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Using clients’ childhood videos on the here and now of a psychotherapeutic session: Qualitative evaluation of a new method in existential therapeutic practice

Theofanis Karagiannis, PhD Candidate, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Philia Issari, Professor of Counselling Psychology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
This paper consists of a qualitative evaluation of an innovative therapeutic practice. Inspired by Loewenthal’s (2013) work on the therapeutic use of photographs, we conceived the idea of bringing, in the therapeutic space, videos from the client’s childhood, to explore and experience them together, in the here and now. This research constitutes an effort to evaluate and reframe this new therapeutic tool. Grounded on existential/phenomenological notions of subjectivity, intersubjectivity, Being-in-the-world-with-others and time as a subject (Heidegger, 1962; Merleau-Ponty, 1962), a proposition is presented on how videos, from the client’s life, could be included in an existential-analytic therapeutic practice. The therapist-researcher engages with the client as a self-reflective, ‘transparent inquirer’. The outcome of using such videos in the therapeutic setting is presented, through qualitative case study evaluation (McLeod, 2010), on two clients. Thematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) is used on the material, which consists of the client’s personal journals, along with a semi-structured interview on his experience, in interaction with the researcher’s personal journals. Emerging themes include the strengthening of the therapeutic bond, the enrichment of the client’s narrative, a sense of emotional engagement with the past and new possibilities in interpreting the past and re-constructing the present and future.
Psychotherapist as a reflective inquirer
  • Case study research as part of psychotherapeutic practice
  • Qualitative evaluation of an innovative therapeutic practice
  • Using clients’ childhood videos in a psychotherapeutic session
  • Inspired by D. Loewenthal’s work (2017) on the use of photographs in psychotherapy
The process of Video-therapy
  • 10 clients
  • Clients watch videos first alone and choose what to bring
  • They are in charge of the process
  • They choose between video-therapy and conventional sessions
  • 40 minutes, then discussing experience
  • The video material as narrative
  • Non-directivity and positive regard over analysis and challenge
Existential-Analytic Psychotherapy
Loewenthal, D. (2017). Existential psychotherapy and counselling after postmodernism: The selected works of Del Loewenthal. World Library of Mental Health. London: Routledge
  • Phenomenology/Existential Philosophy Self-reflective therapist, Staying with the anxiety of not knowing
  • Psychoanalytic ideas
  • Compulsion to repeat
  • Postmodern notions
  • Subject to power, language, the other
Time: Roots and History
“The past is a foreign country, where we come from”
(Lowenthal, in Loewenthal, 2017)
“The question of the meaning of Being must be carried through by explicating Dasein beforehand in its temporality and historicality”
(Heidegger, 1962)
Clients’ feedback and early Research:
Intense experience for the client and therapist
  • Astonishment
  • Sense of mystery and magic
  • Vulnerability
  • Grief
  • Refreshing
  • Intimacy
Suggestions after research on early cases
  • Give clients hints about the process of Video-therapy
  • Informing, a priori, the clients that it can be intense, lead to vulnerable feelings
  • Let them think it through for some time before deciding
  • Only longtime clients, well established relationship
  • Putting aside analytic stance, less interpretative. Co-existing in the present experience
Existential-Analytic Practice

Grand Narratives and Master Theories
Compulsion to repeat
Systemic Therapy
Roles, family dynamics
Intersubjectivity – Relational: What Emerges in the Between
Time: Roots, Present and Everchanging Future
From Observing the Past to Co-Experiencing in the Present

Time: Co-experiencing in the present

“Time exists for me because I have a present.
(Merleau-Ponty, 1962).

“What is important is the exploration of past material in the present in the way it is relived with the psychotherapist”
(Merleau-Ponty, 1964: 200-1)

Time: Videos as Narrative

“Narrators interpret the past in stories, rather than reproduce the past as it was”
“The ‘truths’ of narrative accounts lie in the shifting connections they forge between past, present, and future’
(Riessman, 2000)

Client’s Experience of Video-therapy: Past, Present and Future
  • Experiencing loss
    “All these beautiful moments with my family, they are all gone now. Intense feelings, nostalgy”
  • Confronting the past
    “It challenged me to confront myself, to face the reality of the past, as I overcame my fear to see what once existed” “These things happened…I could see them as they were, not through pink glasses”
  • Engaging with the self and others
    “I engaged with my self as a child, as an adolescent, I engaged with my parents and my brother as they were back then”
Video-therapy and its Effect on the Client: Past, Present and Future
  • Live in the present
    “Through the videos I accepted that I grow up, time flies. By trying to fill the gap in my past, I did not live in the present… Now I focus more on the present”
  • Give value to the moment
    “I used to avoid capturing moments in video. Now I do it more, you never know, I might want to see them again in the future”
  • Continuity of the Self in Time
    “I connected with myself viewing the videos. My habits, how I speak, how I express myself, my characteristics, I am the same being from the beginning until now”
Video-therapy and its Effect on the Client: Past, Present and Future
  • Coming to terms with the past 
    “It helped me to clarify things, ideas in my mind, realize what I am running from” “I came more to terms with my childhood traumas, they happened. It was what it was, and it cannot be changed”
  • Accepting my self and grow in the future
    “I am who I am. In trying to change who I am I was disingenuous. Now, I focus on me, independent from others, as a solitary unit, next to others, but alone. I have my luggage and I look to the future.
Effect on the therapeutic relationship
Stronger Sense of self in relating “Through the videos I made peace with myself. With your (therapist) presence I felt more connected to myself, more confident as a person in our sessions, more complete”
Fresh addition to our work 
“I like evolution, we work all these years together, it was a nice fresh, new alternative in how we engage with each other”
Effect on the therapeutic relationship
Therapeutic relationship as more safe, familiar, closer to each other
“I feel that you now have a more complete picture of who I am”
“There has always been a mutual respect, videos created a new very comfortable sense”
“In our sessions and our relationship, I feel now even more safe, I am not alone, you re there”
Effect on how I relate to him
  • Warmer bond, feel closer
  • Tender feelings for his Others
  • Put aside my analytic stance, relational presence
  • Creativity, revisiting his narrative, re-astonished
  • Yet many to know from him!
Effect on my psychotherapeutic practice
  • Never-ending journey of self-exploration
  • The other is always a ‘foreign country’
  • Therapeutic relationship is ever changing, a source of endless interactions
  • Grounded on therapeutic approach, while opening to non-traditional ways
  • Evolve and reinvent their own practice, existential therapies as ‘astonishing and ever changing’ (Heaton, in Loewenthal, 2010)
Research themes - Evaluation
  • Intense emotional experience
  • Enrichment of the client’s narrative
  • Engagement with the past
  • New possibilities in interpreting the past and re-constructing the present and future
  • Refreshing sense in therapy
  • Client’s empowerment and growth
  • New possibilities for our therapy sessions
  • Strengthening of the therapeutic bond
  • Co-experiencing Ontological givens (time, death, ageing, change)
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