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European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling Vol. 11, No.

1, March 2009, 5161

The self portrait, a powerful tool for self-therapy

Cristina Nun ez*
Artist-photographer and Self-portrait Facilitator (Received 31 October 2008; final version received 15 December 2008) In this paper, it is argued that in the digital era, self-portraiture enables anyone to produce a work of art instinctively, without knowing anything about photography, and more and more people today feel a strong urge towards self representation. Facing the camera lens and releasing the shutter immediately takes us to our first essential process of the definition of the self: the recognition of our image in the mirror. By objectifying our dark side in a photograph, we can separate ourselves from what we dislike and open up a space for catharsis or renewal. During a self-portrait session we can start a dialogue between our thinking mind and our gut to draw from an inexhaustible source of meanings, which must be expressed. The self-portrait can be incredibly empowering. By forcing us into the Now, it can help us perceive and express our essential humanity in a photograph. The decision to represent oneself can provide what is termed here a state of grace: the feeling of centeredness that occurs in moments of creative work in which the emotions are naturally retained because our higher self is in command. This paper is an outline of the authors thoughts on the therapeutic use of self-portraiture and the personal nature of the narrative is reflected in the use of the first person. Keywords: self-portrait; identity; art; art-therapy; empowerment; selfawareness El autorretrato, una herramienta para la auto-terapia En este art culo, se mantiene que en la era digital, auto-retratar-se permite a cualquiera crear una obra de arte instintivamente, sin saber nada de s, hoy en d a la gente siente un fuerte impulso hacia la fotograf a, y adema n. Ponerse delante la ca mara y liberar el obturador, auto-representacio n inmediatamente nos lleva a nuestro primer proceso esencial de la definicio del self; el reconocimiento de nuestra imagen en el espejo. Deshumanizando nuestro lado oscuro en una fotograf a, nos podemos separar de lo que no para la catarsis o la renovacio n. Durante nos gusta y abrir-nos a un espacio n del autorretrato podemos empezar un dialogo entre nuestra mente la sesio pensante y nuestro gut para dibujar desde una fuente inagotable de significados que han de ser expresados. El autorretrato puede ser muy *Email: This article is an expanded version of one which appeared in ILLYWORDS magazine, Issue No. 24 in July 2008.
ISSN 13642537 print/ISSN 14695901 online 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13642530902723157


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ndonos en el ahora, puede ayudarnos a percibir y poderoso. Forza n de a expresar nuestra humanidad esencial en una fotograf a. La decisio representar-se a uno mismo puede proporcionar lo que se dice aqu como un estado de gracia: el sentimiento de sentirse el centro, el cual ocurre en momentos del trabajo creativo en el cual las emociones son retenidas porque nuestro self mas alto esta al mando. Este art culo es un resumen de utico del auto-retrato y del los pensamientos del autor en el uso terape cter personal de la narrativa reflejada en el uso de la primera persona. cara Lautoritratto, un potente strumento per lauto-terapia In questo lavoro si sostiene che nellera digitale, lautoritratto permette a chiunque di produrre istintivamente unopera darte, senza saper nulla di fotografia, e sempre piu ` persone oggi sentono un forte stimolo verso lautorappresentazione. Guardare dentro la macchina fotografica e rilasciare lotturatore ci porta immediatamente al nostro primo processo essenziale ; lidentificazione della nostra immagine nello di definizione del se specchio.Oggettivando in una fotografia il nostro lato oscuro, siamo in ` che non ci piace e aprire uno spazio per la catarsi grado di separarci da cio o per un rinnovamento. Durante una sessione di autoritratto possiamo cominciare un dialogo tra la nostra mente pensante e il nostro stomaco al fine di trarre da una risorsa inesauribile di significati che necessitano di ` essere incredibilmente empowering. essere espressi. Lautoritratto puo ` aiutarci a percepire ed esprimere Mediante il forzarci nel qui ed ora, puo ` essenziale in una fotografia. La decisione di autola nostra umanita ` fornire cio ` che e ` qui definito come uno stato di grazia: rappresentarsi puo ` che soggiunge in momenti di lavoro creativo la sensazione di centralita il nostro piu e ` dove le emozioni sono naturalmente trattenute poiche ` alto se in comando. Questo lavoro traccia i pensieri dellautore riguardo alluso terapeutico dellautoritratto e la natura personale della narrativa si riflette nellutilizzo della prima persona. r die therapeutische Das selbstportrait, ein kraftvolles werkzeug fu arbeit mit sich selbst In diesem Artikel wird argumentiert, dass das digitale Zeitalter Menschen ermo glicht, aus dem Bauch heraus Kunst zu produzieren, ohne irgendetwas von Fotografie zu verstehen, und dass immer mehr Menschen den Drang zur Selbstrepra sentation verspu ren. Selbst vor der Kameralinse zu stehen und den Auslo ser zu beta tigen leidet einen grundlegenden Selbstdefinitionsprozess ein: Das Wahrnehmen unseres Bildnis im Spiegel. Die Objektivierung unserer dunklen Seite durch die Fotografie ermo glicht uns eine Trennung von dem was wir an uns nicht mo gen und o ffnet somit den Raum fu nnen etwa r Katharsis und Erneuerung. Wir ko wa hrend einer Selbstportrait-Sitzung ein Zwiegespra ch zwischen unserem rationalen Anteil und unseren Geda rmen fu hren, das sich aus einer schier unerscho pflichen Quelle von Bedeutungen und Sinngebungsprozessen speist, die ausgedru ckt werden mu ssen; mehr noch, werden wir ins Hier und Jetzt hineingedra ngt, was uns dabei helfen kann, unsere grundlegende Menschlichkeit im Foto zu erkennen und auszudru cken. Die Entscheidung des Selbstausdrucks per Fotografie kann dazu dienen, was in diesem Artikel als Zustand der Gnade bezeichnet wird: Eine Anmutung der Zentriertheit, die in Momenten kreativen Schaffens entstehen kann, wenn unsere ho heres Selbst die Fu hrung u ber unsere Emotionen u bernommen hat. Dieser Artikel stellt einen Entwurf der

European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling

Gedanken des Autors dar zum therapeutischen Nutzen des SelbstPortraitierens und des perso nlichen Charakters jener Narrative, die mithilfe der Benutung der Ersten Person reflektiert werden.


With the self-portrait, anybody can produce a work of art In the digital era self-portraiture enables anyone to produce a work of art intuitively, without knowing anything about photography. For several years I have been helping children, adolescents and adults from all walks of life to make self portraits using my own camera, or letting them use their own small digital cameras or cell phones. I give them the necessary directions so that their attention is drawn to their inner life and emotions, which I consider the raw material for art. Then I leave them alone to work. Everyone, as they release the shutter, expresses an innate determination to affirm their existence, their awareness, even if unconscious, that they are making art1. A photographic work of art as I understand it is an image that encompasses multiple and sometimes contrasting meanings: it deals intimately with the human condition, it contains a rich diversity of stimuli to thought and feeling, it has a special relationship with time . . . all within a single harmonious configuration of visual and formal elements (Nun ez, 2008). The work of art will remain in the hearts and minds of posterity, because anybody who chooses to can relate to it in a profound way: it is universal. According to Edmund Capon and Sandy Nairne, creativity and the concept of artistic freedom are frequently implied (Bond & Woodall, 2005, p. 7) in the self-portrait: this is me, I am a creative being. It is a very dense and solemn statement, which immediately produces a sense of shared humanity with the viewer. Anthony Bond considers self-portraits as representations of artistic creativity and as a second self or alter ego of the creative subject. Their true purpose, he adds, may be the projection of the idea of selfhood from the artist to the viewer (Bond & Woodall, 2005, p. 12). Alfred Gell argues that self-portraits act like a person, a surrogate for the artist. (Gell, 1998 pp. 99102). In my experience, an image of the self means I am creating my own image, thus I am the creator of this image, even if in some cases these are collaborative self-portraits: when left alone, they will decide what to do and how to express their humanity, regardless of my directions. In 2004 my youngest daughter just after we had taken a self-portrait together with her sister, said Mom, now I want to make a picture of me alone. She chose the setting, took her clothes off and picked the leopard cushion seemingly to express her African roots. I placed my Rolleiflex on the tripod, and just wound to the next picture after each shot. She was 3 years old at the time, the age in which children begin to feel like individuals, separate from their mother. She had just come back from her three-month trip to Senegal with her dad. Her sister and I are white and her father is black, so she probably feels different from us all. I thought it was essential for her to make a solemn statement of her existence. I see the brown of her skin (Africa is warm) and the blue of the wall (Europe is cold) as confirming the union of opposites.


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Her body looks older and seems to express both the strength and tiredness of a child who has been living in such different continents. Of course this is my own interpretation, but as I see it, the self-portrait work of art speaks the voice of the unconscious. At 3 she did not consciously plan this expression but it wasnt accidental. There was something essential to be said and she intuitively knew she had to take action to express it. She didnt take any more significant self-portraits for a while. Then at 7, again just after coming back from Senegal, she shot another series. The most powerful picture is the one in which she was wearing her Senegalese trousers. Here again she was intuitively talking about being different, being half-African, half-European, and having learned to create her own inner roots. M., a friends son who is three-and-a-half, took a series of self-portraits in one day, responding to my invitation. I set the camera, gave him the cable release and left him alone. The series of pictures show a very interesting evolution: in the first one he looks vulnerable to me (but his little hand is strong), he doesnt look into the camera. Then he does look and decides to climb up a tree, excited about his increasing power. And in the last one that day he looks much older. He seems to have acquired some kind of unconscious selfawareness and wisdom. Ms pictures helped me realize that by making a self-portrait series in a short time we can actually go through a very interesting inner process of self-knowledge, and that this process is completely natural and intuitive, even if unconscious. But why is it that a three-year-old child responds so strongly to the camera eye? What exactly is the effect of the camera eye and the shutter release? If this were an adult, I would think its the idea of being immortalised that inspires solemnity: we usually want to look our best! But young kids are not conscious of this, so what else is there? According to Jacques Lacan, the childs first identification with his own image in the mirror is a crucial moment for the perception of himself as an individual, and the matrix of every other identification. So facing the camera lens and releasing the shutter can immediately take us to that first essential process of the definition of the self. Thanks to digital technology, more and more people today are taking selfportraits. Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and so on, are packed with them, especially by adolescents and young people. I consider mobile phones as a surrogate identity of the owner, but also an object for entertainment: apart from games, the camera provides a means of expression, which adolescents intuitively love to use. In 2005, my daughters friend S. was going through a very tough period. His parents had separated and his father had gone to live in China. He and his mother were living in somebody elses house and at school he was really struggling. Without my knowledge or guidance, he started to take self-portraits spontaneously with his mobile phone, using the rapper gesture respect an open hand with two middle fingers united respect for himself, of course. He is now a very smart and strong young man, emotionally stable and responsible. Watching him grow and looking at his work I understood that the self-portrait can be self-healing for others too.

European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling Triggering the creative process


The practice of the self-portrait can be incredibly empowering. It means using photography to look inside ourselves. To work on our inner world as a way of opening or deepening our unique creative process, which can be developed with any form of artistic expression, or even life itself. To start a dialogue between our thinking mind and our gut to draw from an inexhaustible source of meanings which must be expressed. I imagine the guts to be the region where all creativity comes from. A meander of intestines, warm fluids and microscopic life, an environment something akin to the primordial soup from which life on earth originally sprang. It is also the reproductive area both for men and women, where children are conceived, grow and are born. The centre of our body, the hara, is the source of all life energy according to some oriental cultural practices and beliefs. In the meanders of our guts we treasure our deepest emotions and memories, even those forgotten or dormant. The self-portrait experience can trigger a healthy movement in our guts, liberating emotions or needs, which must be expressed recurrently throughout our whole lives. It can free us to be who we really are. I met M and C just once at a friends house in Tuscany, where I invited people to take their self-portraits with my camera. C had just had a stroke. He walked stooping forwards, his grave eyes fixed on the ground, and he never spoke to anyone. M was continuously telling him what to do, and he would just obey. C insisted on taking their self-portrait, she didnt like the idea. In the pictures he suddenly stood upright and stared at the camera. He immediately responded to the solemnity of the self-portrait by showing his determination to communicate his inner strength. In the photos they became husband and wife on an equal footing and found a way to express their communion on their 13th wedding anniversary.

Inner dialogue in front of the camera Facing the camera lens can be an opportunity for a unique experience and a deep non-verbal dialogue. The human eye scrutinises the mechanical eye, gazing into the bottomless pit in search of an image that captures my vision of myself. It looks both inwardly and at the outside world, present and future (Nun ez, 2008). Shot after shot I live through all my different personas, searching in my unconscious for something I still do not know of myself. I am focused on my interiority, even though the camera will mainly register my outer appearance. I may judge myself, or control my behaviour so that the image will be more acceptable. Whatever I do, I always succeed: even if I pretend or hide, the picture of me pretending or hiding will be significant. Facing the void, the unknown, the feeling of being lost, is a precious state. I might suffer, it might be painful, but it is immensely creative. By touching the void, the emptiness where I am unable to create, I reset my guts, wipe them clean like a blank canvas. The secret is to look inside, face it, photograph it, get


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lost in it. It is a kind of meditation. Introspection is essential to find inspiration and fill my mind and heart once more with new ideas and projects. Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now writes: All true artists . . . create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness (Tolle, 1999, pp. 1920), a state of absolute presence in the Now . . . that intensely alive state that is free of time, free of problems, free of thinking, free of the burden of personality (Tolle, 1999, p. 42). The self-portrait, by forcing us into the Now, can help us perceive and express our essential being in a photograph. When I look at my 20 years of self-portraits I realize that the woman in the photographs is not exactly me. I was a very nervous and dependent person, but in my self-portraits I look like I am now: a more calm and reflective person. Have I become like my self-portraits? Do these pictures show my true essence, which was covered by the cloak of personality? Art therapist Shaun McNiff states:
My artistic images help me to become more like them, to incorporate their expressive and imaginative traits. Rather than approaching images negatively, as indicators of what is wrong with me, I prefer a more imaginative attitude that views the image as a step ahead of the reflecting mind, as a guide who shows me where I can go and what I can be. (McNiff, 2004, p. 67)

The self-portrait experience is like peeling away the layers of an onion. Little by little all the superficial aspects of myself fall away, so I can then express my true essence.

The triple role of the self-portraitist Anthony Bond states (Bond & Woodall, 2005, p. 12) that, through the act of looking, the self-portraitist acquires a triple identity: author, subject and spectator at one and the same time, and it is this that gives the self-portrait its communicative power. The author draws the attention of the spectator, as though whispering in their ear this concerns you. The invitation is to immerse ourselves in the intricate dynamic of identities and relations between the three roles, an exchange which ensures the authors immortality in the hearts and minds of posterity (Nun ez, 2008). The empathic experience between the artist and the viewer makes the self-portrait a significant way to immortality in art. According to Joanna Woodall (Bond & Woodall, 2005, p. 18), the selfportraitist possesses an intrinsic power and freedom of action, which is akin to that of the gods. As Michel Tournier has said (Tournier, 1986, p. 145), the self-portrait is the only possible image of the creator (and his gaze) at the very moment of creation (Nun ez, 2008). Many artists have painted themselves representing Christ or divine figures, Albrecht Durer, etc. The self-portrait, as Anthony Bond puts it, constitutes the artist as a sovereign individual: everything is ultimately subject to the creative ego (Bond & Woodall, 2005, p. 12). Our creative self has something of the divine, because when we create we have such a deep connection with ourselves that we can even anticipate the times and foresee what human beings will be and need in the future. This should be the artists social role.

European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling Compulsive representation of the self: the autobiographical self-portrait project


Following Rembrandt and Van Gogh, more and more people today feel a strong urge towards self-representation, to leave a lasting image of themselves which will outlive them. This need may be felt more urgently at certain moments of our lives when our identity is in question, or it may respond to the deeper compulsion of the artist who, as Bob Dylan says, is in a constant state of becoming: every seven years we change all the cells in our body and with every major change we must re-programme our identity (Nun ez, 2008). The self-portrait experience in an autobiographical project will contain the essence of the self and its unique evolution in life: difficult emotions, qualities and defects, dreams, relationship dynamics, success and failure. We might have the perception of seeing many faces we do not recognise, but with time we might understand their meaning. As an activator of the creative process, the self-portrait project can become a sort of mother project, giving expression to raw material for new creative projects or ideas. Each time our identity is challenged by major changes in our lives, we must come back to our guts to re-activate the channel of communication with the mind, activate the gut movement to find the new emotions/ideas/issues that need to be expressed. During work on the mother project or once it is finished, new child projects will emerge for a period until the mother has exhausted her fertility. Then we will have to go back to our guts for a new mother project.

The catharsis of performing the self The self-portrait is also a particularly powerful way of expressing problematic feelings and emotions. By objectifying the dark side in a photograph, we separate ourselves from what we dislike and open up a space for catharsis or renewal. The barriers to our essential Being fall away (Nun ez, 2008). In 2004, a very difficult year for me, I took self-portraits regularly almost once a week. I shot a picture of myself crying and 20 minutes later a series of me dancing. Later on, I took enraged self-portraits to release the tension before an important meeting or job, risking strange looks from my neighbours or passersby. The making of the image becomes a kind of punching bag, providing a sense of liberation and further material for introjection, making it easier for us to accept ourselves as we really are and immediately increasing our self-esteem. Frida Kahlo used the canvas in the same way, as a cathartic release of emotion according to Jean Ivy in The Exploration of the Self: what artists find when they search in the mirror:
Kahlo created some fifty-five self-portraits as a kind of therapy to face the most troubling events of her life; her leg crippled from polio, permanent injuries from a bus accident, abortions, and botched surgeries. In person, Kahlo dressed in long, rich fabrics and covered herself in jewellery, she hid her deformities beneath an austere persona. In her portraits she could come out from hiding and reveal


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her troubles in paint. In that sense, her self-portraits are both tragic and triumphant. Just as Rembrandt could look at himself in the mirror at the end of his life and accept his ageing body and face, Kahlo could accept and feel comfortable revealing her afflictions. But unlike Vincent van Gogh who searched for an answer in his self-portraits, Frida Kahlo knew the answers. (Ivy, internet)

Besides looking inside, every self-portrait is always a form of performance. As Anthony Bond states It is virtually impossible to not to self-consciously construct your own image (Bond & Woodall, 2005, p. 39). All our action, our acting, is inevitably mediated by how we want others to see us. Performance in art is based on the concept of the relationship between the artists mind and body, with the collaboration of the spectator. Yet there remains a space, an intense inner dialogue of self-perception, self-questioning, judgement, thought and acceptance, which I believe is independent of the others gaze. It is a wonderfully powerful process, which needs no words because the creative process and the work of art itself contain everything and have no need to be translated to hit the target. The decision to represent oneself can provide what I call a state of grace: the feeling of centeredness that occurs in moments of creative work in which the emotions are naturally retained because our superior ego is in command. There is a positive tension and detachment in which action is flowing freely. If we want to express strong emotions in a self-portrait and they will not come naturally, we have to start acting, we have to perform. The important thing is not to be real but to abandon ourselves, lose ourselves, to the performance and the emotion. And the images will certainly carry some significant truths. Something unexpected will happen and the experience will culminate in the work of art, which will continue to talk to us in time. Performance also means stepping outside of oneself, imagining oneself as someone else. I once asked a young Swedish drug addict to take a self-portrait representing a character he liked. He chose Aragorn, the king in Lord of the Rings, who feels inadequate to his role at the beginning, but becomes the king in the end. He took his self-portrait, transforming himself completely and expressing a huge charisma, a super partes quality and love for his people. This beautiful picture showed him that he actually possessed these qualities. He hung the picture on his bedroom wall, and one year later he stopped taking drugs. Young Japanese artist Tomoko Sawada has published a wonderful little book called ID 400 in which are presented passport photos of herself as four hundred different women. Here is the astonishing plasticity of the ego, as Stefano Ferrari points out in his book, The Mirror of the Ego Self-portrait and Psychology, the Promethean need to be and to try everything . . . to identify oneself with new personalities, to become the other (Ferrari, 2002, p. 14). And again, this drive, this urge to recognise and express the multiplicity of identities which coexist within each of us is a defining characteristic of our times (Ferrari, 2002, p. 114).

European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling The body of the artist


In the self-portrait, the body of the artist can convey the pure expression of human needs and thereby serve the community. Sophie Calle puts her own life into an artistic performance by anonymously asking a detective to follow her or working as a cleaning woman in a Venetian hotel. Jo Spence turned her calvary with breast cancer into a work of art with a social and political intent, publishing a manifesto about the freedom of showing ones own ugly body in a work of art. Jenny Saville shows her grotesque and monstrous body as a political statement against the idealisation of the perfect body by the media. Korean artist Kimsooja films herself as a panhandler in the middle of the street in her photo and video work the needle woman who unites east and western cultures. The naked body can act as a symbol for human interiority and intimacy, immersing the viewer in the psychological dimension. What is normally hidden can come to light in a work of art. Moreover, nakedness can help express the essence of the self and bring the artist closer to his/her own childhood, to the primal relationship with mother. The flesh opens the doors to birth, procreation, sexuality, metabolic functions (like eating and defecating) and death, all of which inspire myriad emotions and thoughts, which can easily be present in the picture. Taking self-portraits of ones own naked body is certainly an effective way of plunging into ones own subconscious mind and unknowingly expressing a rich vein of psychological material.

Inner image vs. outer image Many of us fear the camera lens. In most cases I believe this stems from a problematic relationship with our own image the gap between how we see ourselves (which remains more or less unchanged from adolescence or infancy) and the image that we see in the mirror. For Roland Barthes photography neither represents nor reflects reality, rather it gives it meaning. We are not our self-portrait, we are much more. That is what makes the self-portrait such a valuable tool in reuniting our inner and outer images, a way of using our actual bodies and faces to discover our real selves (Nun ez, 2008). It is also a way to give ourselves the attention we need and to give others something intimate. When we feel lost or ill-defined or unimportant, we instinctively understand self-portrait as a powerful tool to reverse the situation, to stir the guts, to energise and vivify our existence. The self-portrait, through the act of pressing the shutter, contributes to the union of the inner and outer image of the self, of the mind and body, of the different aspects of the self, because while we release the shutter we say yes to our whole self and thus we accept it completely. The self-portrait experience is a voyage into our unconsciousness, it can be shocking or surprising, but never really damaging, since the acceptance it carries produces an essentially positive outcome.


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The artistic process is therapeutic Barthes also said that what we see in an image is subjective. Each one of us will see a different punctum in an image, which gives the power to the picture. But not all photographs will give a substantial meaning to reality, becoming universal. Only works of art do so. When responding to photographs, we should make a clear distinction between two cases: when the photo is simply showing us an object (where we respond to the object), or when the photo is a work of art (we respond to the picture itself). This is why in my workshops we work on the perception and choice of the work of art, using a series of precise aesthetic and conceptual criteria (multiplicity of meaning, sense of time, dialogue between the elements in the picture, presence of an icon, etc). Working with my self-portrait method, most sessions usually produce at least one work of art. We dont need to dwell on the other photographs, which talk about things we know already. The work of art speaks the voice of the unconscious: it is so meaningful and communicative that we only need to hang it on the wall for the job to be done. This is arts healing capacity. In reality art and therapy are intimately connected. Most artists feel a need to produce a work of art in order to feel better and their raw material are emotions (ideas spring from emotions or needs), or even troubles or inner pain. The decision to create art can come from the need to express emotions, to define identity or to fulfil a sort of social mission (we have something to say, and this must be said). Looking at what has been done, the artist can perceive, introject again the new message and the work will continue to talk to him, it will contain his experience. Troubles and inner pain can increase the need to create and communicate not only in artists, but in all human beings. If it is true that today technology and the self-portrait allows anybody to produce art without any expertise, then people who suffer from mental pathologies have the opportunity if necessary with an artists initial guidance to produce great art, since the deeper they suffer, the more intense and universal their work can become. Shaun McNiff points out how emotional states profoundly influence expression, how art may be an expressive lifeline in periods of crisis, and how difficult times and emotional upheaval offer a gate of access to the archetypal flow of artistic expression and its medicines (McNiff, 2004, p. 47). In producing art, besides channelling and transforming pain and thereby raising their self-esteem, mentally disturbed patients can immediately perform a valuable social role: by expressing present and future human needs, they inspire us to remain connected to our inner selves, in a society largely and unhappily focused on materialism and economic growth. The self-portrait experience is even more closely connected to therapy. First of all because we are the subject of our own work of art we cant escape, we are at our most vulnerable. Secondly, because the inner dialogue we have in front of the camera (or mirror in painting) is the same inner process of all our therapy at length self-perception, self-questioning, judgement, thought and acceptance- and thirdly, because the multiple meanings of the self-portrait work of art contribute to unifying the different aspects of the human being.

European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling


According to Tolle, the ego perceives itself as a separate fragment in a hostile universe, with no real inner connection to any other being, surrounded by other egos which it either sees as a potential threat or which it will attempt to use for its own ends (Tolle, 1999, p. 150). So freeing ourselves from the ego means uniting instead of separating, uniting our inner and outer image, and the different aspects of the self. To complete the process, however, it is necessary (I would say indispensable) to communicate this discovery to others. The artist, the selfportraitist, by his constant effort of introspection, separates himself from the outside world. This is often the root of his existential suffering, something that more and more people experience nowadays. By intimately sharing our work with an audience we have the chance to free ourselves from the confines of the ego and, as in Zen, become one with the cosmos.

1. To get a clearer picture of how my method works in practice and see some of the images referred to below, please visit

Barthes, R. (1993). Camera lucida: Reflections on photography. London: Vintage classics. Bond, A., & Woodall, J. (2005). Self Portrait, renaissance to contemporary. Catalogue to the exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery from October 2005 to January 2006. London: National Portrait Gallery. Calle, S. (2002). Double jeux. Arles: Actes Sud. Dylan, B. (2005). Chronicles. London: Pocket Books. Ferrari, S. (2002). Lo specchio dellIo, autoritratto e psicologia. Bari-Roma: Laterza. Gell, A. (1998). Art and agency: An anthropological theory. London: Clarendon Press. Ivy, J. The exploration of the self. What artists find when they search in the mirror. Retrieved March, 2008 from, Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The first complete edition in english. London: W.W. Norton & Co. McNiff, S. (2004). Art heals: How creativity heals the soul. Boston, MA: Shambhala. Nun ez, C. (2008). The self-portrait experience. Retreived, January 1, 2008 from, http:// Sawada, T. (2004). ID400. Kyo to: Seigensha. Sooja, K. (2004). Conditions of humanity. Milan: 5 Continents Editions. Spence, J. (1986). Putting myself in the picture: A political, personal and photographic autobiography. London: Camden Press. Tolle, E. (1999). The power of now. London: Hodder & Stoughton. Tournier, M. (1986). Petites proses. Paris: Gallimard.