Self-awareness and Self-acknowledgement

Welcome for Discussion and your support on my study on the service of phoTALKgraphy

A good ear to listen with the non-judgmental mindset bear in mind, giving people a comfortable and relaxed sharing platform for self-exploration and to enhance their self-awareness as well as self efficacy, phoTALKgraphy gives people a new experience. They get the chance to enhance their self-awareness and acknowledge their own abilities in order to make own choices; these are the leading elements to their successful, healthier, and more preferable way of living.

In these recent years, the media is disclosing a lot about more people living under stress. People are having unbearable amounts of pressures either from work or study. It shows that they have not enough strength to face difficulties or have no method to deal with the complicated economic and living environment. More people therefore fall into sickness, physically and mentally. If they cannot turn the pressure into a positive form and become anxious, their mental condition will go worse. If the pressure keeps going negatively without positive change, they might be at risk and turn themselves to mental illness. According to the Mental Health Review Report (2017) announced via Food and Health Bureau on 18 April 2017, the number of patients received service from HA’s psychiatric services has been increased from about 187,000 in the years of 2011-12 to 226,000 in 2015-16, the increment was 21% (“Mental Health Review Report,” 2017). There were 28,800 reported to be child and adolescent in 2015-16, that increased over 52% from 18,900 in 2011-12 (“Mental Health Review Report,” 2017). Even though people are facing with struggles and frustrations, they seem to have no awareness that they are actually having rights to make their own choices, to choose and to live in the environment they prefer. The worst case is that they will walk into the dead end to kill themselves because they see no control of the stress and do not see any way out. They cannot find another effective way to release pressure so thought of suicide is the less painful and fast way to relieve from frustration and pain. According to the Annual Report (2017) of The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, mentioned the statistics from the Coroner’s Court that there were 916 suicide deaths in 2017, and the suicide rate was 12.36 (“Annual Report,” 2017). The number of suicidal deaths, age from 0 to 19 years old, was risen from 24 in 2016 to 36 in 2017, the suicide rate was increased 1.07 (“Annual Report,” 2017). If there are ways to provide a platform for people to realize their thoughts earlier before they reach helplessness, they will not choose to approach the dead end. If people have the realization and awareness of what they want in life, they will not give up on themselves and will go towards their life goals (Leary & Tangney, 2012).

Having the awareness and ability to make own choices are the leading elements to a successful and more preferable way of living. Leary and Tangney (2012) mentioned what Carver and Scheier said, self-awareness depended on what people are expecting for. They said people will strive to attain their goals if they expect to succeed even if there are struggles involved (Leary & Tangney, 2012). The society nowadays, adults live in long hours of work and students participate in non-stop hours of study, they are living without work and life balance. Children are forced to focus on academic scores instead of academic interest, and they also spend excessive amounts of hours participating in the off-of-school lessons. As Wu (2017) wrote in the article claimed that people did not pay attention to students’ talents or character, but focused on the test score (Wu, 2017). She was indignant about what the society has been inconsistently saying young people were supposed to dream, but students actually have no spare time to do so because of the excessive school work (Wu, 2017). Parents put more effort and force on children to push them to work harder on academics. And it also means that parents need to earn more money paying for their children more training arrangements. Parents spend more time on money making; in the meantime, they spend less time on rest and family relationships. Even though children turn into adolescent stage years after, they would not be able to change the existing constructed mindset that academic and scoring are everything (鄧穎琳, 2017). If they have dissatisfied academic performance, they think they will lose everything, including their future (鄧穎琳, 2017). These ways make people living in a negative emotional and psychological state of mind in a never-ending cycle. The question then is: how can these people be aware of their rights and abilities to make choices? Are people willing to explore for more options and make personal choices instead of relying on the ways that have been constructed by others and the society? According to choice theory described by Glasser (2013), people are internally, not externally motivated to make choices (Glasser, 2013). Nothing other than the internal needs, which are needs for survival, love and belong, power, freedom, and fun, can move people to do things. (Crawford, Bodine, & Hoglund, 1993). People will be more motivated to make suitable choices for themselves when their awareness of needs is increased. As Avolio and Gardner (2005) described, “Self-awareness is not a destination point, but rather an emerging process where one continually comes to understand his or her unique talents, strengths, sense of purpose, core values, beliefs and desires” (p. 324). From realizing their personal abilities and strengths, their awareness will be enhanced progressively, that means they are able to make better choices for themselves according to their preference. On the contrary, if people do not see other options rather than the never-ending painful living pattern, it would not make them see any other way out. They then feel powerless and have less capacity to think of changing. These helpless circumstances will result in more unhealthy households and burden society, and hence, need to be changed and reduced.

The helpless circumstances give people less hope and make them think that they have less self-help ability. People lost their own thoughts and strengths to change from what they are being assessed as problematic and weak individuals. According to Glasser’s (2013) choice theory, people will not choose to follow the external force rather than internal needs and to become miserable (Glasser, 2013). They stay in misery living only because they are not aware of their being in the external control and unaware of their rights to choose reasonably. They become less self-help and agree with what the society labeled them as problematic and weak individuals because they have not realized the external control and their internal status. They even lost the realization of their existing experiences, and skills and knowledge that have been accumulated. As a result, they do not trust themselves having their strengths and powers to fight against the so-called problems, which Glasser (2013) named these external controls, and have been constructed by the societal circumstances (Glasser, 2013). These societal circumstances are constructed by certain societal groups using the force of “criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, or bribing to control” (Glasser, 2013, p. 10). They usually make use of the mass media to spread the messages out and affect the society progressively in order to control people’s thinking. The social atmosphere has been constructed and affects people’s thoughts on living experiences and the meanings of personal stories, which means the dominant stories of people are constructed by the control groups in the society using external control (Glasser, 2013). According to Shaw and McCombs (1977) described the way mass media to influence people mentally and psychologically:

This impact of the mass media- the ability to affect cognitive change among individuals,

to structure their thinking- has been labeled the agenda-setting function of mass

communication. Here may lie the most important effect of mass communication, its

ability to mentally order and organize the world for us. In short, the mass media may not

be successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us

what to think about. (Shaw & McCombs, 1977, p. 5).

People with low awareness have been labeled and controlled by these groups of people without realizing the influences towards themselves and people around them. Most likely, they become less self-help ability and motivation to realize and change the circumstances. Therefore, the realization of personal strength and well-being is highly valuable for attention. Glasser (2013) emphasized that “Our brains are constantly comparing what we perceive we have with what we really want and need” (p. 11). People will be satisfied if things in reality match with the internal needs. If things are not matched, the behavior will be urged to change (Glasser, 2013). As per Glasser mentioned, that means people need to know what they actually want in life, so they can realize if they are in a satisfactory state of living. If their mindset is being controlled and affected by other external control without realization, they will not pay attention to what they actually want and things they actually have. It can be explained that people's own thinking has been controlled because of their lack of awareness. They will then be never able to obtain a preferable or satisfactory state of living. Zwick (1978) claimed that self-awareness is an indication of individuals being affected internally towards the selves and externally towards the environment (Zwick, 1978). Their unawareness of realizing their wants and desires will not motivate them for change. If their voice and opinions can be expressed and thought of, they can take back their own control. Glasser (2013) suggested that showing support, encouragement, acceptance, trust and respect, allowing differences and willing to listen can help to destroy the external control and build up the relationship with others and the environment (Glasser, 2013). Therefore a platform for people to talk and share their personal experiences freely without hesitation with truly showing them acceptance and respect, listening carefully and sincerely, are very important for their self exploration, as well as to get rid of the society labeling and framework. This sharing process helps to encourage people for self understanding of their internal needs, to enhance their self-awareness, and also to empower their personal strengths and abilities.

phoTALKgraphy is therefore created for people to experience self exploration in order to reduce the helpless circumstances as well as the external control. It is a platform created for people, who do not need to be assessed or examined as problem, or sickness, or at risk, and to participate in service for personal improvement in a professional way. A well known quote established by Michael White and David Epston (n.d.), who are the founder of narrative therapy, saying that the problem is the problem, the person is not the problem. (White & Epston, n.d.). Those societal constructed problems need to be externalized. As Maggie Carey and Shona Russell (2004) explained the concept of externalizing and the way people usually view on problem:

“By the time people turn to us as therapists for assistance, they have often got to a

point where they believe there is something wrong with them, that they or something

about them is problematic. The problem has become ‘internalised’ … Externalising

locates problems not within individuals, but as products of culture and history.

Problems are understood to have been socially constructed and created over time.”

(Carey & Russell, 2004, para. 4)

People do not need to and should not be put into the problem-constructed frame, and give treatment only when they fall into the critical mental or psychological crisis. Therefore, the following concern is, how do people get realized they are not the “problem”, but the problem itself is the problem. People need to pay attention to the situations of turning things into what the societal called “problems”, and they need to explore for opportunities for self realization. phoTALKgraphy is to enhance the opportunities for people to explore for their strengths and abilities, in order to empower their view of self.

The creation of phoTALKgraphy is from a word of photography combined with TALK in it, which means there includes photography and conversation in the service. Three elements are included in phoTALKgraphy; they are photography, people’s stories, and narrative practice approach, providing a platform for people’s self exploration and self empowerment. During the conversation, there are roles of narrator and listener: the narrator is the protagonist of their stories and the listener is the one to facilitate in the exploration process. It is clear that each individual’s stories and experiences are unique; no one can have the exact same story as the other. It is just like a created photograph, no one can create a photograph exactly the same as another. Applying this concept in the service of phoTALKgraphy, photos will be selected and used by participants in the sharing session. Participants choose the specific photographs for sharing and stories that mentioned in the session are unique and meaningful to them, and definitely worth for exploration. People telling their stories, which have been selected and interpreted in the way they prefer to express, and this conversation is under a meaning-making process (White, 1993). A photograph always tells story, some even relate multiple life stories. Some artists and photographers like to create or use photographs to spread the messages. On the other hand, photographs are also well used in therapeutic work. Hugh Welch Diamond was the early one to use photos in his work with patients since 1850s (Gibson, 2018). The therapeutic work has been named phototherapy. David Krauss (1983) described phototherapy as using photographic images therapeutically, the process could help participants to create positive change in their thinking, feelings, and performances (Krauss & Fryerer, 1983). Using photographs in the beginning of the conversation is an easier way to let participants to open up and start with a topic they prefer. This helps them to release tension and feel more comfortable talking about themselves. Once they open up, the exploration gateway is opened and more personal experiences and stories will be found and developed in the conversation. As Judy Weiser (n.d.) mentioned photography for her, to use in the therapeutic session, was a medium for participants for communication, expression, and reflection (Weiser, n.d.). Weiser is one of the pioneers in the field of phototherapy; she also uses photography as a tool to help participants to explore internal reality, including actual feelings, thoughts, personal values and beliefs, etc. She explained that there is no right or wrong way to interpret a photograph. There is only that participant’s own way of interpretation and concern on the specific photograph (Weiser, 1993). Through the interpretation, the individual’s self-awareness and self-esteem develop, as well as personal understanding (Peljhan, Maležič, Bičanič, Trojer, & Kejžar, 2015). Their personal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors then are able to spread and be realized.

As per phototherapy is well applied in the western culture, artists and trainers also choose to use photography as an intervening tool in people’s service in Hong Kong. For example, “Through Our Eyes” is an arts education program to help young people by using photography to learn about self identity, in order to discover their internal selves and the relationship with their family and the society (“Through Our Eyes Photography Education Programme,” n.d.). “CLAP for Youth” is also a youth program using photography as one of the training programs to help youth searching for their career orientation (“Professional Development Program,” n.d.). The Mental Health Resource Centre of Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, on the other hand, has been using photography in a mindfully way to help patients to pay attention to and review on each individual’s body, mind, and spiritual health (“Beyond Bounds,” 2018). “Feminart” is created by an artist and also a photographer, who helps female participants to find out their own beauties and strengths by using photography training (“Feminart,” n.d.). Educators and Artistic photographers believe that photography is an effective way to engage people in self-understanding and self-exploration process. phoTALKgraphy not only uses photographs in the beginning stage of the conversation, but also to create one special photograph for the protagonist after the TALK session. This special and unique photograph is created based on things that have been found from the exploration process. Things might be the alternative storylines or the new life direction of the protagonist, or the labeled problems that have been externalized. The protagonist deconstructed and reconstructed his or her own storylines and re-authoring their own life direction and future (White, 2005). This created photograph then acts as a remark to consolidate and strengthen the protagonist's mindset from what has been reviewed, explored and acknowledged by him or herself during the TALK process, and to use as a reminder in the future powerfully and purposefully.

By applying narrative practice approach as the service guidance in phoTALKgraphy, the narrator and listener are in a humanistic and non-judgmental sharing relationship. Michael White (2005) as the founder of Narrative Therapy, continually urged people to mind the intention of being in a decentred position while in the therapeutic session. The word of decentred is in terms of focusing on the personal stories, and the knowledge and skills of the narrator (White, 2005). The narrator is the main and primary author of his or her stories, and no one understands the details better than the principal author (White, 2005). Moreover, the narrator being able to speak freely with no hesitation in an encouraging and positive way is a gateway to open up their minds. This gives the speaker a comfortable, relaxed, and trustworthy environment to share and explore for more. No one has the right or knowledge to judge or comment on protagonist’s experiences and their ways of living. Only the protagonists themselves understand their living situations and considerations (White, 2005). White (2005) stressed that the listener should not be the one to impose any idea or intervention during the conversion, but to scaffold it to a richer content (White, 2005). It is important to keep in mind that both the listener and the narrator are in an equal relationship, no one is more superior than the other. The listener maintains a non-judgmental mindset and attitude, and using a double listening technique to assist the narrator to explore for alternative storylines (White, 2005). The listener has the role to facilitate the buildup of a more meaningful conversation through questions and reflections in order to explore for the alternative stories. These alternative storylines are the preferred stories other than the dominant stories (White, 2005). White and Epston (1990) wrote “alternative stories that enable them to perform new meanings, bringing with them desired possibilities—new meanings that the person will experience as more helpful, satisfying, and open-ended.” (p. 15). As White (2005) claimed people usually bear with what they have in mind their problems or predicaments. They put themselves in a regretful situation because they have not thought of the alternative side of stories, regarding the ownership of personal skills and knowledge (White, 2005). As Rappaport (1981) claimed “Empowerment implies that what you see as poor functioning is a result of social structure and lack of resources which make it impossible for the existing competencies to operate.” (p. 16). Jerome Bruner stressed in the article of how narrative constructed the reality is the intention of people. Bruner (1991) claimed, “Narratives are about people acting in a setting, and the happenings that befall them must be relevant to their intentional states while so engaged—to their beliefs, desires, theories, values, and so on.” (p.7). Therefore, the listener to listen closely to people’s stories can help to find the absent but implicit information through the telling (Freedman, 2012). phoTALKgraphy is with the participants to review their experiences of personal stories, skills and knowledge, and to explore their existing beliefs and personal values. The problem that was brought to the conversation will then become a valuable life experience (Freedman, 2012). Struggles can be reduced or solved when their situations are not gone to the worst. The narrators can actually have the power to help themselves out if they get the chance to realize their strengths and abilities. And this is also the way to deconstruct the existing societal frame and to reconstruct the meaningful storylines. They can deal with struggles through their life experiences with their strengths and abilities built up through continual sharing and exploring processes.

Through their realizing of personal strengths and abilities, they also raise their self-understanding and acknowledge their own beliefs and values. Beliefs and values are elements to guide people for personal development and decision making (Rappaport, 1981). Freedman (2012) believes that people have their strengths to function well in daily activities once they realize their strengths, even in struggling situations (Freedman, 2012). Having the realization of their beliefs and values helps them to acknowledge and strengthen their personal strengths and abilities. Rappaport (1981) said empowerment is a force to foster people to create solutions particularly for the specific situations (Rappaport, 1981). This empowerment process enhances people’s strengths and makes them stronger emotionally and mentally, and reduces the opportunity to fall into mental sickness or psychological weakness. Based on their own beliefs and values, they then make decisions from choices. In the meantime, their self awareness and the creation for healthier ways of living are enhanced, as well as self empowerment, and individuals’ wellness and preferable future.


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