bird door knocker on a pink door in Malta

5 Parallel Processes of Photography & Psychotherapy

Over the past few days, we have been exploring Malta. Some of the places here are older than the pyramids in Egypt. One of the places we loved is called Mdina (pronounced like you are saying the letter M then dina, not Medina).

Mdina is a walled city that was founded by Phoenician settlers about 3,000 years ago. Like many old places, it was taken over by various groups of people and they pretty much built on top of whatever was built before. Much of what you can see there today was built about 700 years ago by the Normans. It’s absolutely beautiful and impressively maintained. It’s as if you are walking among ruins that haven’t been ruined.

Naturally, I was inspired to take lots of photos. And, all of these photos got me thinking about the parallel process of being a psychotherapist and doing photography. Here are 5 parallel processes that came to mind:

1. Get on Their Level

Mdina has gorgeous knockers. About every 2 minutes I would stop to photograph these knockers and in order to photograph them consistently, I had to get on their level.

As a psychotherapist, we work to “meet the client where they are at.” Much like how I might bend my knees to get on the same direct level as the knockers, we also find ways to bend interpersonally to get on the same level as the client.

Similarly, just as we want to be mindful not to slouch to get on the same level as a photography subject, we aim to be conscientious to how we bend to meet clients so that we do so in a way that we can healthfully sustain (both for the client and ourselves).

2. Explore Different Perspectives

Both in photography and in psychotherapy, it can be so fruitful to explore and try out different perspectives.

Sometimes the result is a work of art, and sometimes it makes a bit of a mess. Either way, there is inherent worthiness in exploring alternate paths.

When it is a mess, that gives you something to work or grapple with. In therapy, we call it “grist for the mill.” The act of grappling with it and overcoming challenges can increase self-efficacy (our belief in ourselves that we can make things happen). Increasing our self-efficacy empowers us to make positive changes in our lives – one of the main goals of therapy!

3. Meander & Notice the Little Things

If you were walking through Mdina, at first you might not think much of those door knockers. But over time you would start to notice that there’s a trend on the doors. Perhaps they are worth paying attention to, perhaps they are tied to a larger cultural artifact.

As a therapist, I work in a similar way. As my clients talk about the seemingly mundane happenings of their week, I pick up on little things – the way they view themselves, their life, work, and others.

Over time, we work in therapy to discern what’s a trend and what’s a one-off idea. The little things that represent bigger things, like cultural norms, values, belief systems about themselves and others become the subject of therapy.

Then, like with the camera, I find a way to thread these themes together and reflect them back to my clients. Shedding light on these tiny, important artifacts helps us create opportunities of choice. Moments to choose to continue on the same path or to choose differently.

4. Pause & Reflect

Photography can be a way to a way to stop, notice, and reflect on the world around you in new and different ways. This then allows you to interact in the here and now with the environment around you.

The same can be said for psychotherapy. Of all things, therapy is a place to pause and reflect. Take stock of your life and get curious about it. Wonder if things could be different. If so, how? Hypothesize and experiment. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I also help clients by assisting in this reflective process. Illuminating different areas of their life/themselves to help them see the same frame differently.

5. Get Ready for the Next Opportunity

Naturally, in photography and in life we are not always happy with the results we get the first time. Utilizing the prior processes allows us to figure out what we need to attend to and how we need to ready ourselves for the next time XYZ occurs.

For example, in Mdina, they had these horse carriage tours and I thought the horses looked very beautiful and wanted to capture a nice photo of one. But every time I saw them something wasn’t quite right.

Horses waiting for riders were parked in a main traffic area outside of the walled city. So I would have been able to slowly set up a shot, but no matter what I did I wouldn’t be able to get rid of all the cars and busses in the background. Or, say I saw one in the walled city, it was usually coming down a narrow walkway zipping close by me and I was not in a good position to get a decent shot because I need a little space from my subjects with a 50mm prime lens.

It’s tricky right?

Through a little bit of luck, leaning on the readiness of some photos I just took, and by recruiting the help of my partner as a second set of eyes I was able to get one of my favorite photos of the day.

Mdina horseHere’s what happened: In one of the squares, there was this gorgeous house with pink doors and window shutters. I took lots of photos of it, adjusting all the settings as I shoot manually, and finally getting the light and framing just right. Then, my partner saw a horse coming and called out to me to let me know. Since I just got the framing and lighting all worked out (that was lucky!), I stayed put as the horse got quite close to me and I got one shot. And it came out!

I was thrilled and it’s also thrilling when this happens in therapy and in life. In psychotherapy, we work on things that we may not have a direct opportunity to address. We often have to get ready and wait for the next time that particular issue shows up. When it does show up and you pull it off it can be incredibly rewarding and will always serve as a reminder of your own power and self-efficacy.

Just like how a photo can remind you that you can capture a shot you love.

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gif of Natalia Amari shaking her hair

Natalia Amari, lcsw

On a mission to help others overcome trauma and reclaim their personal power.

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