What Is Picture Therapy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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Picture therapy is the use of visual prompts in treatments like speech, psychological, or occupational therapy programs. The therapist can integrate the use of visual communication and analysis of images into the program. She must tailor this to the patient's needs to provide the most complete and appropriate therapy possible. Patients with an interest in picture therapy can get information about practitioners in their areas through professional organizations, trade publications, and resources like hospital referral programs.

In speech therapy, picture therapy can be part of an augmentative communication program to help a nonverbal patient communicate. Patients who cannot speak, use sign language, or write may have difficulty communicating, and picture therapy can be beneficial for them. The patient can use a communication board or flashcard set with printed images to convey information and can also draw to express herself. This can help the patient achieve more independence and the ability to engage with the people around her more easily.


Psychotherapists use picture therapy with patients of all ages, in a wide variety of ways. Some ask patients to respond to images, while others may have patients produce images as part of their therapy. While drawing in a clinical setting is a common approach, the therapist can also give patients homework, like asking them to take photographs and bring in prints or digital files. The therapist can use the themes in the images to learn more about the patient's psychological issues, and the pictures can also serve as a medium of communication. A patient may be able to draw or photograph things he cannot express in other ways.

Physical and occupational therapists can also use picture therapy. They may use images to model posture, movements, and other physical activities for their patients, and can also use imagery and visualization to help their patients focus on their goals. Patients may also express themselves visually; a patient could use drawings to express pain or discomfort or to illustrate goals she wants to achieve, such as being able to ride a bicycle. For patients with cognitive impairments that may make it hard to speak or understand speech, the ability to communicate directly through the use of images can be very useful.

Numerous professional organizations offer training and certification to practitioners who want to use picture therapy in their work. In a training program, health care providers will learn about different approaches they can use and can develop their own techniques for working effectively with patients. Certified practitioners have access to benefits like listings in directories and copies of trade publications they can use to keep up with developments in their field.


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