A single picture can say a thousand words. In the case of sisters Dr. Eleanor Avinor and Joanne Yona Silman, their KEG card pictures can help to bring out thousands of emotions from clients, encouraging them to come to their own realizations and solutions.
The emotional power a single picture can have is quite fascinating. When our eyes touch upon the work, countless thoughts and provocative feelings suddenly course through our body. We may even connect these works to our own daily lives and experiences, thus creating hidden meanings that — to a specific person — provides significant perspectives.
Recognizing the exciting potential that the utilization of pictures could have across the field of psychotherapy, sisters Dr. Eleanor Avinor and Joanne Yona Silman began developing a tool that would function alongside traditional therapy and counseling, as they felt those were not enough and the client needed more. Their 11 years of work resulted in KEG — “Keys to Emotional Growth” — cards, a projective identification method designed to help improve a person’s emotional state. As a psychotherapist, Eleanor uses the method that suits the client and the problem at a particular time.
Each KEG card has two sides. One side features artwork of a specific situation, while the other side contains several questions about the artwork that help to promote dialogue between the therapist and client, such as the connections between any given figures, what the picture represents, and what’s important in the picture. Instead of having to explain personal situations directly, clients are able to explore their problems and situations through creative representations.
“She chose that picture, and she explained to me that the door is the therapy, that maybe she can cross the bridge, go through the door, and she would be a different person. That now she’s on the bridge, she’s the figure on the bridge. That’s what I intended when I drew it. And the big spider behind her is the mother.”
Silman — who has a Masters in Systems Engineering — stated that often, many of the people they work with are conflicted, feel they can’t control their lives, and have reached a seemingly-hopeless deadend. That’s why one of the KEG cards’ primary goals is to help clients come to conclusions and solutions they might not have been aware of otherwise, offering roads out of their depressing situations.
“What’s special there is the pictures. The pictures that I drew, I drew from therapy sessions. There’s a picture of a woman, [who] was telling me how she’s depressed and she doesn’t know what to do, [and how] she’s not happy with her life,” Dr. Avinor said. “She talked about her mother being like a spider, her mother doesn’t give her any peace and quiet. I drew a picture of a bridge and a spider, and a figure walking across the bridge, [with] water under the bridge and a door at the end of the bridge.”
After continuing to talk about how the mother was suppressing her, the woman eventually came to the idea to rent with friends as a way to gain back her freedom and ease the stress that had come over her. Those kinds of empowering self-discoveries are what the two counselors strive for through their tool.
Dr. Avinor first came to the idea of KEG cards following her numerous years of studying psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and working as a school counselor. She felt there was a common action that many of the therapy methods she studied revolved around.
“I realized they’re working around just talking. I realized that talk is not enough. Then I went and studied art therapy. In art therapy, people have to do something. They draw pictures, they create things, and sometimes people are very unhappy or lonely, or depressed, they don’t want to create something. So then I realized it’s much better if I just show the pictures.”
Due to pictures having copyright, the sisters first asked friends and family to donate pictures, but eventually realized they weren’t what their clients needed and could relate to. Not willing to give up, Dr. Avinor then started drawing the pictures herself in order to ensure they provide a unique experience for an individual, in order to help them achieve healthier relationships, mindfulness, and a better functioning lifestyle. “Our KEG cards therapy is bottom-up, it starts with the client.”
“These are pictures of a mother and a child, a mother and a baby. You’d be surprised how many different ways there are of holding a child or being with a child. You can hold a child and look at each other. You can hold a child and hug them very, very tight, [so tight] it’s uncomfortable.”
The KEG cards also aim to help the client understand their problems — while developing and progressing themselves further — and not simply hone in on negatives or what brought them to this point. “It’s not zeroing in on the bad things, it’s focusing on the good things. It’s focusing on what can be done, what could be done,” Dr. Avinor stated, expressing the desire to have people find and imagine their own solutions.
Perhaps one of the prominent benefits of the KEG cards is its ability to not be confined to one specific psychological issue – instead, it can be applied to a variety of topics and problems, such as self-awareness, self-esteem, body imagery, and types of communication behavior. It helps that Dr. Avinor and Silman drew inspiration from a number of psychological approaches to base the cards on in their development, including Freud, CBT, and transactional analysis.
“In transactional analysis, everyone has a Parent part, an Adult part, and a Child part in their psyche,” Dr. Avinor explained, adding that these three parts are similar to Freud’s Superego, Ego, and Id. According to her, the Parent — which tells us the should and should-nots that we learned from our own parents — has a nurturing parent, a judgmental parent, and a critical parent.
The Adult helps us to relate to the real world, while the Child is made up of parts like the needy child and curious child, among others. These parts interact both with each other and with the parents, adults, and children in our lives.
“To be a happy person, your parent, your adult, and your child should be in equilibrium, and should be more or less the same size. In therapy, we help the client achieve equilibrium so that one part does not have too much power or influence on another,” Dr. Avinor said, explaining they use pictures and roleplaying in order to give strength and voices to each part in order to bring balance.
When it comes to KEG cards, a person might choose a picture of a child that wants or demands something if their child part is a continual issue. “That’s how you work with the cards in order to show pictures of the parent part, adult part, [and] child part.” Of course, a child-adult relationship isn’t just explored in an individual’s psyche. Dr. Avinor has a collection she refers to as “attachment pictures,” which targets personal relationships.
Through these pictures, a person’s attachment — or lack of — with their parents can be discussed. The tightly gripping of a child could amount to an overbearing caregiver during youth, while other parts of a picture could signal a lack of attachment.
One of the ways Dr. Avinor and Silman work with the KEG cards when it comes to trauma victims involves the SUDs system, or “Subjective Unit of Distress.” Dr. Avinor will ask the client to choose 10 pictures, spread them around the room, and describe the trauma through them. Once the story is told, the client will be asked how distressful the picture is on a scale of one to 10 — the latter usually being the first number felt — and what they can do to make the story less distressful.
Dr. Avinor will then have the client rearrange or change the pictures, their sizes and content, and ask them to tell the story over again in the hopes of bringing their anxiety down. “Everytime they tell the story, it gets more positive and more positive, until they get down to 1, 2, or 0. They do it for as long as they want.”
“This is one of the ways that we can help people develop their brain, develop their potential, and change and be happier.”
The sisters don’t look at their endeavors as business-driven, but rather explain their intent is to contribute to humanity. According to Dr. Avinor, people can change, but “they just need help to change.”
In order to truly reach their goal of helping humanity overcome personal struggles, Dr. Avinor and Silman needed to ensure the accessibility of KEG cards is at the highest possible point. The easiest way to achieve that in today’s world? A smartphone app that would allow for further improvement of the KEG cards. “[This] means we’re changing. Instead of just for the therapists to use, we’re going to make it for everybody to use.”
The app — titled KEG4ALL — would be much more than just a digitized version of the tool, however. The sisters believe it can serve as a companion to those dealing with sadness and loneliness – as Silman puts it, it’s a “virtual best friend.”
“People don’t have good connections like they used to, they don’t have the big extended family that lived together. Many people are lonely, and this is sort of a way of being connected. Even though it’s not a person, it’s a feeling of being understood.” Silman emphasized that with this help, people can successfully move from one step of life to the next, which will help the world to be a much better place.
While the app isn’t meant for serious psychological issues such as depression, PTSD, and other disorders — all of which should be professionally treated, the sisters note — Dr. Avinor still feels it can be extremely beneficial to those who may not have the funds needed for therapy, but still need a pick-me-up. “When people come to me for private sessions, it’s very expensive. In the [United] States, it could be $50 [to] $100. It’s very expensive to go to a psychotherapist. This way, they could use the application, just to help them feel better.”
In addition to holding instructional courses for therapists and counselors on the usage of KEG cards, Silman and Dr. Avinor also have workshops, both in-person and online, for clients with an interesting catch – they choose not to use a title in order to give more customization to participants to explore what they want.
“Any problem that people have can be the content of a workshop. What I optimize to do is not have a title, and each person works on what they want,” Dr. Avinor said. The two focus on a number of topics, from conflict resolution to inner-person, trauma, personal development, and loneliness.
They even attend weddings in order for the two families to get to know each other better. “We have many ideas, but the minute we find out what [issue] somebody wants to work on and something that we can form a workshop on, then we do it,” Silman added.
To learn more about Dr. Avinor and Silman’s courses and workshops, as well as their KEG cards, you can visit their website.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at email@example.com.