The Psychotherapeutics of Online Photosharing, A Flawed Theory

The Psychotherapeutics of Online Photosharing

Using logos, an appeal to our logical thinking, as a mode of persuasion in an article focused on psychology is very wise when appealing to scientists and medical professionals. Using purely logos can have pitfalls though; humans do not live by logic alone. As Dale Carnegie said, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity” (41). Dr. John Suler’s article uses logos and ethos very effectively in “The Psychotherapeutics of Online Photosharing” but also displays some ignorance and errors in generalizing by not addressing other motives for posting photos.

Dr. Suler attempts to persuade his readers that more research should be done into the use of online photo sharing as a legitimate method of psychoanalyzing people with mental disorders by observing the types of photos they post in specific groups on websites such as To persuade his readers, he makes several logical assertions. He uses ethos with his expertise as a physiologist at Rider University by explaining how images can express more than words, like in dreams for example.

He then appeals to logos, by writing about how the pervasive use of digital photography has enabled more and more people to express themselves visually without necessarily having artistic talent. Dr. Suler continues appealing to our logic by reminding everyone of the many people who are sharing their photos online. His focus shifts to writing about people’s sharing habits in groups formed on All those points are very logical and make total sense to anyone familiar with current trends in photo sharing.

Dr. Suler’s Logical Fallacies

A deeper look at Dr. Suler’s article reveals a couple of logical fallacies that could damage his points. He is an expert in psychology and psychoanalysis, but it is not clear whether he is an expert in photography. In the first paragraph of the “Groups Devoted to Psychological Problems” section of the article, he appears to display some ignorance about the intention of photographers sharing their photos in these groups on

He said, “The emergence of Flickr groups devoted to mental health issues provide a unique opportunity for people experiencing a particular psychological problem to come together to share and discuss their photography” (340). I, at one time, was an avid Flickr user and am very familiar with Flickr groups. I can tell you that there is no official way to confirm whether a group is definitively for people with mental health issues. A group also can be for healthy people who want to depict mental health issues in their photos or a mixture of both.

Mental Health Flickr Groups

The photos he describes in these “mental health” groups may have been taken by a photographer interested in learning how to accurately depict people with mental health struggles. That is where I believe he shows his ignorance. In this article, he does not address the possibility that the people in these groups may be focused on learning how to make emotionally engaging photos. He instead assumes they are sharing photos only to express their feelings. Nor does he raise the option that the reasoning for posting the types of photos he saw could simply be for vanity, recognition, or attention.

The other logical fallacy he seems to fall into is errors in generalizing. According to, Flickr averages just under 14 million users a month. With such a massive and diverse user base it is almost impossible to make any kind of accurate general assertions about the interpretations of their users’ photos. He, unfortunately, goes on to say, “The spread of subject matters and visual styles from one person’s photostream to another reflects the influence they have on each other, often on an unconscious level.”

I have on many occasions sent photos to groups without ever visiting the group; it is possible to do that on Flickr. He appears to be generalizing that each member of these groups observes one another’s photos in the same groups they post their photos in. That is very likely, but not always the case. He, therefore, generalizes the influence each photographer has on one another. The similarities may reflect what is popular in media at the time. It also could be that the subject matter is influencing the photos. Multiple photographers may likely have similar photos due to the similar subject matter.

Tagging Photos

In his generalizations, he also talks about common tags assigned to photos in depression groups. His suggestion is that these keywords may help provide insight into the mind of someone struggling with depression. He lists 17 different words that are commonly tagged (343). He seems to assume that this list of words could mean something deeper than simple categorization. On they show you the 150 most common tagged words out of the billions of photos on their site. Six of them are in common with Dr. Suler’s list. His list of tags may say something more about which subjects are popular to photograph. Not reveal deep insights into the minds of mentally unhealthy people.

Dr. Suler’s article, The Psychotherapeutics of Online Photosharing, was very well written and heavily relied on logos and a little on ethos to persuade his readers. Regretfully, he neglected to address other possibilities for posting photos in these groups. People could have been motivated by vanity, hunger for attention, and general photography practice. By failing to even address those possibilities his ignorance about photography and Flickr are evident in this article. He also committed several errors in generalizing the meanings behind the photos and the photographers’ intentions.


Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket, 1998. Print.

“ Traffic and Demographic Statistics by Quantcast.” Quantcast. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.

“Popular Tags on Flickr.” Flickr. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.

Suler, John Ph.D., “The Psychotherapeutics of Online Photosharing.” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies (2009): 339-344. Print.

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