Evaluating the therapeutic use of photocards in European prisons

Del Loewenthal, Evrinomy Avdi, Gauri Chauhan, Emanuela Saita, Tommi Natri, Roberto Righi, Adrian Tompea, Joseph Giordmaina, Philia Issari

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This paper focuses on the evaluation of the therapeutic use of photocards by prisoners and facilitators in a counselling psychology led European project, based on responses to open-ended questionnaires. It is part of a wider project, involving seven partner organisations in six European countries (England, Finland, Greece, Italy, Malta and Romania), which developed and trialled four different approaches to using photography in the context of counselling in prisons. Of the 51 inmates that participated in the project, 48 (94%) completed the questionnaires; of those, 39 (77%) were available for individual analysis due to prison restrictions in one partner organisation only allowing group data. Of those 39, who returned their completed questionnaires, over 92% found the therapeutic use of photographs either very helpful (56.4%) or helpful (35.9%), and the remaining 7.7% described it as average. From the thematic analysis, main themes emerging regarding inmates’ experiences of working with photocards were that it: facilitates emotional expression and sharing; unlocks memories and reconnects with life outside; fosters insight, reflection and self-growth; breaks the monotony of prison life and, overall aids emotional learning. A thematic analysis of 11 psychological therapists/facilitators’ perspectives showed that the use of photocards: gives clients a voice; provides a safe and collaborative frame and a therapeutic relationship; and, provides a useful icebreaker, helpfully overcoming anxieties of both client and psychotherapist/facilitator. Overall, photocards were considered useful as their projective nature can help facilitate prisoners’ strong need for expression in a context where there are limited opportunities and trust is fragile.

Keywords: phototherapy, photocards, prisons, counselling psychology, psychological therapy, emotional learning, thematic analysis

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