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To pic or not to pic?

When I was recently teased about my profile picture, I thought that might make a humorous and light-hearted topic for an inaugural blog post. Something comical, so that my first post wouldn’t put anyone off through being too heavy and serious. However, whilst I hope to keep the tone light, when I thought about what I might write, the thoughts that came to mind didn’t seem that funny at all.

When I think of the words ‘profile picture’ I immediately feel a vague sense of uneasiness; old daemons about body image, etc. If I am being very open and honest, I will admit that I can be, albeit only silently in my own head, quite dismissive of other people’s profile pictures and I hate that other people might be judgmental about mine. I can, and do, quieten those daemons enough to include a picture on my website, because received wisdom is that profile pictures on psychotherapist websites are “a must”. People like to see the psychotherapist they are meeting before they meet them and are less likely to choose a therapist who doesn’t have a profile picture online. I don’t know whether that statement is a fact, but it is generally treated as a given. When I recently updated my website, the first helpfully critical feedback I received (thanks again Leonie) referred to the size and positioning of my photo. So, I suffer the discomfort and include a picture on my website, because they do seem to be important. But why?

Professionally, I place a very high value upon the therapeutic relationships co-created between me as psychotherapist and the people who come to see me in that capacity. Ultimately, it is these relationships, in and of themselves, that heal. Rather than helping, psychological theories and preconceived ideas can get in the way. My role first and foremost is to try to understand my clients as they understand themselves. With that in mind, I like to have as little information as possible about people before we meet (I usually take just a first name and contact number), to minimise the risk that in the initial sessions I might respond based on second hand information or what I think I might already know about the person, rather than based on how they actually present.

Similarly, it is very important that people make an informed choice about whether I am the right therapist for them to work with and I always leave space in the first few sessions, and as appropriate thereafter, to explore this. Ultimately, the only way we can really know whether working with a specific psychotherapist will be helpful to us individually, is to have a few sessions and see how it goes. Of course, it is a reasonable expectation that details about my qualifications, experience, professional registration and so on are readily available before the first meeting. But my mug shot? What does that tell anyone about my professional values, my way of working, my skills and competence, my ability or otherwise to contain powerful emotions without being overwhelmed, my ability or not to meet others with non-judgmental compassion? At best, profile pictures give a rough idea about what the therapist might look like physically. At worst, they offer a complete ‘photoshopped’ misrepresentation of reality. I am yet to be convinced that they have any therapeutic value.

I would much rather live in a world without profile pictures, but maybe I am missing something obvious and/or essential? If I have set this blog up correctly, there should be a space underneath to leave comments and I would really value any thoughts anyone might have on the question: to pic or not to pic? And, if I dare ask a second question without sounding too vain - and if I can support my ego enough to hear critical comments - any honest (but not too brutal) feedback on my profile pic would be appreciated. It’s a couple of years old now. Does it have life left in it, should it be updated or should it be removed altogether?

Thanks for reading.

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