their freedom of expression and have the ability to use the camera and technical equipment of a film crew to provide their view of the world.

Each person can play different roles needed for the creation of the short movie and thus everyone can experience their skills and their ways of being in the group.

The short movie and the teamwork become the interface with which users interact themselves.

Through the metaphor of the short movie and the film crew people can play different roles and so experience attitudes, empathy, leadership styles and roles that are often far from their life experience.

“The plot of the story and screenplay becomes a metaphor of life scripts of the participants; the construction of the characters becomes a chance to work on the experience of its relational role, alluding to the internal dynamics of the participants without touching them directly. The production and post-production phase offers ample opportunities in the here and now of the creative process of the development of social, interpersonal and collaborative skills”(Rossi, O., Botticelli, K., Cardamomi, D., Rubechini, S., 2004)

The work for the creation of a video follows the following steps:

  • Brainstorming and choice of the plot
  • Writing the script and storyboard
  • Identification of the actors and compilation of the organizational chart for the film crew
  • Action Plan for final shooting and associated works
  • Editing and post-production
  • Short movie show

Because “creativity is not a gift, that someone has and someone not, it depends on the personality of the subject: it is rather a situation in which everyone can be in or not” (Quattrini, 2007) When the context of the laboratory it is perceived as pleasant and interesting, the participants choose to get involved, prefer to propose ideas for the script and contribute actively to the work of the group.

Creativity becomes an experience that people live in the shoes of the different roles for the film crew and the cast.

Bruno Callieri, psychiatrist, great teacher and scholar of phenomenological psychopathology, about narrative and identity in an article he wrote: “In the course of life, we simply narrate ourselves through stories that are real narrative acts, as the result of operations of organization and processing of several episodes that we consider important for our life … we are not more than the story we tell about ourselves and our narrative identity is established through our history “(Callieri, B., 1999-2000).



Berman, L. (1993) Beyond the smile: The therapeutic use of the photograph. London: Routledge.

Brentano, F., Psychology from an empirical standpoint. International Library of Philosophy

Callieri, B., Dall’anamnesi al racconto: analisi esistenziale e/o analisi narrativa?, Informazione psicologia psicoterapia psichiatria, vol. 38-39, pp.2-9, 1999-2000.

De Kerckhove D., Psicotecnologie connettive. Meet the media guru, Egea, 2014.

Giusti, E., Videoterapia. Sovera Editore, Rome, 1999.

Lisco G., Miletic G., Giovani adolescenti rom alla prima esperienza con il video, Artiterapie – inserto Videoterapia – supplemento del n.9/10 – Editore Associazione Europea per le Arti Terapie  – 2005

Manghi, D., Vedere se stessi. La psicoterapia mediata dal video, Franco Angeli, Milano, 2003.

Merleau-Ponty, M., Phenomenology of Perception. Paperback, 2013

Quattrini P., Fenomenologia dell’esperienza, Zephiro Ed., 2007.

Rossi, O., Lo sguardo e l’azione. Il video e la fotografia in psicoterapia e nel counseling, EUR, 2009

Shaw and Robertson, Partecipatory Video: A practical approach to using video creatively in Group Development Work. Paperback, 1997

Weiser J., Tecniche di FotoTerapia nel counselling e nella terapia: usare le foto comuni e le interazioni con le fotografie per aiutare i clienti a prendersi cura delle proprie vite (“PhotoTherapy Techniques in Counseling and Therapy: Using photos, and interactions with them, to help clients heal their lives”, translation by Dr. Carmine Parrella and Dr. Matteo Paganelli), Informazione: Psicoterapia, Counselling e Fenomenologia, Vol.7, Sept-Oct, 120-147, 2006.



Gianluca Lisco

Psychologist and psychoterapist in Gestalt Therapy. Soft Skills Trainer and Freelance consultant for schools, and profit and no-profit organisation. Teacher for Photo-video therapy Labs at ARTEDO Network of Art Therapy Schools.


Web: www.gianlucalisco.it

Mail: gianluca.lisco@gmail.com

FB: Gianluca Lisco

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