Journey to the Psyche: Sequences of Symbolic Images in Therapeutic Photography

Photo from an exhibition of Eyes of Light Therapeutic Photography workshops

Every day, thousands of images reach our field of view, mostly by chance, influencing our thoughts, recollections and emotions in various ways. Photographs in particular, touch the viewer's mind, not just as windows to the world they depict, but also as multidimensional mental landscapes of associations and symbolisms.

The power of a symbolic photograph lies in the fact that what one sees in it is an idea or concept that makes sense for one’s own, unique reality. With a symbolic image that we can explore and approach important issues,which, both consciously and unconsciously, represent our beliefs and our relationship with the world.

One of the methods used in the context of Therapeutic Photography, where the image becomes a tool for personal development and therapy, are the sequences of symbolic photographs.According to psychotherapist Ulla Halkola, who calls the symbolic photos "Spectro cards" (from the English words Search, Portray, Explore, Create, Tell stories, Realise, Observe), the following ways of utilizing the sequences of symbolic images are described:

Looking for basic emotions and thoughts

Thesequencesof images in symbolic photographs evoke emotions and thoughts,while verbal expression is facilitated through their use. Selecting and studying a photograph can highlight important facts about ourselves. The ultimate purpose is to increase self-awareness and to make the interaction with our environment more meaningful. In a group, the similarities and differences in the emotional correlations that each person attributes to the photographs, constitute a basis for further analysis and comparison.

Experiences and memories are depicted

Photo from an exhibition of Eyes of Light workshops

The method that utilizes symbolic photographs is an exploration of the universe of the human Mind. Photographs evoke memories from life experiences, while the observation and approach of these moments are analyzed in the context of therapy. The combination of images and words enriches both the imagination and the deepening into our lives.

We explore, analyze and identify

Symbolic photographs can be used for analysis of problematic situations or thoughts that dominate or lurk in our mind. With their help, we can focus on finding the basic aspects of a problem and on considering a number of alternatives, through an extremely creative approach.

We tellstories

The examination of photographs can be combined with narration. Every story can be a short description of a few words, or a longer narrative. It may concern a real, important event in our life or it can be completely imaginary.With the use of photographs, we are given the opportunity to see the story of our life or our family’s history being ”brought to life" and redefined.

We see our Vision becoming a reality 

Photo from Eyes of Light Therapeutic Photography workshops

Symbolic photos facilitate processing based on visual experience. Image and its symbolisms are the basic components of a fantasy or a vision. Photographs constitute a means to express desires and values we have as individuals or as groups, while they can function as a search stimulus for personal future perspectives..

We observe, learn and discover new perspectives

Symbolic photographs allow us to observe aspects of our life and ourselves in a different, new way. In a safe atmosphere, every photo poses the mind in a state of creative thinking,in which it is ready to give, to receive and learn new things.


Sequences of symbolic photos, in combination with other methods, in the context of Therapeutic Photography workshops,can increase self-awareness, imagination and creativity, can facilitate communication and contribute positively to our mental well-being.


*Το Eyes of Light είναι από τους πρώτους μη κερδοσκοπικούς οργανισμούς στην Ελλάδα, που ειδικεύεται στη χρήση θεραπευτικής φωτογραφίας για ευπαθείς ομάδες, όπως η κοινότητα των ανθρώπων με εμπειρία καρκίνου. Υλοποιώντας εργαστήρια και δημιουργικές δράσεις, στοχεύει, μεταξύ άλλων, στην ψυχοκοινωνική ενδυνάμωση αυτών των ομάδων και την ευαισθητοποίηση του κοινού απέναντι στη νόσο. Μπορείς να δεις περισσότερα για εμάς εδώ.


Text Source:
Spectro Cards in Therapy and Counselling, Ulla Halkola, Painosalama, Turku 2011

We thank the volunteer Dimitra Patrikarakou for editing the text
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