Book review for Del Loewenthal’s (ed.) ‘Phototherapy and Therapeutic Photography in a Digital Age’

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Berkeley Kaite, McGill University, Montréal, Canada


What is therapy? That is an embedded question coursing through the 14 essays in Del Loewenthal’s Phototherapy and Therapeutic Photography in a Digital Age and a vexed question it is. “Therapy” is of course a broadly-applied term and covers the many possible schools of thought and practice. The psychoanalyst, trained to adhere to the modus vivendi of “say what comes to mind,” will not bring material into the session that the patient has not first introduced him/herself. It is, strictly speaking, client-driven and it is focused on unresolved material – neuroses – whose transmutation can be found in an understanding of the patient’s past, much of it during the pre-verbal period. Many of the essays in this book, while indebted to “depth” models of psychotherapy, are committed to existential psychotherapy with its concentration on tools for addressing the present and hence future behaviours. Still, all therapies rely on versions of the “talking cure” with language and words are at their centre. And yet, as Ulla Halkola suggests in her essay, “A photograph as a therapeutic experience” a word is a mental image and thus the use of photographs in the therapeutic process may be considered in tandem with verbal expression. For Halkola, photos are “connected to client’s mental images, beliefs and memories of self. The event of viewing or taking photos evokes sensations, emotions and memories, which can be of a very early, painful or surprising nature” (p. 21).