Many Hands Article

Hair-tied-back-Cropped-sm1Video Feedback Coaching gives clients new view of themselves

By Sandra Dias

Photo: Kevin Gutting

For years, Susan Bartfay of Conway found herself having difficulty in her interactions with other women. Bartfay, who is developing a business as an equine massage therapist, said that issues stemming from her family of origin often left her in conflict with women she encountered.

“It wasn’t happening so much in relationships that I was already in, but when meeting people in public, sto re clerks and things like that, I was not happy with how things were going,” Bartfay, who makes her living as a house-cleaner, said. “I felt like I was having difficulty developing a good rapport with women in passing on a regular basis.”

Bartfay read about an innovative technique called “video mirror feedback” offered by local documentary filmmaker-turned-counselor and coach Carlyn Saltman and decided she wanted to give it a try.

Saltman, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, videotapes clients during a counseling session and then reviews key moments in the video with the person. Clients are able to see themselves and their emotional reactions in ways that they have never experienced before, which helps them to identify and delve into personal problems much more deeply.

Bartfay met with Saltman for four sessions and talked about various interactions she had with other women that were unproductive. “Then we sat and reviewed parts of the video, not so much for content, but looking at my appearance as I was talking about different issues,” Bartfay said.

Bartfay had done a lot of “talk therapy” over the years, but said the video mirror feedback “cut to the quick in a way that talkie therapy never could.”

As others see you
Bartfay said traditional talk therapists are not able to play back particularly charged moments for the client to observe. “Through this process, I was able to see what I was putting out there to the world,” Bartfay said. “You get to look at your intonation, emphasis, your tone of voice, your posture, whether you look happy or sad,” Bartfay said. “It was very effective and very immediate. It’s good stuff.”

Saltman, 52, who now lives in Turners Falls, was interested in counseling and therapy from the age of 20. But after graduating from Mount Holyoke College, she seized an opportunity to travel in Europe, Africa, and Haiti to make documentary films. For years, Saltman worked as a filmmaker, producing documentaries for development agencies, anthropologists, and others. She also worked for Johns Hopkins University as a project manager in the School of Public Health; part of that work involved making videos with health messages for African audiences.

After returning to western Massachusetts, Saltman developed a business called Your Story Matters, shooting memoirs, celebrations, and life story videos for clients all over New England. Saltman continues to work as a filmmaker, but began to realize she wanted to do something that helped the people she filmed know themselves better.

A new focus
“Basically, part of me felt like I had more to give and there was a greater reason for me to be on the planet than making documentary films and DVD memoirs,” she said. In 2000, she and her partner began a three-year training program in Psychosynthesis, an outlook on self-realization that helps people explore and deal with issues that are preventing them from living life fully. Psychosynthesis counseling is a holistic approach that seeks to integrate all parts of the personality.

“We were looking for training that would give us more understanding of who we are, why we are here, and how we could co-create the kinds of relationships we wanted to have in our lives, both with each other and with friends and loved ones,” Saltman said.

Saltman and her life partner engaged in intensive training at the Synthesis Center in Amherst, MA. As part of the exploration, Saltman and her partner turned her camera on themselves, using video to unmask unhealthy ways of relating. Holding a mirror up to themselves was very effective in creating a more harmonious relationship and Saltman realized it would be a useful therapeutic tool in working with others. She is finishing the requirements for certification as a Psychosynthesis counselor and expects to receive it later this year.

During her career as a filmmaker, Saltman had already formulated an idea that she wanted to use video in counseling and it was reinforced after she began working with clients as part of her Psychosynthesis training. “We’re often the last to know what we’re really like,” she said. Through our faces, others can sometimes see inside of ourselves better than we do. I would often find myself sitting there, witnessing people coming back time after time with the same self-defeating patterns and thinking ‘if only they could see themselves and the beliefs and patterns that are holding them back and preventing them from achieving their goals.’ ”

Saltman began using the video therapy in her counseling and coaching sessions and also received a grant from the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center in 2008 to assess why this effective tool was not used more frequently in individual and couples counseling. Under the grant, Saltman used video mirror feedback with local therapists as her clients who found her approach useful and effective.

Saltman has an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Suzanne Mitchell, MD, from the faculty of Boston University School of Medicine to help senior medical students develop empathy skills with video mirror feedback.

‘Revealing and powerful’
Jennifer Torrey, a licensed clinical social worker in Greenfield, had a session with Saltman outside of the research study, and said it was “fascinating.”  “It was very revealing and very powerful,” she said. “Carlyn is an incredibly skilled videographer, coach, and therapist. Her eye for detail and her ability to tune in is amazing.”  Torrey said she has worked in the therapy field for 30 years and has done extensive personal therapy herself, but found this technique to be uniquely effective.

Torrey said Saltman’s ease with the video equipment was key. “You feel that you are in very able hands in a very safe space and yet you can go very deep,” Torrey said.

Saltman said it is often empowering for clients to see themselves on video. They may be more confident than they realize, more articulate, more empathic, happier or even, more physically beautiful.  “(It) helps us to see the strengths and resources that we often take for granted,” Saltman said. “It helps people know themselves more deeply and have more confidence in their personal strengths.”

On the flip side, the process also can reveal more negative attributes, but this information is highly useful in helping a person to identify and address those, Saltman said.

Saltman described one client, a psychologist, who was bowled over while watching her interaction with Carlyn. She had always thought of herself as inarticulate, but was shocked to see how articulate she appeared to be on screen. “She was in tears, exclaiming ‘Her, her, I want to be like her!’ but of course, that was her. She did not realize it until she saw herself,” Saltman said. “It was a moment of profound recognition for her. She was downright impressed by her own intelligence and articulateness.”

It can also help people identify how chronic negative attitudes, preconceived notions, and even an unapproachable physical demeanor can be holding them back from having fruitful relationships with others. “An important part of the session is the anchoring work, the grounding work, in which we review the insights the client had during the session,” Saltman said. “We talk about how those insights will look in their lives when they start using them.”

For Bartfay, the video mirror feedback has been life changing. “I have become more aware of my facial expressions and how I use my eyes and whether I smile or not in conversation,” she said. “I have found that I have easier interactions now with people. When you look at yourself in a real mirror, it’s more like a pose. It’s quite a gift to be able to look at yourself the way other people do in actual conversation.”

For more information about Saltman’s Video Feedback Coaching, visit her website, or call (413) 522-0789.

How it works
– Part 2 by Sandra Dias

Private clients go to one of three offices — in Amherst, Leeds (Northampton), or Greenfield. Saltman also sees business clients individually and in small teams at their offices.

After reviewing the purpose they discussed with Carlyn on the phone, private clients talk about what concerns them:  challenges at their job, issues with partners, spouses, or children, troubling events from the past, for example. Business clients describe and work on the aspects of expressing themselves that they want to improve. Throughout the session, a [cell phone-sized] video camera is situated on a tripod, at an unobtrusive angle, capturing the interactions the client is there to learn from.

Saltman uses a filmmaker’s trained eye to watch for sometimes-subtle verbal and physical cues that indicate something important is happening within the client. She notes where those moments are on the video monitor and then plays the scenes back with the client while the two discuss what was going on. Saltman said the video mirror feedback is so immediate and effective that it often only takes a client four to eight sessions to meet their goals.

Saltman said people tend to come to her with very specific goals, often because they want to have better rapport with others, either at work or at home, or to gain a deeper self-awareness. Saltman first talks to clients about any fears they might have in seeing themselves on video and she reassures clients that they can stop the filming or the playback any time they want. Saltman also will delete any material the client is uncomfortable with.

“Because of the power that cameras have in our culture I want to make sure that people feel in control of the process,” she said. Most people do not want to delete the recording, however, but want to retain it for further review and reflection.

The process is self-directed, with the client determining what he or she wants to talk about; generally, the sessions do not dig deep into “family of origin” issues, but focus on what is happening today.

“In psychosynthesis, we trust that the client knows what he or she needs and wants to explore,” Saltman said. “I may ask the client ‘what is true for you today, what matters for you today, and what is troubling you today?’ to open up the conversation.”
— Sandra Dias