Self-help handbook for girls keeps it positively positive

“Photo Explorations: A Girl’s Guide to Self-Discovery Through Photography, Writing and Drawing” is available at Artmart, Novel Neighbor and Main Street bookstores, and on

By Susan Fadem, Special to the Jewish Light

In a world battered daily by war and political mudslinging, it seems especially heartwarming to find a self-help handbook so optimistic that not until halfway through does it mention, “My Worries” or “a negative thought you tell yourself.”

And then, on the same page, it advises readers to “write down a more helpful thought.”

 With a signature conviction that even a good life can be made better, St. Louisan Cathy Lander-Goldberg, 52, has written her first book, the self-published “Photo Explorations: A Girl’s Guide to Self-Discovery Through Photography, Writing and Drawing” ($13.95). 

Targeted to girls 9 to 15 years old, the photo-studded, 62-page workbook is meant to be worked on singly or with a parent, a friend or a group. Responses can be shared or not; that’s up to the girls.

And should the activities trigger particular thoughts, all of which are “acceptable,” it would still be a good idea to discuss, with a trusted adult, any feelings that are “very upsetting to you.”

Talk about gentle, non-alarmist phrasing. While Lander-Goldberg is a licensed clinical social worker and photographer, her book is not necessarily intended as a therapeutic tool. 

“This really is for enrichment and fun,” she says. “It’s about understanding yourself.”

The “photography, writing and drawing” part of the title stems from her conviction that for people put off by a direct question, it can be easier to show something instead.

Hence, her handbook’s directives to write within provided blank spaces are typically preceded by another blank expanse. There, she might ask a girl to show, whether in a drawing, magazine collage or photograph, anything from how friends view her to “a self-portrait of a ‘grown-up’ you,” with outfit and props. 

Envision, too, that in this land of possibility, errors receive kindly treatment. 

“Please give yourself permission to … create without trying to make (everything) PERFECT,” Lander-Goldberg writes. “If you make a mistake, turn it into something even more imaginative!”

Her exclamation point is purposeful. It’s how the author lives her life. She has been married for 28 years to sales consultant Joel Goldberg; has a daughter, Danielle, 15; and is a member of Congregation Temple Israel.

Lander-Goldberg’s passion for photography clicked in at age 14. Tantalized by the at-home hobby darkroom of her dad, the late Alan Lander, an insurance man, she began shooting pictures. 

At West Ladue Junior High, she was a photographer for the newspaper; at Ladue (Horton Watkins) High School, she shot for the yearbook. 

Graduating in photojournalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, she took photos for local publications, and her work appeared in Parade magazine. 

Fulfilling, too, were the hours she spent volunteering with girls. Using borrowed or disposable cameras or those the youngsters brought, she taught them to more effectively shoot pictures and, in those days, to develop them in a darkroom. For many years, Lander-Goldberg had a studio in the University City Loop.

She noticed that many girls felt comfortable sharing the details of their lives, especially in the darkroom. Such sharing, plus its ability to foster growth, might have persuaded Lander-Goldberg to devote her life to workshops. Instead, she joined the faculty at Logos School, where she taught English and writing and started a photography program. 

Inspired by the young women she met there and elsewhere who coped with such obstacles as eating disorders, trauma and grief, she produced “Resilient Souls: Young Women’s Portraits and Words,” a 1996 traveling photo and literary exhibit. 

The work, along with the desire to learn more about professional help and healing, prompted Lander-Goldberg to complete a master’s degree in social work at Washington University. Today, in her 12-year-old practice at St. Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute, she sometimes includes photography — whether “selfies” taken by clients or pictures others have snapped of them — as an expressive therapy technique.

Besides updating “Resilient Souls” for a 20-years-later exhibit, Lander-Goldberg still focuses, in workshops and in her office, on assisting girls and women as they navigate self-discovery. 

For boys and men, too, one suggestion in her book might particularly resonate. In a culture in which people fixate more on how bodies look than on what they do, she recommends writing a “Thank Your Body!” letter. The exclamation point is hers.


To donate one of Cathy Lander-Goldberg’s books to a local girl in an underserved community, write a check to Girls in the Know book-scholarship fund and mail to: Girls in the Know, 8790 Manchester Road, Suite 205-E, St. Louis, Mo. 63144.