Affective and Discursive Outcomes of Symbolic Interpretations in Picture-Based Counseling: A Skin Conductance and Discourse Analytic Study

Dennis Tay, Jin Huang, Huiheng Zeng

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The relationship between symbolic expression and affect tends to be investigated from the perspective of recipients in contexts like media, politics, and advertising. A more producer-centric context is picture-based counseling (PBC) where clients are prompted by counselors to interpret pictures creatively as part of the treatment process. Nevertheless, the affective and discursive outcomes of these interpretations remain poorly understood. This paper reports a combined experimental and discourse analytic study which compares prompting strategies in terms of affective engagement, contrasts the discourse characteristics of interpretations following “topic-present” and “topic-absent” prompting strategies, and offers potential implications for PBC practice. Analysis of skin conductance levels suggests that the two prompting strategies which invite symbolic interpretation are more affectively engaging than the literal control (F(2,32) = 6.356, p =.005), but not significantly different from each other. A follow-up discourse analysis revealed the prominence of metaphors in symbolic interpretations, as well as nuanced differences between the discourse outcomes of prompting strategies. Topic-present interpretations tended to produce more systematic ensembles of metaphorical expressions, while topic-absent interpretations were less systematic. The combined findings suggest that orienting clients towards symbolic interpretation is affectively engaging, but the ideal prompting strategy is best determined by context-specific circumstances to be judged by counselors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-110
Number of pages15
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language

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